/ 13 July 2003

Disgruntled assistants trash the Owl House

The son-in-law and grandson of Koos Malgas, assistant to Eastern Cape artist Helen Martins, have appeared in court in connection with vandalising her works, a Sunday newspaper reported.

Martins, about whom South African playwright Athol Fugard wrote the play Road to Mecca — turned into an acclaimed film — committed suicide in 1976, dying in the same Nieu Bethesda house in which she had been born.

Nieu Bethesda is in the Sneeuberg, near Graaf Rienet.

The Sunday Independent reported that the two men, who the newspaper did not name, had appeared in a local court in connection with a charge of malicious damage to property for vandalising Martin’s home — known as the Owl House. They were also charged with housebreaking and theft after R6 000 of stock was taken from a nearby craft shop. The stock was allegedly found in their possession.

The case was postponed to July 24, with the two in custody until then.

According to the newspaper Malgas’s relatives have complained they get ”nothing” from the Owl House, which is Nieu Bethesda’s major tourist attraction.

The house, which has been turned into a museum, employs seven local residents.

Several of the cement statues for which Martins is well known have been damaged.

On its website, the University of Pretoria says Martins created the Owl House and cement garden during the latter part of her life, over a period of approximately 30 years.

”Her unique creation encompassed her entire domestic environment.

”’This is my world’, she proclaimed, in twisted wire script on the high fence surrounding her property. Inside the fence was her house — multi-coloured and encrusted with glass in the interior — and her garden filled with fantastic cement statues. Beyond was a village where others cultivated flower and vegetable gardens or Lucerne to fatten sheep, and where other women’s pastimes included tea parties and card games …” – Sapa