Outer appearances can be deceiving. 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.
Born in Nieu Bethesda on December 23, 1897, Helen was the youngest of six children, and her early years gave little indication of what the future would hold. She finished her schooling in Graaff-Reinet with a teaching diploma then married Johannes Pienaar, who was a teacher and dramatist.
Their marriage was not a happy one, and after seeing parts of the country, Helen returned to Nieu Bethesda in 1928 so that she could care for her frail parents. Her mother passed away in 1941; her father in 1945. Helen’s relationship with her father was troubled and she had moved him into an outside room later named The Lion’s Den, its walls painted black.