The Owl House

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Owl Sculptures Image source

The Owl House is a Museum in Nieu-Bethesda, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Helen Martins, an outsider or self-taught Artist and Owner of Owl House, turned her parents’ House and the yard into a “visionary environment” after they passed. Martins created the Owl House between the years of 1945 and 1976 with the attempt to bring light, colour and life into the House . It would eventually become somewhat of an obsession that would yield a masterpiece.

Martins, known fondly as ‘Miss Helen’ was a retiree who kept to herself. She developed a keen interest in creating and adding colour to what many have described as a lonely world after her parents’ both were gone. She employed local labourers to help with the construction of the outer area, which is referred to as Camel Yard, the most notable employee being Koos Malgas and they formed a long artistic partnership.

The owl sculptures and figurines are made from cement and have striking glass bottle eyes.

The interior of the house is said to have been completed before work on the outer area began.

She made use of found articles and materials at her disposal to create sun faces, owls, pyramids and human figurines, with much of her inspiration coming from Biblical texts, the works of William Blake and the poetry of Omar Khayyam.

In a period of 12 Years Martins and Malgas produced the hundreds of sculptures that fill up the Camel Yard and the relief sculptures that cover the House.

After her death in 1976, the Owl House fell into disrepair, and as a result some items were removed. After outcry from concerned members of the public the property was transferred to the local council and support organisations such as the Friend of the Owl House (FOOH) as well as PPC cement made contributions towards the upkeep and in 1991, they asked Malgas to come back to restore and maintain the Camel Yard.

The Owl Foundation was formed in 1996 as a non-profit organisation which is made up of residents, the council and is sponsored by PPC cement. The foundation is in charge of administering the space as a cultural and tourist site.

Owl House inspired many, among them Athol Fugard who was inspired to write The Road To Mecca after his visit to the Owl House. 


References:
• Brand South Africa, Owl House: recluse’s masterpiece, Oct 2005. URL:https://www.brandsouthafrica.com/south-africa-fast-facts/arts-facts/owl-house-251005 Accessed: 12 July 2017
•  The Owl House; URL:https://theowlhouse.co.za/the-owlhouse/ Accessed: 12 July 2017
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Last updated : 04-Jan-2019

This article was produced by South African History Online on 15-Aug-2017

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