Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Painting of the Year: The Outlook!

This alcove was spotted in Piketberg, shaded by a Victorian corrigated iron roof. The large sash windows have frames encrusted with dark "heritage green" paint, which in South Africa usually indicates a National Monument or very old building. The chairs and blackboard menu invite the passersby to rest and eat. Outside is the sunny sky of Piketberg and the road from the mountain sloping by.....

Here are my New Year's wishes to you: there are steps to take, and roads to cross, an uphill climb, a downhill slide, new doors to enter and new windows to open. As we wait with bated breath to enter the New Year, may the choices be many and varied and exciting!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Piketberg Cottage - When Wikepedia cannot help!

Visiting the tranquil town of Piketberg, I soon realised that this place was a well-kept secret, a place to consider if one really wants to "get away from it all". The roads are running perpendicular with that wonderful mountain and many houses are staggered along the sloping ground. A beautiful nest of townhouses from an earlier era attracted my attention, sharing outer walls, each cottage a little lower than the previous. And then, on one of them was a plain tole-decorated ceramic plaque, a blue gate and on the gateposts two very old paint-encrusted artists' palettes! The legend on the plate: The Katzeff family lived here from 1937 to 1999. Who were these artistic people?

I paged through a lot of brochures on Piketberg as well as a book and the website for the town. And all these articles have the same words: Lithuanian Jews settled in Piketberg, ran businesses as salesmen to the farms and some eventually became highly successful entepreneurs who left for larger centra. The synagogue was bought by the municipality and became a normal small-town museum. I combed the Internet... Where are we going to find out more about that artistic family, their pottery and their painting?

My painting is of a cute cottage in the same row, chosen because it was a shorter style house and more suitable for a painting.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wishing you a Wonderful Christmas from the West Coast

Nowadays, when I take a walk through the fynbos, I notice that the West Coast fairies have been very busy decorating their Christmas trees! We normally call this bush the tortoise berry shrub. In spring the strong thorny plants are covered in pretty pink flowers. And then, in December a wonderful berry pops out of each flower. It goes through so many colour changes, starting with light beige, soft green, yellow, followed by the purples until it reaches the final bright red colour. Look at my painting and the photographs and you can see how closely it resembles a beautifully decorated tree in miniature!

I never knew that there were West Coast fairies, but now there is a wonderful book: "Fynbos Fairies" by the poet Antjie Krog and illustrator Fiona Moody, and they have captured our fascinating ethnical community of fairies. The synopsis on reads: "There is a fairy living around each species of Cape Fynbos ----they work and play, they tend the fynbos or make a mess. They laugh, they sleep, they dream - life's busy for your average fynbos fairy in the veld."

The bright red tortoise berries are beloved by fairies, children, tortoises and birds who all love the thirst-quencing astringent tasting little morsels. Mmm, what a neat idea: the baubles on the West Coast fairies' tree are edible! The botanical name of the berry bush: Nylandtia spinosa. The book was published by Umuzi . ISBN 978-1-4152-0022-3

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Piketberg - A Mountain and a Church

I can only present you with a preparatory sketch today! This type of sketch is what usually lies underneath my proper painting.

Like many small towns here and everywhere else, Piketberg started with a church building. Towering above everything else is this very impressive Dutch Reformed Church with splendid gardens all around and the mountain behind. It is already two centuries old and was designed and built in Neo-Gothic style by Carl Otto Hagen and has now been declared a National Monument.

The days are getting busy here...I have almost finished the painting of a West Coast plant that I will post on Christmas day, but for the rest everything is suspended and my personal paints and brushes will be packed away as I "renting" out my studio to my 5-year-old twin granddaughters for their crafting and painting in exchange for lots of hugs!

Before leaving my blog, you might also like to read the 10 Questions I answered for Portfolio Collections, a wonderful domain who had won the South African Blog of the Year Award 2009. Click on my portrait in the right-hand column.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Arriving in Piketberg

What more could a town ask for? Piketberg lies against a wonderful mountain and its streets are lined with enormous jakaranda and other types of trees! The mountain harbours two more towns on its opposite side, but long ago the Gonjemans tribe lived here, and many examples of San art can be found in the caves. Khoikhoi herdsmen also knew the place intimately and would hide russled cattle in the caves and valleys. It was decided in the 1670's to create a small military outpost known as a piquet (French) or picket (English), from there the Afrikaans name Piketberg.

A cannon placed on the mountain was used to warn surrounding farmers of trouble in the vicinity, or of ships arriving in Table Bay harbour to buy their products. It boomed happily when Queen Victoria had a birthday, and even more so when a telephone line was completed that linked the town with Cape Town. The cannon is filled up with concrete now, and kept in the schoolgrounds. You can just see the lovely old school at the end of the street.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Workers in the Vineyard

On a lovely early summer's day I take a drive to admire the farmlands between Malmesbury and Piketberg. The popular crops are wheat, vines, our local herbal Rooibos tea and proteas. It seems on the road that I'm on that most farms have opted for wheat and vines. The result is so pleasing to the eye and one is met by alternating patches of gold and green.

