Helen Martins, Artist


An extraordinary room by virtue of the attempt to use as much light and color as is humanly possible. The walls -- mirrors on all of them -- are all of different colors, while on the ceiling and floor are solid, multicolored geometric patterns. Just what the room is really about will be revealed later when its candles and lamps -- again, a multitude of them of every size-shape and color -- are lit.

Athol Fugard, The Road to Mecca






Internet Resources

Miss Helen was notorious for not taking care of herself and as time, arthritis, and the arduous nature of her undertaking took its toll on her physique, she became increasingly shy of her appearance and took great pains to avoid seeing people in the street. The friends that she had, however, describe her as an intensely passionate person who became particularly animated and excited when discussing the latest ideas for her beloved creation.
South African History Online
When the sun rises I look at the light of day gleaming through bits of broken glass reflected in the mirrored spaces inside my house. These are like tiny, tiny flames within crushed ice. It warms my silent heart, like unheard music - day in, day out, throughout the changes of the seasons and the years.
Peter Clarke
Tapping an inner stream of creative vision, without external stimulation from conventional art and cultural centers, her genius flowered undaunted by environment. She held no exhibitions, rarely admitted visitors into her sanctuary, and was, in fact, astonished and embarrassed when anyone showed an interest in her work. Since she did not go to church and had little interest in earthly comforts, the strictly Calvinist community she lived in considered her “ungodly,” although the work is obviously that of a deeply religious person.
Niki Collins-Queen
Even with the modest nature of the house and the solid stone wall that conceals most of the side yard, one gets the feeling that something special is going on on the other side of the enclosure. Stars cut from sheets of tin are suspended on long, flexible rods that bend out over the wall, glinting in the white sunlight. These are accompanied by a glimpse of the occasional outstretched hand or odd-looking upraised profile. Indeed there is something out of the ordinary surrounding this house in Nieu Bethesda.
Dennis Wilson, Collegian Online
Helen Martins lay ill in bed one night, with the moon shining in through the window, and considered how dull and grey her life had become. She resolved, there and then, that she would strive to bring light and colour into her life. That simple decision, to embellish her environment, was to grow into an obsessive urge to express her deepest feelings, her dreams and her desires.
Athol Fugard
"Miss Helen", as she was commonly known in the district, was born in the same house in which she died, the house she named "The Owl House". During the latter part of her life, over a period of approximately 30 years, she totally transformed her traditional flat-roofed Karoo cottage and its surrounding plot of lands, situated on the outskirts of the village of Nieu Bethesda. Her unique creation encompassed her entire domestic environment.
Susan Imrie Ross
At the age of 50, when her husband died, she stopped going to church. She began to create a series of extraordinary eccentric creatures of wire, cement, and cut glass: owls, camels, wisemen, women, children, walking on the road to Mecca. The words God, damnation, heaven and hell ceased to have meaning for her as she created her pilgrims. She filled her house with cut colored glass and mirrors so in candlelight her home was luminous with color.
Roy Barber

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