Leslie-John Albertyn – South African Artist (1931-2011)

Leslie-John Albertyn was a renowned Master oil painter who specialised in painting the beautiful landscapes of Southern Africa.

Below is my attempt to honor the artist by uncovering the story behind his life and artwork. His art depicts South African scenery and are of particular interest to the African collector and to those interested in South African art.


Leslie-John Albertyn
Photo Credit: Sannie Albertyn

Leslie, known by family and friends as Les, was born on 24 January 1931 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. According to Leslie’s grandson, Jean Hewetson, “My grandfather painted since he was a child, and it was his only profession in life. Painting was his passion from an early age; when he was young his parents were struggling financially and he helped support them by selling his paintings. I also think he was influenced by his grandparents, who were also artists.” Leslie’s widow, Sannie Albertyn, elaborated on the hardships Leslie had in the beginning “When my husband first started painting he didn’t have enough money to buy the real equipment to paint on, so he stole the sheets from the beds to do his paintings.”

Leslie lived in Bloemfontein for most of his life where he made a name for himself in the South African art circle. According to Sannie Albertyn, “My husband exhibited his paintings at the Bloemfontein art exhibit show for 36 years. He was also awarded a diploma by the organisers of the show.”

Leslie’s chosen medium to create his art was oil paint and he painted on both canvas and board. His main subject was landscape scenes in nature and he would often paint old Cape Dutch homesteads, gum trees or native huts into his landscapes. Leslie seemed to enjoy painting these landmarks, as they are a commonly seen in his paintings.

It is easy to identify an L. Albertyn painting based on the unique style he had. The painting below depicts an old Cape Dutch Homestead near the town of Ashton, Cape Town. The fine detail emphasis his versatility and proves his mastery in painting landscapes. Leslie was able to capture the moment with such realism and vibrant colours, thus bringing the scene to life in the eye of the observer.

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Leslie also had a great talent for painting trees. The painting below illustrates this.


The painting below illustrates a rural scene with wind blowing through the grass and some native huts in the background. A truly South African painting.


In addition to landscapes, Leslie also painted seascape beach scenes. Below is a good example of a large seascape painting Leslie created. The painting depicts a seascape beach scene with notable South African Flora; such as aloes and banana trees. The incredible detailing and beautiful brush strokes make this amazing painting a true masterpiece that would look fantastic as the center piece in any home.

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Here is another stunning painting Leslie did of Table Mountain as seen from Bloubergstrand. The painting is entitled “Die skoonheid van die see – Bloubergstrand”. Once again, he has managed to capture a clear Western Cape day at the beach so beautifully and with such realism.


Leslie even created grayscale paintings, using only black and white oil paint.


Leslie always signed his paintings with “L. AlbERTYN” in the bottom corner (left or right side) and in some of his paintings he also included the year in which the painting was created, by either referencing the full year – “YYYY”, or just the last two digits of the year – “YY”. What makes his signature unique is that he chose to keep the letters “l” and “b” of his surname in lower case, while the rest of the letters are in upper case (capitals). An example of his signature can be seen below.

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Leslie created a large production of over 200000 oil paintings during his lifetime. Some examples of these can be seen in the slide show below.

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In addition to his paintings, Leslie made frames and repaired damaged paintings. He was also an assessor for paintings of other artists. According to Leslie’s grandson, Jean Hewetson, “He gave art classes to many students during his lifetime. He tried to teach me and my child to paint, but I am not a painter.”

Leslie passed away from a stroke on 28 November 2011. He was still painting and creating art right up until the time of his passing. Today, the name L. Albertyn is well-known and his oil paintings are highly sought after.


Leslie Albertyn (circa 2011)
Photo credit: Jean Hewetson

Leslie’s younger brother, Michael Albertyn Senior (1938), and his son, Michael Albertyn Junior (1975), are both renowned South African Master painters and have continued the family legacy.

If any readers have any further information/ stories or pictures regarding Leslie Albertyn, please do not hesitate to contact me at dayne.skolmen@gmail.com


Anton Sveen – Norwegian Woodcarver (1914 – 2009)

On a recent trip to Norway, I became fascinated with Scandinavian folklore and the stories of trolls, which date back to the very earliest legends and sagas.

A troll is a class of being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. In Old Norse sources, beings described as “trolls” dwell in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves, live together in small family units, and are rarely helpful to human beings.

Later, in Scandinavian folklore, trolls became beings in their own right, where they live far from human habitation in caves, mountains, under bridges or even underground, are not Christianized, and are considered dangerous to human beings and not very friendly to people who cross their paths. Trolls can be scared away by lightning and the sound of church bells. Depending on the source, their appearance varies greatly; trolls may be ugly and slow-witted, or look and behave exactly like human beings, with no particularly grotesque characteristic about them. The slide show below displays different depictions of trolls:

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Trolls are sometimes associated with particular landmarks such as mountains and rocks, which at times may be explained as formed from a troll turning to stone when exposed to sunlight.