The workers in my painting are pruning the neat rows of vines. We sometimes complain that wine is expensive, but should consider for a moment all the labour and cost that is involved. The cuttings are grafted, cultivated, treated and dusted and then planted in ploughed and fertilised furrows. Take into account the trellising and pruning, protection against pests and diseases, irrigation, picking, sorting, distilling! What a process! The workers are usually part of the large farm "family" and will have homes, salaries, schooling and medical wine really that expensive?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sun and Shadow

I always find the best spots to paint at noon with the sun glaring down. The downside is that the contrasts are sharp. The advantage of this is that it provides me with an opportunity to study the features we need in our South African homes to provide shelter from the heat.
Driving along the highway to Malmesbury this cottage suddenly appearred 'in the middle of nowhere' near the main road. That it seems so solitary is an indication of the abundance of space we are used to in the West Coast region. The house was built in what we call Victorian style in our country, but whereas Victorians had to consider heating, architects here had to incorparate into their design our lenghthy summers and providing natural cooling. The most important feature these little homes had was the deep shady verandas. It kept the dining- and sitting room, which were always near the front, very cool and provided a lovely sheltered outside area to sit during the day. It provided symmetry and order to the design, and here the two large trees were used to provide a neat frame.
I noticed that the building now had a religious use, but my memories were stirred and I thought back to a time when a man would read his newspaper outside on the veranda while his wife sat there preparing vegetables. Besides a comfortable bench there would be an upright table which could be laid so that the family could enjoy their supper outside on hot summer nights. Yes, sitting down to dinner wherever you were, was a great South African tradition! How things have changed with the advent of television!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cape Dutch Architecture

I spotted this building on a street corner in Malmesbury. This is one of the typical white Cape Dutch homes that is such a feast for the eye because of the clean symmetry. Of course this style originated in the Netherlands, but in a very different way and developed here over the years in our own gracefully unique style. In Dutch cities we can still see tall narrow buildings, several storeys high that are topped with gables. In South Africa with so much space available the building style transformed itself into spacious floor plans and usually a single storey. Because the rules of symmetry were followed, the homes were either long or in an H or a T shape.

The burghers had tiles for roofing at first, but those early tiles cracked in the harsh climate. Reeds was the best local material available and the roofs needed to be high-pitched to prevent water from settling on the roof and creating rot. Soon the white gables and high thatched roofs became characteristic of the Cape Dutch style. I mentioned in an earlier blog that the large gable also freed the front door from burning thatch blocking the entrance in the event of a fire.

High ceilings and thick walls lead to cool interiours. Flagstones that came over to the Cape as ships' ballast were used for the floors and sometimes highly polished. Windows are always higher than their width, and rhythmically placed.Today many of these homes are beautifully restored, authentically furnished and lived in or preserved as national monuments and museums.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Neo-Baroque in the Swartland

I have sketched town halls and churches in Rotring pen, but painting the all-white very complicated Swartland Dutch Reformed Church building in its entirety was too ambitious a project, thus I offer one wing of the building! You can look at a photograph of this immensely beautiful church by searching the Malmesbury Historic Route on Google. This church was the flagship, center point and tallest structure before the grain silos started to dominate the townscape.

The style is neo-Gothic, also called Victorian Gothic which began in England in 1740. The Swartland church, one of the oldest in the country was built in 1745. In this style Gothic and Medieval forms are prefered above classical architecture. In Victorian times Classical was seen as liberal and modern, while Baroque was associated with conservatism, making it the perfect choice for seriously conservative churches.

I loved this wing of the church which created a cool quiet corner with the large tree still in its winter-skeleton mode. In my painting you can see one of those very cute Medieval-style concrete curiosities on the gable. They decorate the roof all round, each a different design, and some seem to carry bells or mirrors. I will do some more research, as Gaudi who loved Medieval ornamentation also used a lot of them in Barcelona in the early 20th century.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Waving Wheatfields

At last we had open skies and took the road inland. We passed through Malmesbury with its giant wheat silos where the country's breakfast cereals and cake and bread flour originate. And then, what I was hoping for: as we started out from Malmesbury to Piketberg, there was field upon field of golden wheat , softly stirring in the breeze as far as the eye could see.

Wheat conjures up many associations and symbols. I see the biblical Ruth bending to gather the fallen ears of wheat behind the harvesters. I see happy folks dipping hunks of fresh bread into olive oil and forever-famished little boys with their peanut butter sarmies. Is there anything else that springs to mind? Please leave a comment and we can all spend the weekend with log fires, cheese, wine, soup and bread. And a few thoughts or discussions on the staff of life!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And now for South African Pumpkins

For all my friends in the States who are painting and displaying and eating pumpkin at this time of the year, I show a still life with everyday South African pumpkins.
You do not want to know what Spring has turned into as the rain pours down and the wind whips up the ocean outside my studio window!
While I am waiting to continue travelling the West Coast and paint a waving wheatfield, I refer back to my previous blog. I have used my own window and my own doll in the picture, and added a bowl of miniature American pumpkins which I photographed on my daughter's Thanksgiving table in 2000 in Texas. When I was there, I truly admired the lovely pumpkins displayed on lawns and window-sills all over American towns, some of them enormous, very orange, very round orbs!

Our pumpkins are very rough-looking, I hope you like them too!
A waving wheatfield coming up soon! (thinking positively about the weather!)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

An Autumn Painting in a Spring Garden

I have been housebound because of the weather. The plan was to paint a large canvas with a rich, waving sunny wheatfield which will continue the story of Malmesbury. But for the last 96 hours it has been raining and pouring. It started with storms of the worst kind when I often thought that the sea was entering the house. Now it is just an ongoing rain, the type that the fields and gardens surely need before the scorching summer arrives.

To keep the blog running, I decided to show you my painting, completed three weeks ago, for an Autunm theme competition that was launched in California, the home of Facebook, where of course, they celebrate the colours of Autumn at the moment. In honour of the contrast of seasons between the Northern hemisphere and the Cape, I photographed the painting in my Spring garden some weeks ago.

Hoping to paint the wheatfields soon!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pillars of Power

The fairly large town of Malmesbury is a place where nobody really wants to spend any length of time, unless you know where to find some of its treasures. The town has three distinct faces: Firstly it is the Administrative capitol of our region, as it is where we go for passports, licences, etc. Secondly, it is dominated by enormous silos in the middle of town, as this place is truly the breadbasket of the country, surrounded by wheatfields as far as the eye can see. And thirdly it has significant historical value with some of the oldest buildings in the country.

