I promised that I’d tell you about Outa in this blog and I will – just a quick update of current events. There’s a lot happening at the moment – the Buffalo Rally is on in Mossel Bay this weekend and already the bikes are rolling into town. Having been out of the Gauteng biking scene for a while it’s funny seeing the guys again – they have an ‘edge’ that the locals just don’t have – I suppose riding those accursed Gauteng freeways with all the attendant perils is enough to give anyone an edge. I also can’t believe that it’s a year since Andre and I came down on the Buff and found the Pinkhaus – what a year it’s been! Just a word of warning to any bikers still coming down – Jonkersberg has been on fire since yesterday so the Robinson Pass will be full of smoke – take it easy guys.
The last few days have been absolutely beautiful – still and clear during the days and cool in the evenings. The mountains have been so clear up until yesterday when the fires started and now they are covered in smoke. At night it’s strange to see the orange fires glowing in places which are normally pitch black.
In George the Outeniqua Guild is having a Festival of Quilts at the NG Moedergemeente in Courtenay Street. They are exhibiting local members’ quilts (I sent three along) and are also launching the latest round of the Travelling Quilt Exhibition. The theme is ‘Jewels of the Earth’ and I can’t wait to see them – it’s a selection of top quilts from around the country so is always inspiring. One good thing about making quilts for an exhibition is that it gives you a deadline to work towards. Most quilters are notorious for having piles of UFO’S (Unfinished Objects) cluttering their sewing rooms and I am no exception. For this exhibition I finished a quilt which I started FOURTEEN years ago! Halleluljah! I was in such a hurry to get it off to the exhibition in time that I forgot to take a picture of it so I hope the hall doesn’t burn down or some other calamity.
Our critters are all fine – Blossom and Lollipop are now being allowed to graze along the firebreak (helps to keep it clear) and are a delight to watch as they stroll along like two old biddies in a delicatessen sampling a bud here and a green tip there. Honey was behaving quite strangely on Monday and when I went to see what was up I found her settling down onto a nest of 21 eggs! I know my eggs have been low lately but I’d put it down to the hot weather – little did I suspect that my hens had chosen to lay their eggs in the middle of the field in a patch of long grass. We tried moving Honey and her eggs into the safe chicken enclosure that night but she was having none of it so – she and her eggs are back in the field and I have constructed another one of my creations around her to keep her dry/ shaded/ safe- I hope! I have reached the stage where I can construct just about anything with a penknife and a pile of cable ties – my favourite tools.
There is a family of three mongooses who we often see in the driveway now – they are so sweet and inquisitive but the goats are terrified of them. Also the veld is full of beautiful golden webs, they are huge, constructed by the Golden Orb spiders. They are pretty impressive spiders and completely harmless. Interestingly a smaller spider co-habits with them in their webs and they don’t seem to mind. This morning swarms of beautiful black butterflies were flying across the property towards the mountains and I watched with bated breath as one flew into a web, became stuck and then freed itself – the spider was on her way to catch it. (As an aside – the collective name for butterflies is a swarm or a rabble – don’t you think it should be a flight or a flutter?)
I mentioned in a previous blog that Andre had bought me a piece of Outa Lappies work when we’d gone to Prins Albert on the bike. With the piece came a certificate of authenticity and from that I obtained a contact number of a couple in the town who have taken Outa under their wing and sort of act as his agent. They asked him if I could come and visit him as he is a hermit, he agreed and my friends from our textile art group and I went up last month to see him. We went first to Gudrun and Bodo Toelstede in Prins Albert who have a house in the beautiful main street in town. We went into the mercifully cool interior to be greeted by this delightful couple and shown their collection of Outa’s work which they have bought from him through the years. I was particularly keen to see his embroideries which he no longer does but what really grabbed me were his wonderfully quirky creations made from things he’d picked up along the road – his lighthouses and little ‘wagons’ are entrancing. He uses pokerwork, crushed tins, broken glass, sticks, nails, wires and feathers. Everything he does is detailed and has an ‘interior’ – one is drawn in to his work.
After a refreshing drink we climbed back into our cars and rode off to Prins Albert Road railway station where Outa now lives. Along the way we stopped at a farm where Outa had built a wall – this must have been the wall he was referring to in the letter he sent me in 2004. The wall reminded me of something Gaudi might have done – full of little nooks and crannies where Outa would apparently put lights and candles at night to light the way for weary travelers. The wall is split in two and this supposedly represented the split between black and white people under apartheid.
When we arrived at the few little houses at the station I could see Outa’s at once – fanciful creations hung from the branches of a tree, straggly sunflowers were scattered around and in the front yard stood his karretjie . This is something like a huge rickshaw which he pulled behind him on his wanderings through the Karoo; he would sleep in it at night and during the day he would toss anything he found along the road inside it to use in his work. I was becoming quite excited, I’d waited so long to meet this man face to face – when he came out to the gate two things struck me. The first was that he was so old and fragile and secondly he was bent completely double but must have been a very tall and imposing man when he was younger. Despite his fragility he had a beaming smile, took my hand and asked me to help him put his hat on for the ‘interview’. This was a patchwork wizard style hat which he’d made himself and which I had to tie under his chin. He apologized for not having washed but explained that things took a great deal of time as he was so old. Interviewing him was a strange affair – he never stops talking so I just let him ramble. His large hands flit like birds as he tells his stories. He is a great philosopher and told us a little about his life –‘he has Std two and a half but doesn’t stand back for an MA’, his beliefs –‘he has his hands and can make something out of nothing’, ‘God put him on this earth to make something beautiful every day’ and that 'whatever you achieve you must plough back into the community’. He spoke excellent English, a sort of High Dutch type Afrikaans and even German and French.
As he spoke I looked around at his ‘home’. He sleeps on the floor surrounded by a pile of scrap metal. His embroideries are scrumpled up in a plastic bag tossed into a corner. He has a basket overflowing with newspaper articles and letters from all over the world – one European journalist described him as the first true ‘green peace activist’ because he taught all the local children to clean up the veld and make things from what they found. Outa was busy burning words into a piece of wood when we got there – they said, in High Dutch, that if you don’t start to do something creative when it’s given to you then you will lose it.
I asked him about certain motifs he uses in his work and he explained how the ideas came first into his head, the hands embrace his head; then into his heart – hands crossed over his heart; then to his hands to begin creating – they are held out palms up and finally, strangely, to his wrists. He makes shackles of his fingers and wraps them around his wrists. Why your wrists? I ask him. Because my creations shackle me, he said, I HAVE to make them, over and over.
I was entranced by Outa and his stories and philosophies but we had to leave and everyone was moving towards the car. He told me to sit on the dirty step next to him and he wrote me a letter and I quote:
Vandag 22 Feb 19-2011
Ik Outa het winter 1929 begin met scraps. Vandag 2011 is ik dankbaar.
I was so sad to say goodbye and have a feeling of trepidation that I may not see him again. There was a certain urgency about him – he wanted to get rid of everything, he said, because he wants to go back to living in the veld. No-one knows how old Outa is, he thinks he was born in 1913, under a bush in the Karoo between Willowmore and Graaf Reinet. I think he knows that he is not much longer for this world and wants to go back to where he came from, I hope I can see him again before he goes.
(Pictures of Outa’s work under Gallery – Arts and Crafts)