Roberta Writes – Thursday Doors: The Owl House Nieu Bethesda Part 1

Welcome to Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments below, anytime between 12:01 am Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time).

You can join in Thursday Doors here:

After taking a walk to see the bushmen paintings and Anglo Boer War etchings I featured for last week Thursday Doors post, we travelled into the tiny town of Nieu Bethesda to do a little exploring. I’ll tell you a bit more about this fascinating tiny town in due course, but today, I am featuring the garden of the Owl House.

Helen Elizabeth Martins in a South African artist who worked with concrete and glass. She installed her elderly and ailing father, who was believed to have been emotionally abusive to his family during her younger years, in an outside room which she painted black. She ended her life at the age of 78 by drinking caustic soda.

“Helen Martins’ Owl House, often cited as South Africa’s finest example of outsider art, is an extraordinary, other-worldly home of concrete and ground glass sculptures. Her creativity conjures up an array of emotions: from wonder to excitement, curiosity and sadness.”

You can read more about Helen Martins and the Owl House here:

Entrance to the Owl House

Let’s start with pictures of the concrete and glass structures in her garden:

Outside structure built of glass bottles with an open doorway
Doorway into the house

If you’d like to learn more about Helen Martins, you can watch this 7 minute video about her life:

62 thoughts on “Roberta Writes – Thursday Doors: The Owl House Nieu Bethesda Part 1

    1. HI Wayne, it is. It is believed she was going blind due to her work with glass and the ground glass in her paint. There are jars and jars of glass in her store cupboard which I’ll post next week. I think she couldn’t cope with idea of losing her sight and not being able to enjoy the light and colour she loved so much.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. HI LIz, I think that Helen Martins story is told as one of loss and sadness, but I did not feel her house was like that. I thought her artwork showed great happiness and joy in colour and life. I think she found spiritual redemption through her self expression.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I reckon she was full of sorrow, trying to find the redemption that wasn’t there to find. A very inventive woman with a
    degree of creativity the rest of us can only marvel at. I don’t think I would like the lady, but I could respect her.


  2. These are such interesting photos, Robbie. I can only imagine the curious mix of emotions you must have felt while walking through the rooms and gardens. I love the church and the structure with the open door. I shivered a bit at the inside view of the door from her father’s room. Thanks for sharing these with Thursday Doors and I look forward to the next installment. I think I’ll check out that video (although I’m a little nervous).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Robbie, I hadn’t heard of Helen Elizabeth Martins so thank you for sharing. These sculptures are a little frightening to look at and seem to represent the darkness in Martins. That said, I think adding glass to the concrete is an original idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for this amazing “doors” post, Robbie and for your introduction to the remarkable art of Helen Elizabeth Martins. I am inspired by her determination to transform her surrounding. Courage, resilience within a world that viewed her as an outlier.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. HI REbecca, it was very hard for women who were a little different and creative at this time when society was so conservative and patriarchal. Many Afrikaans men were very religious and narrow minded. The inside of the house is even more remarkable.

      Liked by 2 people

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