Today, to represent the administrative side of Malmesbury, I have painted the imposing pillars and gateposts in front of the Swartland Municipality.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Only in Riebeek Kasteel!

The main vegetation of the Swartland area where Riebeek Kasteel is situated is wheat. The area is a fairly new wine-producing region. But of course, the ocean breezes and low-lying position of the region is ideal for vineyards. So do not be surprised by what I am showing you here: town gardens covered in vines! Browse along the main streets of Riebeek Kasteel to admire a quaint clockmaker, a peaceful little village church and restaurants housed in Victorian homes, and suddenly you spot them: the urban vinyards! So, who wants roses?

The key to having such a lovely-looking healthy vineyard is disease control. Young vines are carefully selected and planted in vine nurseries, then uprooted, dusted for disease control and thereafter sold to farmers or any person willing to plant and nurture them. Trellisses support the growing vines which are always planted in symmetrical rows. Thus a growing vineyard will form these eye-catching patterns we love!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Awesome Riebeek Valley

It does not matter how many times you turn off onto the lookout outside Riebeek Kasteel to look up to the solitary mountain or down into the vast valley, it is always a pensive moment. People and even kids do not talk, but just stare and take it all in!

Against the mountain and into the fruitfull valley (to the right) the eye plays over vineyards, olive groves and beautiful export vegetables. If we visit the paved gift shop area which I showed into an earlier blog, all these products are there for tasting and for sale. I photographed some delightful vegetables there displayed in old enemal bowls far removed from polystyrene trays and plastic wrap. Riebeek Kasteel also has some new eateries with tongue-in-cheek names: "Auntie Pasti" and "Bar-bar-black-sheep"! So that is good, because we all love to enjoy lunch out in Riebeek Kasteel!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kasteelberg Inn and Bistro

For quite a few blogspots I have been looking at eateries. But of course, Riebeek Kasteel is very much associated with good dining. Here at the Kasteelberg Inn, I am always impressed by the Frenchlike informality of checked table cloths and a few fresh flowers just plugged into little pots. And what makes it extra nice is the pristine white linen serviettes and some good glasses on the table, not only for wine but also for water. We have heard it whispered that a French cook was doing the cooking. The menu changes all the time, but I will not easily forget my first course consisting of a little trio of chilled soups!

We art bloggers are on a roll, and I meet new people through art blogging every day. Two main things motivate us all: to paint on a daily basis, fitting it in between the scores of things we have to do, and secondly, to always look out for new challenges. Maybe that will explain why I had to put the flowers behind the glass!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Marmalade Cat

My painting of little Felix, the restaurant cat, was very popular and I had comments, Facebook comments, e-mails and phone calls about it. So, even though I am working on paintings about Riebeek Kasteel, I was prompted to paint another restaurant cat. This very quick oil sketch shows a tabletop scene at The Marmalade Cat, a popular Darling eatery where tourists, locals and especially the local artists hang out.

Before you think this little cat makes a habit of jumping on tables, I must explain something. My husband has that sympathetic aura about him, so that any animal who makes eye contact with him thinks: Mmmmmm, here I will get away with ANYTHING! (There, I told the World, and Darling, please take your dog off my white sofa!)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Finding Felix

There's no such Cat in the metropolis; (oh well, make it 'village'). He holds all the patent monopolies. For performing surprising illusions. And creating eccentric confusions.

(From Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S.Eliot -Mr Mistoffelees)

No wonder there are great poems about cats! We found the surprisingly tiny Felix in the backyard of the restaurant, among planting tools, squeezed in behind some pots! It seems like his favourite resting place! I found the painting very plain against my usually cluttered works, but persued the topic nevertheless.

Cafe Felix is linked to Old Oak Manor House in Riebeek Kasteel. Do yoursself a favour and google this guest house. Restaurant and guest house owner Salome Gunter is one of South Africa's well-known interior designers. The bedrooms are truly fall-apart-in-my-backyard sumptious and a little cat like Felix is likely to get lost between those large puffy cotton-print pillows.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cafe Felix at Riebeek Kasteel

My painting takes you to Cafe Felix, nestled in a house built in 1856 and named for a real life cat. I was instantly bowled over by the soothing music, the hand-carved chairs reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh and the oversized orange linen serviettes. Soft from washing, they invite you to sit down and inspect the blackboard menu of Mediterranean-like food.

Or wait, there is such a wonderful courtyard linked to the main dining room and dappled in sun-and-shadow from the enormous trees, where you can eat al-fresco. It is furnished in rusted-looking cast iron furniture and has tables laid in various printed cottons with the same large serviettes. I would recommend the chorizo salad made with pears and chilli-flavoured olive oil, but the menus change all the time, and new wonderful dishes will appear every few weeks. We are not leaving Cafe Felix, because I am on a mission of finding Felix, the stray cat who adopted the watch my next blog for that elusive cat!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Friendly Place for Shoppers

In South Africa we have a great fondness of our little towns. If they offer wide open pedestrian walkways without motor traffic, like Riebeek Kasteel, they attract happy browsers. Here you can leave your car and get away from the pollution. You can enjoy fresh mountain air, shopping and coffee in the morning and have lunch at one of the several splendid restaurants.

