The Owl House, iconic treasure of the Karoo Heartland’s Nieu-Bethesda is finally set to become a South African National Heritage Site.

This is excellent news for those who have visited or long to visit Helen Martins’ bizarre and beautiful Owl House in the village hamlet of Nieu-Bethesda. 

Since the 1980’s and through into the 1990’s, several attempts have been made to have the Owl House awarded the status that it deserves, with it being provisionally declared a National Monument in 1990 and extended in 1995. Now, following a nomination by members of the public to have the Owl House and the Camel Yard declared a Grade 1 National Heritage Site, the wheels have finally been set in motion. 

South African National Heritage Resources Agency’s intention to declare was announced at a public meeting held in Nieu-Bethesda on April 11, 2017, as part of the Mayoral Outreach programme, during which the Budget, IDP and other matters of mutual interest or concern were discussed with the communities.

The Owl House, home of reclusive artist Helen Martins, is a place of wonder to anyone who visits. In life, Helen Elizabeth Martins was a shy, retiring figure, rarely seen outside on the streets of Nieu Bethesda. But this recluse was the custodian of a magical inner kingdom that she breathed into life – a monument to Outsider Art. outsider art refers to the often controversial works created by dedicated, if not obsessive artists, who are untrained, and who have not been influenced by any schools, galleries or museums. Outsider artists are mostly self-taught individuals, who in many instances often remain obscure until their deaths.

During the twelve years that she actively worked, Helen Martins created hundreds of sculptures depicting mermaids, camels, pilgrims and bottle-skirted hostesses. She painted the interior of her home in bright colours, overlaid with a layer of crushed glass, making them gleam in candle-and lamp-light. 

Today, the Owl House Foundation is the custodian of Miss Helen’s vision, and it is through the foundation’s efforts that the magic of the Owl House can touch many more lives.

Book a stay in Nieu-Bethesda to visit the Owl House

Source: Graaff Reinet Advertiser

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