The Owl House, Nieu Bethesda, South Africa

01
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The Owl House: Hostesses

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

Helen Martins' Outsider Art

The Owl House and surrounding Camel Yard contain over 300 concrete and glass sculptures created by Helen Elizabeth Martins and her assistants. Almost all of the sculptures face towards the east, many depicting a pilgrimage to a suitably positioned nativity scene. Amongst the various sculptures Martins' totem animal, the owl (which she associated with intuition, insight, and wisdom) forms ​an underlying theme.

Helen Martins was almost 50 before she started decorating the Owl House and creating her marvelous sculptures. She is now considered South Africa's foremost Outsider Artist, although during her life she was faced with derision and suspicion.

Throughout the Camel Yard, bottle-skirted meises (girls) act as hostesses, wearing traditional Dutch caps. Also in the foreground is one of several glass-encrusted sun worshipers, ecstatically bending over backwards to greet the morning sun.

02
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The Owl House: Corner of Debauchery

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

This corner of the Camel Yard was known as the Corner of Debauchery. Here a drunken fellow is being served by one of Martins' bottle-skirted meisies.

03
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The Owl House: The Gates of Paradise #1

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

Two guards wearing red fez caps protect the entrance to paradise, while perched atop the crumbling arch peacocks with glass-encrusted tails watch wearily.

04
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The Owl House: The Gates of Paradise #2

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

Above the exotic birds perched on the Gates of Paradise sits an owl holding dominion over the air.

05
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The Owl House: Owls

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

Helen Martins had a particular fondness for owls, almost as if it were her 'totem' animal. For Martin, they represented intuition, insight, and wisdom.

06
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The Owl House: Donkeys, Sheep and Camels

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

Amongst the various pilgrimage figures are numerous donkeys, sheep and camels. The sheep are tended by several cloaked shepherds. The donkeys and camels still retain much of the crushed glass coating.

07
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The Owl House: The Shepherd

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

There are several sculptures of huddled shepherds around the Camel Yard. Each wears a cloak with a pointed hood and protectively holds a lamb on their lap. Martins' inspiration is said to have come from a Christmas card sent by a neighbor.

08
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The Owl House: The Nativity

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission.

In a shed made from wine bottles, Helen Martins recreated the nativity scene. One Wise Man kneels offering gifts whilst the others are still approaching in procession. The fact that Martins created the Nativity scene in the eastern end of the yard offended many local residents, who considered it to be against the teachings of the bible.

09
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The Owl House: Wise Men

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

Here is one of three camel mounted Wise Men which ride towards, and then curiously past, the nativity scene. The Wise Men, dressed in cloaks of multi-colored glass to depicting their opulence, are part of a greater arrangement of sculptures that symbolize pilgrimage to the East.

10
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The Owl House: Egypt

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

At the back of the Camel Yard is a narrow strip which portrays Egypt, a land of pyramids, sphinxes, and desert.

11
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The Owl House: The Lion

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

With headlamp eyes and wire whiskers, this lion stared down the sculpture yard towards the main entrance - guarding the property. Unfortunately, several pieces have been vandalized over the years.

12
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The Owl House: The Patio

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

The walls around the patio at the back of the owl house are decorated with relief figures from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

The two figures pouring wine into a cup come from quatrain 46:

So when at last the Angel of the darker drink
If Darkness finds you by the river-brink,
And, proffering his Cup, invites your Soul
Forth to your lips to quaff it - do not drink.

13
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The Owl House: Owl

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission, Inc

The most ornate of Helen Martins' owls sits outside the dining room window. Next to it, one of two suns made from crushed glass glued to the window pane, would pick up the afternoon light a decorate the interior.

14
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The Owl House: Kitchen Ceiling

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

A vast mural of the sun covers the kitchen ceiling and echoes the golden light which would flood the room every morning.

15
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The Owl House: The Walls

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

Helen Martins and her assistant tried various methods for sticking crushed glass to the walls, finally discovering that throwing it against a newly varnished or painted surface worked the best.

16
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The Owl House: The Pantry

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission.

The glass Martins used was prepared using an old coffee grinder. The glass was collected by local children, for which she paid either pennies or homemade tameletjie - a sweet made from local quinces boiled with sugar. After crushing, the glass was washed, sorted according to color, and stored in preserve jars in the pantry.

17
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The Owl House: The Long Bedroom

Helen Martins' Outsider Art. Image © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans, Used with Permission

The Long Bedroom, formally an enclosed porch, has three beds and a table with an unusual serpentine leg made from concrete. On the wall is a heart shaped mirror, a common feature of the house which is seemingly at odds with the disastrous marriage she had to Willem Johannes Pienaar. All mirrors in the house are positioned well above the diminutive Martins' eye level - she not only avoided being seen by others, but worked hard to avoid seeing images of herself as well.

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Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "The Owl House, Nieu Bethesda, South Africa." ThoughtCo, Feb. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/owl-house-nieu-bethesda-south-africa-4123204. Boddy-Evans, Alistair. (2017, February 12). The Owl House, Nieu Bethesda, South Africa. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/owl-house-nieu-bethesda-south-africa-4123204 Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "The Owl House, Nieu Bethesda, South Africa." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/owl-house-nieu-bethesda-south-africa-4123204 (accessed November 24, 2017).