There are mostly galleries and gift shops along this walkway. Here you can buy unusual lacy long skirts, knitted scarfs and berets, and embroidered cushions are stacked high on the stoep. The talented artists who chose Riebeek Kasteel or its sister village Riebeek West as their home, are well represented here. My painting shows the lovely colours and finishes on these restored Edwardian buildings.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Riebeek Kasteel in the Early Morning

In 1660 Peter Cruythoff discovered the area and named it "Riebeeck Casteel" after Jan van Riebeeck, commander of the Cape settlement. The mountain then became Kasteelberg, named for the commander's castle in Cape Town. In those days there were lots of wild animals including lion in the valley and mountain. Today it is an idyllic area with vineyards, fruit farms, olive groves and a pleasant climate and part of the Western Cape biosphere.

Today Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek West, with their Tuscon aura, are some of the prefered residential areas for artists looking for small towns to work in peace, and the site of many excellent restaurants. We often drive through from the coast to enjoy lunch here. There are also such delightful B&B establishments that I sometimes wish we were far enough to sleep over.

In my painting I show the main street, believe it or not, looking very peaceful and that one cyclist sure wanted to be nowhere else, but in this lovely village. My first 46 West Coast paintings were done in acrylic, but I have changed to oils now since the previous painting.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Olives, please!

203mm x 254mm
Oil on canvas
R1250, framed

In the Riebeek Valley, against Kasteelberg, nestle the sister villages of Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek-West. Kloovenburg wine and olive farm is always my first stop on the left, before entering Riebeek Kasteel. The 300-year old farm has the biggest selection of olive products anywhere in South Africa. Bowls filled with the goodies to taste draw me like a magnet into the large cool cellar.

Among my favourite products are olives marinated in a blackberry infusion, pitted dried olives which swell out when used in pasta or can be nibbled dry as a snack, and the large old-fashioned tins of olive oil. The oil is only chosen after dipping many little hunks of bread into many bowls!

Here, I usually buy for home use as well as products to give away, as the packaging is beautiful. and the products superior. My painting shows the walkway towards the cellar door. O, yes there are very good wines under the Kloovenburg lable, and olive oil soaps too....expect to taste and shop for quite a while!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Where will the road take us?

I suspect that all maps are copyrighted! So even though I am looking at an attractive little map of the West Coast region, I cannot post it here. I do have a longish canvas, though, and maybe I should just paint a map as well! The road in my painting is the road between Yzerfontein and Darling. We are still in the season of clouds, not quite winter anymore and not what we would call warm enough to venture out without something warm to wear. The windmill is a well known landmark as it is suddenly visible on the top of a blind rise, complete with its dam and awesome clumps of arum lilies.

In my next blog we will follow this road and beyond to visit the very picturesque Riebeeck Kasteel, where beauty abounds around every corner. It is connected with some very old South African history. I am going to do at least five paintings, and I expect having a difficult time choosing the images as there is so much to experience! You will love Riebeeck Kasteel!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gathering Rain Clouds

Something we love about the West Coast is that without buildings to obstruct the view, there is a lot of sky! Three mornings ago, I looked out to see what the day would be like. Oh, oh! (to quote my grandchildren.) A bruised-looking sky held the promise of a day full of chilly spells and outpourings. For the first time on this blog, I picked up a large canvas as my usual 9 x 12 format would not be able to tell the story. This is the resulting easel painting. The mass of a neighbour's home in the lower right hand corner anchors the composition.

The Western Cape Biosphere is a Unesco protected area. The natural fynbos are kept in its pristine state. Therefore we do not plant trees, roses or anything that will spread its seeds through the fynbos. As the early morning sun catches a few cloud borders here, the abundant sprays of the wild purple pelargoniums are also highlighted.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rocky Outcrops at Kabeljoubank

We have an unpredictable spring season on the West Coast, today was sunny but cold. On such days I do not drive the 30km to Darling, but find something to paint close to home. Kabeljoubank offered this flower-scattered scene which is not far from where I painted the snoek guy and the old gate on previous occasions. I love to take my visitors here as it is a small distance from my home. Every boy and his dog will always climb the outcrop on the left where you can see the footpath going up.

After the rain the sea will hit these rocks with such force that you can see the massive surge of spray over the top. It did not bode well for passing ships in days of old. This is where The British Peer met its end in 1896. We still pick up rounded red pebbles which are really wellworn pieces of the bricks which were used as ballast on the ship.
In the distance in my painting is the little campsite of Ganzekraal, with a 350yr old name. Here on the fence the snoek are often hanging in their hundreds to dry out. There are wild ostriches living here and the trick is to photograph them when they are standing with Table Mountain in the background. Well, maybe I have done that far too often!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Coffee and Books

If you need coffee for the shot of caffeine, you can drink it on the run. If you like books that are page-turners you can rush into a news agency in a large shopping centre and grab your books, then read them in a weekend! Not for me! I loooooove coffee and I have to drink it in a pretty peaceful place. I also loooooove reading: the slow sort of book, choosing it, discussing it with a knowledgable shop owner, taking it home and finding a place for it on my shelves, that is all part of the experience.

By now I know what you are going to ask: Is that the West Coast way of doing things? It is, and I am guiding you through two large maroon gates near Evita se Perron in Darling to see beyond. It is the Mantis Mall again, and this time I have painted some of the outside coffee tables and the pretty Book League, where Anne and Wendy will always find what you need or order it, tell you who has written a new book and when will it be on the shelves.

The feeling here is so much like some small places in Europe, in the Central Coast of California, and certain towns in Australia. Let us hope that modernisation will not take over such peaceful lifestyles.

Monday, September 7, 2009


"Nothing in Nature is more beautiful than a wildflower. Every smallest one of them has grown in perfect symmetry" Asteraceae, daisies, gousblomme, whatever you prefer to call them, lead the pack of wildflowers in the Cape Floral Kingdom. Nothing at all is visible during winter. They leave you worrying: will they bloom this year? And then one sunny morning you have a blinding display which continues for about 7 weeks through August and September.

