Owl House Museum in Nieu-Bethesda, Eastern Cape
This is my World
The Owl House Museum is situated in Nieu Bethesda in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
About 50 km north from Graaff-Reinet you will find the Helen Martin’s Owl House, considered South Africa’s finest example of outsider art. Her once home, now a museum of her work, is an extraordinary and other-worldly home made from concrete and glass sculptures.
Helen Martin’s was born in 1897 and grew up in this small village, leaving only for a few years in her youth to be schooled in Graaff-Reinet and when she travelled with her husband acting in theatre productions. Her marriage was not a happy one and after her divorce she returned to her home village where she stayed taking care of her elderly parents. After their deaths she began to transform the house and the garden and this simple decision to embellish her environment seemed to grow into a obsession to express her deepest feelings, dreams and desires. Her life was unconventional and left her at odds with the strict Calvinist village around her so she chose to hide herself away in her home – the sign “This is my world” hangs in her garden.
Over the years she created a multi-coloured house and fantasy garden with sculptures, statues, mirrors, lanterns and candles. From the mundane articles around her she created her own world of light, sun faces, owls and other images. It is not known in what order her work was done, except that the interior was completed before the exterior work began. Today her forest of statues and sculptures totals 500.
Shortly before she turned 79, Helen Martin’s ended her life by drinking caustic soda. The reasons for her suicide vary from depression, her failing eyesight, to an argument she had. What is certain though is that she left behind a startling vision of her world which conjures up an array of emotions from wonder and excitement to sadness.
Things to do and see
- The Camel Garden
- Statues & Sculptures
- Mirrors & Glass Art
- Kitching Fossil Centre (optional extra, included in ticket price)
A nominal admission fee is charged. Please contact the Museum directly to confirm pricing.
Open daily, 09h00 - 17h00
December Holidays, 08h00 – 18h00
Rainfall occurs mainly in the autumn months, with March seeing the highest levels. Winter nights can drop below freezing.
Summer months, November to March will have average temperatures of between 11˚C and 30˚C.
Winter months, May to August will have average temperatures of between 2˚C and 16˚C.
There are flights into Port Elizabeth International Airport, from all major cities in South Africa, on a daily basis. Car hire facilities are available and the airport is approximately 264 km from Graaf-Reinet.
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