Many mountains in Norway are named after trolls, for example: Trolltindy (Magic Truth), Trollholm (Fairy Hill), Trollheimen, Jotunheimen, and many others. There are also places in Norway that are associated with the trolls: Trollvey (“Troll Road”), Trollbotn (“valley of trolls”), and Trollvann (“lake trolls”).

One of the most popular natural tourist attraction in Norway is Trolltunga (translation “Troll Tongue”) which is about 700 metres above the Ringedalsvatnet Lake in Odda, Hordaland county. Each year, about 150 000 tourists visit the spectacular mountain area during the Summer.


Trolltunga, Odda, Hordaland County, Norway

When visiting Norway, you can learn to spot trolls yourself. They are everywhere in nature, big and small, and you just need to combine imagination and what your eyes see. The troll may be in the form of a mountain, forest hill or a giant boulder, covered with moss and heather, and sometimes trees.


The Ombo Troll, Rogaland, Norway


Holmenkollen Troll, Oslo, Norway

As legendary creatures, trolls have a long history of being depicted in folk art and, along with the Viking, have become a prominent tourist symbol in Norway.


During my visit to Norway, I had seen some modern trolls made from clay with fluffy hair for sale in the tourist gift shops. However, since I wanted to acquire my own authentic hand-carved piece of Scandinavian folklore, I did some searching for Norwegian hand-carved trolls when I arrived back home in South Africa. Within the search results, I came across some very peculiar looking wooden troll sculptures made by Norwegian woodcarver, Anton Sveen. This immediately peaked my interest, as I am an avid collector of the strange and unusual. After some further research, I was not able to find a single site dedicated to the artist, which is a pity. I then decided that I would write my own article from the bits and pieces of information scattered throughout the world wide web. Below is my attempt at uncovering the life and story of Anton Sveen, a renowned Norwegian woodcarver.

Anton Sveen is well-known for his unique hand-carved trolls. He lived most of his life in the small hamlet of Lora, in the mountain district of Lesja – a small village in Oppland countyNorway, which is part of the traditional region of Gudbrandsdal.

I recently made contact with Anton’s nephew, Magne Sveen, who had the following to say about the Sveen farm and family, “I own the childhood farm where my uncle Anton was born. Uncle Anton and Aunt Jenny built a house on the farm which is still there and is now owned by a young member of Anton’s family. The farm is located in Lesja, in the very northern part of Gudbrandsdalen.”


An aerial photograph of the Sveen farm in Lesja.
Photo credit: Magne Sveen

“The farm was bought by my grandfather, Ole Leirmo, in the 1890s. He changed his surname to Sveen, the name of the farm. Ole was extremely talented and completed his studies at the Academy of Arts in Oslo and continued for another two years at the prestigious Academy of Arts in Copenhagen. He moved back to Lesja, married Marie and they had 14 children, of which 11 grew up to adulthood. Ole devoted his time to carving jewelry boxes and other fine arts that were sold in the valley as gifts for baptism, confirmation, wedding presents, etc. He also carved his own style of decorations into chairs, tables, mirrors, etc. He must have been a great motivator, as he inspired many of his children to go the art way.”


An old family picture of the 11 children around their mother, Marie Sveen. The picture was taken at her husband Ole Leirmo Sveen’s funeral in 1942. Front from left: Oskar (died 20 years old), Marit, Marie, Olga and Otto. Back from left: Ragnvald, Edvin, Jørgen, Jakob, Magnus and Anton. Photo credit: Magne Sveen

Anton began making wooden sculptures in the 1930s, but he only started making the troll characters we know and love today in the 1940-1950s.

Anton Sveen - ironically standing with one hand holding a walking stick and the other in his pocket. Perhaps he carved his trolls in his image

Anton Sveen at a young age – ironically standing with one hand holding a walking stick and the other in his pocket, which is how he depicted many of his wooden trolls.
Photo credit: Magne Sveen

The expert carver that he was, Anton turned his attention to trolls early on and built a career that eventually involved his entire family in the production process. His troll sculptures became extremely popular, and their value rose as the worldwide interest in anything “troll” grew in the late 20th century.

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Each troll is carved from one piece of hard mountain birch wood. The birch tree is only found in the Northern Hemisphere and is commonly found in Norway.


Birch tree – commonly found in Norway

Anton began the troll creating process by carving a rough design of the trolls with an axe in the cellar of his house. They were then taken up to the kitchen where he had a separate table for further work on the details for the characters.

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Anton Sveen at the kitchen table carving a troll while his children, Else and Oskar, observe the process.
Photo credit: Anything Troll

Many of the trolls are similar in design, however, each troll has its own unique features and characteristics. When it comes to collecting Norwegian hand-carved trolls, it seems the uglier they are, the more people want them.

Anton’s male trolls are most often designed in a walking motion with a hunched back, pipe in their mouth, walking stick in one hand and the other hand is most commonly found in the trolls pocket, however, I have come across some unique trolls with the other hand holding a key, axe, or a sack. The trolls often have checkered patches where they have torn their pants by the knees or on their shirts by the elbows. There was also a small portion of unique trolls made with suspenders or in a sitting position on a rock.