Do you remember the snoek drying on the fence at Kabeljoubank in the cooler months? This scene is also up there.... to the south is Table Mountain, to the west is the ocean. Have you noticed that old fences, wiring and gates that are no longer needed are just left where they are? I love this old gate here. It provides a focal point to the composition.

(quote in the beginning from: Dr Winifred G Wright - Natal, a Rambler's Pocket Guide)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Showtime in Darling

It is the month of September and visitors from all over descend on the surprisingly small but so significant town of Darling. In my attic gallery I have sold paintings to people from Pretoria, Moqambique, Namibia and France, all coming here to experience the wonderful Cape Floral Kingdom. Darling is a little distance from the sea, close enough for the sea air but far enough to miss the salt spray and the flowers are magnificent!

I am painting the arum lilies which I obtained legally.....the fines for picking these treasures are extremely heavy. On the radio, television and in the papers there are warnings not to buy them from street vendors. I am talking lilies, but visitors should park and walk the routes where the world's most beautiful and very colourful smaller flowers are hiding in marshy areas. If you want to take in all the flowers together there is the annual Darling Wildflower Show and the annual Orchid Show later this month.

There is a nest of wonderful guest houses, restaurants and very original entertainment. Leading the program is the Voorkamerfest, where live shows and plays are performed in various private homes. There are seven different routes. For each ticket the visitor is transported by minibus taxi to three very different surprise venues. (all routes fully booked out for 2009). And in between theatre-going and dining, guests can follow the Darling Art Route, visiting 13 different homes and galleries in town. Visit me at no 3 ......

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Churning Them Out

The idea to paint some of the arum lilies brought to the studio by Karen of Lelieblom, was a good idea and it tends to relax my visitors when they watch me doing it. I was so pleased with all the comments I received after the last blog. Many interesting facts regarding these flowers came forward, especially regarding the edibility. MacTeddy dared me to try a dish made of the young leaves, suggesting that it may taste like baby spinach. Theresa from Geneva had already enjoyed a delicious dish in Japan where the stalks were used, and in Texas, 'rianreyneke' can buy a spicy filled leaf, a sort of wrap!

Arum lilies are standing thick along our roads. On a cold day like today when all the other flowers in the Cape Floral Kingdom close up, arums still stand in glorious display. The most beautiful scene year after year is seeing black/white cows lying down on top of large patches of lilies, always on a spot where it will be dangerous to stop the car for a photo!!!! After learning of the medicinal use of the flowers, I begin to suspect that cows by instinct do something good for their bodies. "I say, Daisy, shall we take The Cure this year?"

I forgot to tell you that the preferred name among Afrikaans people is the lovely-sounding 'aronskelke'. Maree mentioned in the comments that she used to have a black arum lily in her garden, and sometimes I have come across a rather sharp yellow example. I wonder, did nature produce them, like the creamy white ones here in our fields, or was man in an experimental mood?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Exhibition in the Attic

My exhibition "Art in the Attic" in Darling started today. You will find the info on the right hand side of this blog. Of course it means one thing: I am back in Darling, "the little village we know so well"! The countryside is now carpeted all over with lovely arum lilies. From Lelieblom Farm I received a very large bunch for the opening day, and I have started drawing them on small canvasses. For the next few days I will sit and paint arums in the well-lit attic. I have finished a large painting of arums recently and 5-year old granddaughter, Morgan, is showing it to you. Now that I know how to spend my time in Darling, more paintings of arum lilies will follow.

Arum lily is scientifically known as Zantedescia Aethiopica, but this flower has many other names too. I grew up with the name 'varkoor'. In a very old little rambler's guide I also found the following names listed: Calla, pig lily (the flower resembles the ear of a pig), white arum, trumpet lily, Lily of the Nile, varkblom, varkblaar, Mothebe (Sotho language), iNtebe emhlope (Zulu).

This plant has some medicinal value and is also edible. A heated leave can be applied to sores and insect bites. The best way to heat it is by pressing it with an iron. In this way it acts as a poultice. What I did not know was that the young leaves are edible and can be cooked like a vegetable. Mmmm, any volunteers out there?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Coffee in Langebaan

What is more relaxing on a clear lazy day, than drinking good coffee in Langebaan, the town where the sea is "everywhere"! In my painting the sea is behind me and the people on the left are walking away from it. I visited Langebaan 25 years ago as a place I have never heard of before. There was a type of general store but this row of informal eateries was still in the future.

There is still one problem for the strollers and for photographers, though : This pleasant corner of Langebaan is car-friendly and not pedestrian-friendly. Everyone seems to park right where they need to be, at the ATM, in front of the restaurants and so on. The people doing watersport or just going for a walk, will even park right on the beach. I mentioned photographers having problems, because as an artist I just did not paint the cars, some of them right in the entrance of shops!

Once the road here is closed off as as pedestrian walkway, the little shops in the arcades and all the coffee places will be discovered and visited. A nice thing to do between walks along the beach and next to the lagoon would be to dine in one place and have coffee at another, then browse along to see the gift stores. Delivery vans could be allowed in for an hour early in the morning........Let us learn from Newport, from Charlotte Amalie, from Veli Losinj and remove the traffic from this pleasant corner of Langebaan!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Bride and the Sea

Strandkombuis at Yzerfontein on the West Coast, is renown for beautiful weddings. No wonder! Yzerfontein has many acres of pristine white beach. A wedding can take place on the sand, maybe in the 'long-shadows-hour', shortly before sunset. And afterwards in the disappearing light, guests can enter the beach shelter for a feast to remember!

