Helen Martins’ Owl House, often cited as South Africa’s finest example of outsider art, is an extraordinary, other-worldly home of concrete and ground glass sculptures. Her creativity conjures up an array of emotions: from wonder to excitement, curiosity and sadness.
The late Helen Martins dedicated the latter part of her life to transforming her ordinary Karoo home into a fanfare of colour and light. The result is The Owl House, and it’s impact is such that visitors are variously awed, inspired, fascinated, calmed or perturbed by their visit, but never untouched.
Helen Martins grew up in Nieu Bethesda, leaving for only a few years during her youth. Her immense sensitivity, her unconventional love affairs and the fact that she had at least one abortion left her somewhat at odds with the strict Calvinist village around her. Increasingly, she hid herself away in her home. In the camel yard hangs the sign: “This is my world”.
Over the years, she and various assistants (the most famous being Koos Malgas) worked to create a multi-coloured house and fantasy garden of concrete and ground glass sculptures. Inside the Owl House, walls are encrusted with ground glass, mirrors are placed to catch light at different times of day and lanterns and candles arranged to bounce their light onto the mirrors. In the Camel Yard, scores of statues - many of them wise men and camels - face East, towards a Mecca of sorts.