This listing contains excerpts from The Art of Nieu-Bethesda by Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit posted on the Getaway Magazine website on 2 December 2021.
Like its famous water furrows, a strong creative spirit flows through this Karoo settlement, connecting and inspiring all who come here. The little village of Nieu-Bethesda is one of the most stimulating artistic touchstones of South Africa.
Musicians arrive in battered old split-window Kombis, set up a stage at a local bar, plug in and play for the hat and the love. Writers hire cottages for the winter and settle in behind log fires, laptops and good coffee to finish overdue book projects. Some never leave. Painters, potters and sculptors also move here for the long haul, often staying on for decades beyond their initial plans. For inspiration, they simply step out of their front doors, inhale the fresh Karoo air and walk the dusty streets under the kindly gaze of the ever-present Compassberg peak.
How can Nieu-Bethesda bring out such wonders in people, when other dorpies fail miserably? Is it the legacy of Helen Martins and her Owl House, the words of playwright Athol Fugard that followed, or the ancient San who were the first artists in these snowy mountains? Perhaps everything feeds off everything else.
Helen Martins started it all and out of this, a folk art industry emerges. You can now choose from cement mermaids, owls and tortoises at the craft stalls outside the Owl House.
Athol Fugard buys a Karoo cottage in Nieu-Bethesda, hears about the story of Helen Martins, and writes a landmark play called The Road to Mecca.
Over the years various sculptors (like Frans Boekkooi), ceramicists (like Charmaine and Martin Haines), artists (like David Langmead and Gregg Price) and more have settled in Nieu-Bethesda and a number of studios and galleries are open to visitors.