A lovely venue! Now add a striking bride! Melissa Madore, a tall, dark-haired French-Canadian beauty, met Tiaan, a South African who has spent much of his youth in Europe, when they were both lecturing in Taiwan. Melissa came to live in South Africa for a year - it became five years! Where to get married? Being such seasoned travellers, they had plans to marry in Kenya where they once had a holiday. Not very practical if you have to transport all your guests including Tiaan's newly-born nephew over there!
In Melissa's own words: "I still very much wanted a beach wedding. Then we looked at Strandkombuis and we both fell on our knees, thinking: 'This is it! This is the place!' "

All the guests, including the bridegroom and his best man, wore white. The chairs had white cotton dust covers and a white tent-type shelter with a flower-covered arch was ready for the ceremony. Then Melissa appeared in a sensational dark blue dress with lots of frothy white lace echoing the sea and the foamy waves. Striking and original! I did not want to paint the wedding photographs and used three different photos to work out a composition where the bride looks down onto the scene from the dunes higher up.

Friday, August 7, 2009

West Coast National Park

It was still not high season for the flower display on the West Coast when I decided to enter the West Coast National Park for a drive, to experience the scenery and stop for good coffee. Odette, Odille and Oswald halted me and demanded to know exactly where I thought I was going! In case you did not know, ostriches are polygamous. Several females will lay the eggs in the same nest and make turns to keep them protected by day. At night the male will take his turn in keeping his future brood warm with his luscious plumage. The brownish-gray plumes belong to the females while the males are black&white. There are many areas in South Africa where ostriches are domesticated and used for their eggs, eggshells, plumes, meat and skin, but our ostriches live in their natural habitat in the wild and are protected.

Soon there will be hundreds of visitors per day to this reserve with its many bird species and its endless carpet of flower species, its seaviews and lagoon views. There are special birding spots, whale watching, mountain bike trails, hiking trails and picnic sites. Geelbek Restaurant in the park offers an information centre. The West Coast National Park is part of the greater West Coast Biosphere. There is a section for watersports and sailboats. The great tranquility of the Langebaan Lagoon is guaranteed by the exclusion of angling and powerboats. Mmmm, that is why it always seems like such a perfect hideout there......the only sound the lapping of the water and the gentle staccato of the cleats.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Storm at Langebaan

I have been asked about the storm that I have mentioned in the previous posting. We have a great storm or two on the West Coast virtually every year, and they often make the national news. They are so much worse because they happen in winter. Bartholomeu Diaz named this coast Cabo des Tormentos in 1488 and the name Cape of Storms has remained. Many ships on their way to the east have been wrecked along this coast and you will find books and a lot on the Internet about these wrecks.

Shortly after we have built our own home next to the sea (and incidentally close to where the British Peer was wrecked in 1896,) there were heavy threatening clouds early one evening and I could see enormous waves that seemed very close. Then it broke loose with thunder and extreme wind. My husband had no visibility to drive home and had to sit out the storm elsewhere. Then there was a power failure too and it was darker than dark while the heavens just opened and heavy rains pelted down. The water started streaming in underneath previously untested doors, as I suddenly realised that my husband would not know his way through a dark new house. This is how he found me hours later: with doberman Kyla on top of the highest sofa , the floor full of little tea candles to warn against the large dams of water everywhere inside.

Last month the waves were as big as 9 meters high. The storm which battered the coast was caused by spring tide backed by strong winds with the speed of 100kph. Properties in Langebaan took quite a beating and water was seen two streets up from the beach, while roofs were plucked off and barges wrecked. These small boats seem only to have lost their anchors but they are quite a distance from where they should be. Of course, just look at the calm, calm waters, who would say a storm like that can even happen here?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Serene and the Restless

Enjoy Langebaan with me for the next few weeks, the tiny town on the banks of the large Langebaan Lagoon, a calm spell of water 17 km long, ± 4 km wide. Langebaan in the early 20th century was mainly a whaling station, until, of course, man belatedly changed his ways. Slowly, but ever so slowly, the whales, now protected and appreciated, are returning and we have spotted a few along the West Coast for the last couple of years, and a great thrill it was!

Langebaan Lagoon is part of the protected area of the West Coast National Park and offers excellent sailing conditions as it is protected from the deep sea!! If you approach it from the reserve side by a roundabout road, you will see small boats, some with a very lived-on look, just hanging there on anchor, quietly absorbing the gentle movement of the water. Hey, who said that there was nowhere to hide? Occasionaly, one of these small boats may rig a sail and glide around for a bit to join the large luxury yachts on the bay, or even go out and brave the wild old ocean.......

That brings us right up to the very popular sporty side of Langebaan! An energetic crowd of wind-surfers and kite-surfers form a beehive of activity on the beach. They unload their magnificent, very expensive and colourful equipment, shining with logos and brand names. Dressed in head-to-toe diving gear, they take confident strides into those perfect waves, and just go! I have stood here quite a few times to admire the sunset, and can assure you, some of these people will be on their boards until the very last bit of light has disappeared. By then they are possibly ravishingly hungry and ready for the many pleasant informal eateries!

Watching those fearsome waves on a normal day, I can easily imagine what they must have been like during the recent ‘Mother of All Storms’! There lies a lot of seaweed on the beach, having been thrown right up to the line of the first row of houses. Nestling on the pieces of kelp, there are a few forlorn-looking boats, heaved there by the waves, heavy anchors and all. I painted this little guy, undamaged but far from where it should be, patiently waiting for an owner to reclaim it. In this picture the fishing harbour and the lagoon are situated south, to the left , and the open sea is north, to the right.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lime Kiln at Yzerfontein

Before taking the R27 northwards along the West Coast, I crossed the road to inspect the lime kiln on the way to Yzerfontein. This one is a National Monument, well cared for by a caretaker whose cottage lies just behind it. Motorists may stop and enter the enclosure to see a close-up of one of the most important contributions to civilisation. I did not know this myself, but in Morgan’s Run by Colleen McCullough, (a book I have mentioned on this blog before), it is well explained: when a settlement starts, there are usually only wooden structures, and only if people could get hold of cement, could they start rising a town with proper buildings.

