Helen Elizabeth Martins ('Miss Helen') is considered South Africa's foremost Outsider Artist.
(Outsider Art was first recognized by the French artist Jean Dubuffet, who coined the term 'Art Brut', or Raw Art, and described it as "fantastic, raw, visionary art created by individuals often maladjusted, with no art training, who work outside the mainstream of the art world.")
... left with few prospects in a marginalized Karoo village, Martins became increasingly reclusive and isolated from the local community.
Known to the residents as 'Miss Helen' and thought of as a strange and rather outlandish character, she shied away from general contact, and began transforming her house and garden ...
... Helen Martins' art was greeted with derision and suspicion from the village.
Despite crippling arthritis, and the amputation of her small toes (her feet were disfigured from wearing narrow shoes) which left her unable to wear anything but slip-ons on her feet, Martins decorated her home with 'glass and light' ...
... In 1964 Helen Martins employed Koos Malgas, an itinerant sheepshearer, to help her make the cement-and -glass statues which fill the Camel Yard outside her house. Formally the garden, this sculpture yard had over 300 figures and animals.
Malgas became her foremost friend and companion, and remained by her side for the last 12 years of her life. Helen's close relationship with her Coloured assistant was viewed with great suspicion by Nieu Bethesda's Apartheid era residents ...
... Helen Martins' eyesight began to fail and in 1976 she took her own life by swallowing a mixture of caustic soda and crushed glass in olive oil.
She could not bear the thought of going blind - a great theme in her life and work is light - and she was worried that she would be taken away from her life's work.
Koos Malgas remained for another two years before relocating to Worcester, but returned in 1991 to assist in the restoration of the Owl House which had been declared a national monument and was supported by the newly created Owl House Foundation.
It had been Helen Martins' greatest wish that the Owl House and Camel Yard be preserved as a museum.
I would love to make a pilgrimage to Miss Helen's Owl House someday - I feel like we share a similar twist of mind ...
More info and images here and here.
Images in this post by Marion Boddy-Evans