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.
The Owl House
Weird to some, wonderful to others, the Owl House is a work of outsider art created by Helen Martins between 1945 and 1976. Driven to despair by the dullness of her daily life, she took steps to transform her world with light, colour and texture.
The Camel Yard
A procession of camels and wise men are making their way “east”. The caravan is in fact traveling north to south and not true east. Helen has written the words “East/Oos” on the boundary fence, creating a place where the sun and moon rise and the direction in which men turn to in prayer. The whole of the Owl House and Camel Yard is filled with many stories and themes, inspired by books and images. Welcome to Helen’s Mecca.
Nieu Bethesda, set in a fertile valley of the Sneeuberg Mountains, lies in the heart of the vast and dramatic territory known as the Great Karoo. The town was once a small but vibrant centre for the local farming community but in the 1940’s and 50’s the village was eclipsed by the larger towns in the district and it’s population went into a steep decline. This resulted in an isolated and improvised community. Serendipitously the lack of development left the village with a rare historical and architectural integrity. Today, this unique appeal and the renown associated with the Owl House has turned the village into a tourist attraction.