350 Years ago when the Dutch started the refreshment station at the Cape, they built these lime kilns to burn mussel shells to use as a binding material. It is built from limestone that can not crack and burst when heated and has a layer of mesh above the oven. Mussel shells, of which one can still collect by the ton full on Yzerfontein’s famous ‘sixteen-mile beach’, were layered with dry wood before the whole lot was fired. After some time the fine ash would fall through the grid. The enclosure where it was then mixed with water and left to dehydrate is also visible in my picture. The resultant stuff could be used for a binding material similar to cement. When mixed with salt, also found on the West Coast, and animal fat, it became thick pure white limewash to protect and embellish those lovely Cape Dutch and West Coast buildings.

The kiln was still used as late as 1976. There is also a one-third scale miniature replica of a lime kiln next to the Yzerfontein Tourism Buro building, the thatched building I painted in April and called A Rare Gem. I have loaded three paintings this morning. Be sure to read the other two stories below.

Lilies of the Field

I am leaving Darling now to start exploring the rest of the West Coast. After all, you must have started wondering about the abscence of the ocean and the boats!

After the recent heavy rains the fields and valleys between Darling and Yzerfontein are green, and great clumps of arum lilies have opened along both sides of the road, the pure white flowers peeping out behind large arrow-shaped leaves. The rainfall here is limited to winters so that between April and September we may have from 125mm to 350mm of rain. No wonder the West Coast area of roughly 4400 km sq is the habitat of 1200 species of flowering plants. The arum lilies, Zantedescia aethiopica, are the first to appear before the advent of spring. Whether the motorist takes the time to take a look or whether he ignores them, they will freely offer their beauty from now on until almost January.

Is there anything on earth more calming than observing flowers? There are lovely words in the Christian Bible that everyone, everywhere should write onto the front page of their diaries full of appointments, tasks, lists and budgets. In plain and poetic verse it reminds us that we need not worry so much “:........Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you......”

There is always a moment when one falls in love with a place, and my first memory of Darling goes back about 15 years, when I noticed lovely cows lying on top of a patch of these flowers. Darling, the town of milk and arums...............

Brownies, Anybody?

There are quite a number of homes in Darling with the traditional attic with an outside staircase. I knew I had to paint one of them for the blogspot and also hoped I could stumble upon a good ‘attic story’. The old South African farmhouses with attics were the stuff of legends, because the older Afrikaner people kept their coffins in the attic ready for their burial one day. Not to waste such a strong container, they would keep their surplus dried peaches in it, until the coffin was needed.

My husband readily agreed when I decided to paint Simoné’s Restaurant with their outside staircase. I know why: he is absolutely addicted to coffee-and-dessert at Simone’s! So once he was settled in with his coffee and a soft-centered double chocolate browny swimming in thick warm chocolate sauce, I walked up to Simoné and asked her to tell me something about the history of the attic, only to hear that there was nothing at all, the house was less than 10 years old!

“Marie,” she said, “the attic is not even in use”. I felt a tremor there and then! A beautiful new vacant attic above this excellent and popular restaurant would be the perfect venue for my exhibition! On the spot it was organised. So, starting on 28th August and going through September all the paintings on this blogspot so far, will be exhibited at Simoné’s on Darling’s main street.

This was one of the nicest buildings I had to paint so far and I had 5-year old granddaughter Morgan as my assistent. She loved doing the feathery strokes for clouds and then patting them with her little fingers. After that she was very keen to help painting the ‘curly-whurly S’, but I squeezed out some bright colours and let her practice letters in her own book!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Darling's Aunt

The passenger trains could drop you right into the heart of Darling in the old days. Today the station building has been transformed into an entertainment centre with theatre, restaurant, museum-with-a-difference and a shop with locally produced gifts for sale. The pink building is known as Evita se Perron (a multiple pun in the name) as this is where Darling's favourite aunt, Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout, holds court when not touring the world with satirical shows. Her tongue is smooth and sweet and sharp as a Samurai sword....(May I just mention here that although Afrikaans-sounding, perron, a synonym for platform, is a proper English word in the Oxford Dictionery)....

Evita is the alter-ego of Pieter-Dirk Uys, whom I have not met, but every local person I have ever asked attested to the fact that he has a deep social commitment and limitless kindness, always creating new projects to boost the community. The biggest of these projects is The Darling Trust that concerns itself with the youth and the building of a large community centre. The young people of Darling will never flounder in a sea of teenage boredom as projects of sport, drama, crafts and early education are launched.

As for this painting, it was the most difficult picture on the blog so far and I will give the next pink corrugated iron structure a wide berth! The shadows on pink paint appear a dirtyish grey! The green is supposed to be Heritage Green, sign of a national monument, but next to pink the colour turns into 'school blazer accidentally washed in bleach'! See you in my next blog when I will reveal where the first forty paintings will be exhibited.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Legend of Lelieblom Farm

(With apologies to Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm and Paulo Coelho)
“Once upon a time there was a large old shed.
The shed had saddles and bridles on its walls and crumbling paint which looked nicer than the most expensive paint techniques. But the shed was lonely.

Some walls went up, beloved and well-used antique furniture and carpets moved in and the shed became a homestead. But the shed- homestead was still lonely.

