Helen Elizabeth Martins - Artist Extraordinaire
On a cold winters morning in 1976, a sadly misunderstood old lady surrendered to her pain and loneliness. She took her own life by swallowing caustic soda. Her death brought to a full circle the sad and lonely life of one of South Africa's truly remarkable women and artists. Her name was Helen Martins. She was 87 years old and lived as a near recluse for the bigger part of her life. Yet she will become known and recognised as a creative genius; her creation, The Owl House, becoming the…
Helen Elizabeth Martins | South African History Online
Helen Elizabeth Martins was born on 23 December 1897 in the Karoo village of Nieu Bethesda in the Eastern Cape. She was the youngest of six children and spent her childhood growing up in Nieu Bethesda. She went on to obtain a teacher's diploma in nearby Graaff-Reinet and, around that time, married Johannes Pienaar - a teacher, dramatist and, in later years, a politician.
Helen Martins, Creator of the Owl House in Nieu Bethesda. One of the many sculptures in her 'Camel Yard'.
“The Owl House is a national monument in Nieu-Bethesda, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Her work was a source of suspicion and derision within the village and during her time, Helen Martins received very little support or enthusiasm about her work. Her lifelong exposure to the fine crushed glass she used to decorate her walls and ceilings caused her eyesight to start failing in 1976. She committed suicide on August 8, 1976 by ingesting caustic soda, aged 78.”