Owl House – Nieu-Bethesda, South Africa - Atlas Obscura

Owl House

Nieu-Bethesda, South Africa

Sculpture park built by a fifty year-old widow. 

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Suffering from depression as she reached middle age, Helen Martins began to channel her boredom with the life around her into creation, embellishing her surroundings with sculpture and painting and bringing light, color and art into her house and garden. She began with the inside of her house, which she soon finished, and then moved on to the outside, where she and Koos Malgas spent twelve years building the “Camel Yard,” the exterior sculpture garden filled with hundreds of stone sculptures.

In addition, the yard is filled with exotically colored sculptures made with glass bottles including a life-sized woman with a glass skirt. One can almost see her twirling in the sunlight as the reflections bounce off the glass. 

Inspired by biblical texts, the poetry of Omar Khayyam, and the works of William Blake, Martins was also particularly fond of owls, hence the name of the house. By her late seventies, however, she was losing her eyesight and was no longer well enough to work on her house. She ended her life at age 78 by swallowing caustic soda.

Know Before You Go

There is a wonderful local tavern in the town nearby with outside picnic tables and a host of local foods.

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