Tables laden with beautiful cloths, crockey and cutlery moved in. And from the kitchen came the sound of planning and cooking and the lovely flavours of food filled the atmosphere. Lots of people started to negotiate the dirt road between Darling and Moorreesburg and turned right at the Big Cross. They passed farm implements and parked very carefully because horses, a sow and her piglets and a large dog called Max were there to welcome them.The people entered the building and were overpowered by the friendliness and hospitality and wonderful aromas and happiness and they never wanted to leave again. The shed- house-restaurant hummed a happy and contented tune and wasn’t lonely anymore. The End”

I chose a little corner of the kitchen inglenook at Lelieblom Farm to paint. Everywhere you look, there is such a thrilling contrast of textures. At a Mother and Daughter Tea morning, my daughter Susan and I admired the charming show of dainty cakes and porcelain teacups laid out on a lovely worn Persian carpet. I recommend that you look at the Lelieblom website (just Google it) for photographs of the table settings and the unusual decor, menus brimful of hearty local food, and a listing of interesting future events.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

About Real and Ornamental Vines

South Africa's vineyards are mostly situated in the Western Cape. Yup, we have it all! What was previously known as Mamreweg Co-operative is now known as Darling Cellars, popular for their Shiraz and Merlot and some exotic blends. A very large complex is being planned on the grounds, but at the moment the visitors centre and tasting room can be found in this very charming and homely building.

The pergola is covered with the ornamental gravevine, Vitis Vinefera, which shows a burst of autumn colours throughout the year. Leaves will drop down continiously but because of the beauty of the plant this could never be considered a nuisance. The abundant colonies of birds would have made a tremendous mess if there were real grapes here! So enter the lovely semi-shaded area on a warmer winter's day, order a glassful "and fall apart in my back yard"!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Darling Museum and the Creamery Corner

I undertook another visit to Darling Museum today. The West Coast covers a large area and there are many things to see, but there won’t be another Museum quite like this for us to visit.
Darling was founded in 1853 on a farm called Langfontein and named after Sir Henry Charles Darling, then Lieutenant Governor of the Cape. At the end of the Nineteenth Century a creamery was established here by Swedish settlers, Moller and Threnstrom.

A local lady, Baby Basson felt that the history of the creamery should be preserved and that was how the Darling Museum was started. Today, it is possible to spend many hours (or days) in the Museum with its well-furnished schoolroom, period furniture and porcelain, clothes, farm implements and even a shed with well-preserved antique vehicles. The main emphasis, though, is on the history of the creamery. What a wonderful idea it was to preserve this history and all these beautiful objects and utensils!

I prepared a stretched canvas with Naples Yellow acrylic paint, buffed it well, and then drew directly onto it with pen&ink. Afterwards I added highlights in white.( I am sure I have seen something Old Masterly like this technique but cannot remember where?) I am showing a butter churn made with a vat as base, milk cans and butter molds. The contraption in the back was used to seperate skim milk from cream. We had one when I was little and it was fun turning it each evening in the cool milk room and wait for the two different liquids to pour out. And why do I also remember that there was seventeen or so little dishes to wash and dry and stack back into each other?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An Antique Washing Machine

In 1861 a British lady who lived in Cape Town, wrote:

“It is an amazing sight to stroll up towards ‘Platteklip’ in the afternoon, and there watch the hundreds of dusky damsels lathering and wringing, banging and pounding our unfortunate garments in the brooks that come leaping down from ‘Table Mountain’. The bushes are covered for miles with snowy clothing; and these women are obliged to be up very early indeed in the morning to secure the pools for washing”

I love this piece, don’t you? It goes further to describe the little kids playing around the washerwomen.

I came upon this washing machine with a wooden barrel in our large Darling Museum. According to an online booklet : “history of washing” (P&G) , the middle of the nineteenth century witnessed the appearance of upright hand-powered washing machines with drums. Now that really saved the back as well as the hands of the laundresses! Unfortunately, at that stage washing detergents were still a long way off!

How to paint a washing machine in a museum? I found an image of a vintage poster for Persil and decided to paint it for the background. Those Persil ads were so clever: the pictures had clean lines and the colour scheme was limited to two shades of blue, a bright red and lots of pure white. The laundress shows cheeky blond curls, a pencil skirt, high heels and LOTS of make-up!

Friday, June 19, 2009

You are welcome, very welcome!

The modern malls have entrances on many sides which defeat the purpose of architecture. First you search for parking in an infuriatingly complicated maze. You better remember that you have parked at R15 on the red coded floor with the fish enblem and not on the blue coded floor with the bird. Then of course there will be no entrance in sight, it might be one floor up in the lift and it may be called Gate 1,2,3, 8,9 or whatever.

So let us rather gather our senses and take the West Coast road. Turn inland into Darling and when you reach the stop street at the main road, cross right over into Long Street. At the end of Long, turn right, and there you will find a truly welcoming entrance. Like the buildings of the olden times which had porticos and lanes to entice the pilgrim towards the main theme!

This is Ormonde Wine Cellars, where you will love the beautiful buildings of the homestead, cellars and tasting room. I love the open gate and the foliage only just hiding the buildings. And is there anything more welcoming and happy than our breezily optimistic National flag? Of course, you just know that the wine produced here, will be wonderful!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Enduring Elegance

The tourist brochures like to describe Darling as the little town with beautifully restored Victorian cottages and ancient trees. This grouping shows up both those elements. I saw it when I stood in the parking area of Darling Museum where the pretty house is framed by very tall eucalyptus trees.

When trying to find out more about Victorian architecture on the Internet, I found some very opiniated reasoning that broekie lace, half-vaulted corrigated iron roofs over the veranda and other bits of iron fretwork and ceilings were used to hide bad building design. I cannot subscribe to this opinion as the homes portray the way that the Industrial Age not only gave us structures like the Eiffel Tower, but also contributed to domestic homes.

Soon I will take you into the museum to see more inventions of that age.