07 August, 2014

The Koos Malgas legacy at the Owl House

 - gardening for biodiversity 
in Cape Town, South Africa

I took you with me on our March 2010 visit to the Owl House in Nieu Bethesda. Visitors come to this far away town to see her home, filled with her art works, created thru the second half of her life.

The sculptures are crafted from concrete. If you are a sculptor, or a craftsperson imagine the artist Helen Martins handing you her idea, a rough sketch on the back of a match-box. A scribble on a paper napkin. And today something electronic. What does it do to the creative process if the mind's eye does not work thru a pencil on paper? Just tapping at an electronic keyboard? Writing from the heart.


Thru the large window is the kitchen, with that hearth blazing

So you can understand why Koos Malgas' granddaughter was bitter and indignant. All the benefit of tourism comes to White Nieu Bethesda. All the fame for the art lies with Miss Helen! From this young woman's sorrow grew a book - Koos Malgas, Sculptor of the Owl House - Julia Malgas and Jeni Couzyn.

Koos Malgas selfie

Koos Malgas' two daughters

What is rather fun is that Koos left a self-portrait of himself as shepherd. With this wonderful image of his daughters - two young girls, one older, one younger, in swirly dresses, hand in hand. Running to follow that star in The East (capitals because east is where Helen placed it!) There they will find the baby, lying in a stable, with his mother and father. A horde of camels and wise men from afar. It really is a step-out-of-this-world experience. I appreciated being alone, no-one else's comments, whether thoughtful or flippant, intruding on me.

The Camel Yard at the Owl House

The Camel Yard. And in The East, they saw a star...

They saw a star in The East

Koos Malgas worked at shearing sheep, and casual labour out of season. He converted Helen's initial ideas, into actual three-dimensional sculptures in the garden. They worked together over the course of twelve years. He died in 2000. artthrob In Memory of Koos Malgas

Baby in house

House baby, and the garden baby

Baby in garden at the Owl House

Jack from Sequoia Gardens in 2010 -'Ah, one day I will see the Owl House. It was immortalised for me by Yvonne Bryceland and Louis van Niekerk in the Market Theatre production of Atholl Fugard's play "The Road to Mecca (Broadway snippet)" about Miss Helen and the local dominee... Mecca? Surely not? Or perhaps that was an ironic reference to the dominee thinking she was busy with heathen things... I'm certain that was the title. I thought it one of Fugard's great plays, and Bryceland astounding. Thanks for sharing this South African icon with the world!'

(If you are in California - have you seen Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village  Apparently the art scholars call these Art Brut and a 'visionary environment')

Pictures by Diana and Jurg Studer  

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  1. "What does it do to the creative process if the mind's eye does not work thru a pencil on paper LINK?" Indeed! I am no artist, but I CANNOT get the hang of drawing on the computer screen as opposed to putting a pencil to paper.

    1. I was reading about school children. If they use pencil and paper, it uses a part of the brain, which doesn't get used via digital media.

    2. digital artists like Pascal Campion are magnificent!

  2. Fascinating sculptures and tie in with the manger story. The sculptor is very talented. That would be a "must see" if I ever get to South Africa. I especially enjoyed the life and beauty of the two sisters hand-in-hand to follow the star.

  3. When I took a History of Garden Design class, I wrote about this garden and other visionary or outsider art gardens. It's the result of a remarkable vision and collaboration.

  4. Love these sculptures...especially the daughters. I write poetry with paper and pencil. it does engage a creative side not accessible otherwise for me.

  5. The Owl House is one of those places where you will always discover something you haven't seen before

  6. The daughters are my favorite. You always provide fascinating links, Diana, and the Judy Lee-Dunn article is so true and useful that I printed it out. P. x

  7. The Camel's Yard is remarkable! It must be doubly hard to create the vision of another person, but no doubt some of Koos Malgas' own vision came through.

    1. a joint effort. It takes two. I especially enjoy that Koos left us himself and his 2 daughters. Some happiness to set against Helen's sadness.