PLACES

Town without pity? The name Bethesda is from Hebrew origin and means “house of mercy”. It is widely believed that during the time of Helen Martin’s renascent period she found herself more and more isolated from the local community, some of whom treated her with suspicion and scorn and as a result we have come to believe that Nieu Bethesda was her nemesis. But was this the case? I recently received a call from a woman who grew up in Nieu Bethesda and who fondly remembered that, as a child, she used to deliver food to Helen Martins and in return Miss Helen would play classical music for her from her “seventy-eight” record collection. She felt that the tiny Karroo community of Nieu Bethesda had been dramatically misrepresented through the years and that they displayed in fact quite a caring towards Helen Martins by, for instance, sending her regular food parcels. One way or the other it seems that Helen Martins did become more reclusive, while the rigor of the work she had undertaken took its toll on her health. With her eyesight rapidly declining, she found herself engaged in a desperate race against time. In 1976, at the age of 77, Helen Martins felt that her work had been completed, and, with her failing eyesight adding to her despair, she took her own life by swallowing caustic soda. Her legacy. I believe that the joy and passion that she must have experienced in creating The Owl House and the delightful landscape that she left behind - a landscape of Love - makes her death almost incidental. My connection. My association with the Owl House began in August 2006 when I was commissioned by the Consol Glass Company to take photographs of the Owl House to be used in a glass awareness brochure. In March 2007 I was invited to exhibited photographs I had taken of the Owl House in a show titled “The Landscape of Love” at the University of Stellenbosch during their annual “Woordfees” (Festival of Words). In September 2007 I revisited the Owl House to complete my body of work. My idea of pairing the photographs happened spontaneously – I wanted to steer away from a candid record of Helen Martin’s work and instead create an interpretive documentary by combining images that contrasted or complemented each other in terms of colour and content. Jac de Villiers

RkJQdWJsaXNoZXIy MjY3Mjcw