Updated: Oct 17, 2022
“The poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us,” James Baldwin
The reclusive Helen Martins, or Miss Helen - as she was more affectionately known to the people of the town she grew up in - surely knew some kind of deeper truth about the human condition...
The Owl House is a remarkable achievement. Situated in the historical village of Nieu Bethesda one finds a museum full of peculiar cement and glass sculptures all the creations of a troubled, yet beautiful mind that you can experience for yourself on our "Karoo is Calling" adventure tours.
What started off as a drab little house - a home inherited from her parents - was transformed over the next 30 years into a fantastical environment in which Miss Helen defied the standard principles of art. Without any conventional art training, Miss Helen and her helpers, most notably Koos Malgas used the medium of cement and items such as glass bottles to transform her little Karoo house into a colourful world of fantasy and spiritual obsession.
Above Left: The long green bedroom - a converted porch - is where Miss Helen used to sleep.
Above Right: The architrave covered in yellow paint and crushed glass welcomes visitors to the weird and wonderful world of Helen Martins
Once every corner of her little home was covered with crushed glass, beautiful paint colours, cement or some other affordable medium, Miss Helen and her helpers continued her fixation into the back garden where she created her own world; the beautiful Camel Yard with its many fantastical sculptures of beasts, birds, mermaids, camels, religious seekers, pyramids, sphinx, pilgrims, bottle- skirted ladies and of course; owls.
Above Left: Mermaids calling visitors to The pool of healing
Above Right: Some of the imaginative sculptures found in the Camel Yard
On the main gate of the yard sits a two-faced cement owl, always guarding the Owl House while staring at passers by on the road. In the world Miss Helen created below the owl, a deluge of pilgrims and camels purposefully march forward all facing a sign on the fence which states "East Oos"
Left: The two faced owl
Above: The procession of pilgrims travel East
Above: Camels of the Camel Yard
Right: Spiritual Seekers
Above left: The moon gate, the original entrance to the Camel Yard. A nude photograph in the house was the inspiration for the tip-toeing girl.
Above right: A pilgrim woman stares East.
Above left: The eyes of this lion who guards the gate was made from a car that crashed in the district.
Above right: Miss Helen washed every single shard of glass used to create the rich surfaces herself
Above: Two men try to turn back the hands of time on the church clock
Tragically on a cold winters day in 1976, Miss Helen decided to end her life by drinking caustic soda. She died at the age of seventy-eight.
Travellers from all over the globe make their way to Nieu Bethesda to experience The Owl House and the vulnerable mark which Miss Helen left on this earth.
Above: A few of the Owls
Right: The Red Room, also referred to as the "Honeymoon Room"
Above: The canfruit jars in the kitchen still contain shards of glass which Miss Helen washed herself.
Left: The disturbing sculpture of a man covered in animal skin. Note the one human foot and the other a cloven hoof. Join us on the Karoo is Calling tour to learn of the meaning of the silver spoon.
Right: After the death of her mother, Miss Helen banished her father to this outside room which she covered in black paint and glass and dubbed "The Lion's Den" (as can be seen on the steps leading into the room)
Left: Miss Helen's bottle skirted "meisies" (girls) serving drinks to an outstretched man in the Corner of Debauchery. Miss Helen would often laugh at the puddle that formed in his lap after a bout of rain.
We hope that you will join us on our "The Karoo is Calling" tour where we will tell you more about this wonderful woman who did not allow a lack of education to stop her from creating an outer world which mirrored her inner sanctum.
Please share with your friends and family on your social media channels, it really helps us!... Please support local South African companies during this trying time... Stay Safe, Big Love, the SA Adventure Team!