The way Anton carved the troll’s eyes and eyebrows added life to the character, it made them look curious like they were peeking around a corner spying on someone or perhaps shocked because they had encountered a human.

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Anton’s female trolls are most often designed in a straight standing pose with a broomstick in one hand and the other hand is usually hanging free at the side.

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It is said that Anton carved the male and female troll couple from a single block of birch wood, making them a perfect match.

There are many different faces, as well as types of stances they were carved in and the attention to detail in the carving is simply amazing. The care given to the way the wood was finished is obviously with lots of love and plenty of skill.

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Anton Sveen carving trolls with his son, Arnfinn Sveen, in the 1960s.
Photo credit: Carey Sveen

When the carving process was finished – Anton’s wife, Jenny Sveen (1922-2004), had the job of staining the wood with different colors and hand rubbing and buffing the trolls with Danish oil for many hours. According to Magne Sveen, “Uncle Anton was a very kind man with a great sense of humor. He was married to Jenny, who sat by his side for all their 40 years of production, painting the trolls. They were my godparents. Anton produced one set of trolls, with the same colors, fashion, and face in 4 sizes, small, medium, large and then the tall “gubber”, mail trolls of 50-60 cm (or more) tall. Anton and Jenny sold thousands of trolls and based on the earnings brought up a family of 5 children.”


Jenny and Anton Sveen.
Photo credit: Carey Sveen

Typical style

The design and clothing of these troll is typical of Anton’s work. They have a natural patina-like finish applied. You can also note the different sizes he made from the same set in this photo.
Photo credit: Magne Sveen

Anton’s signature (ASv) can be found carved under the foot of his trolls. However, some trolls have not been signed, but can still be authenticated by the quality, type of wood used and unique style of the artist.

Anton Signature

Through my research, I identified that Anton marked his trolls with Roman Numerals (I, II, III). Although it is uncertain as to what these markings indicate, my guess would be that the number indicated either the decade in which the troll was made or the batch of trolls from which the troll was made with. Examples of these markings can be seen below:

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I managed to make contact with another of Anton’s grandchildren, Jackson Sveen, who had the following interesting information and family stories to share; “Arnfinn Sveen was my father and Jenny and Anton’s youngest child. Unfortunately, my family stories are limited. My grandparents never spoke any English and my Norwegian was and is still pretty limited. Still, I loved them very much! They had very fun, quiet, and calm
personalities. It seemed that Jenny was much more of a talker than Anton was. My favorite story about my grandfather was from 1982-3ish when my grandparents came to the United States (US) to visit. When he was going through security he was wearing a belt with all his carving knives attached. Of course, they told him he wouldn’t be able to bring them and apparently, he demanded that they travel with him. He said that there was no way that he was leaving without them. Sure enough, Anton and the knives made it on the flight. These tools were more to him than wood and metal. They were his livelihood. They were a part of him. Of course today you’d be put in the airport jail for trying to do that.”


A picture taken during Jackson’s last visit to Norway in 2004. (From left) Jenny, Arnfinn and Anton.

Through further investigation, I was told quite an interesting story by a collector on ebay who has sold many Anton Sveen trolls on ebay in the past. The collector wished to remain anonymous, but they did shed some light on their parents experience of visiting Anton Sveen in Norway in the 1980s:

“My parents were avid collectors and travellers. They took an extensive 3-month vacation through many Scandinavian countries and Norway was one of them (my parents and myself live in the US). My parents had looked at a variety of trolls to purchase on their journey, but just couldn’t find one that satisfied them until they walked into a random hotel in Geiranger, Norway and saw two of Anton Sveen’s trolls (one male, one female) on a shelf in the lobby and just loved them… so much so that they bought them from the hotel.

A few days later, they were on the Trollstigen Mountain Road where trolls are thought to live in the surrounding hills and valleys and they stopped at a gift shop there where they saw more Sveen trolls to their surprise. They bought a couple of them there and the owner of the shop mentioned that if they are in Lora, Anton Sveen doesn’t mind visitors. When they arrived in Lora, the people in the town gave my parents directions to Mr. Sveen’s house. When they got there, they walked right up to his house and knocked on the door and his wife answered and invited my parents in and there he was, sitting at his workbench working on trolls.

My parents commissioned Mr. Sveen to produce about 40 unique trolls, and he shipped all of them to my parents in the US. About half of the commissioned trolls were given away as gifts, another portion was sold on ebay, and my mother still has a few on display at her home and the rest are in storage. My mother remembers that Mr. Sveen had a humongous pile of birch wood blocks in his backyard for future trolls. He also had various trolls around his house, which were part of his personal collection and were not for sale.”

Photos taken during this visit to Anton Sveen’s home in Lora, Norway, including a picture of his house, Mr. Sveen at his workbench, and the interior of his house showing some of his personal trolls (a large troll holding a key and a unique troll sitting on a rock) can be seen below. There are many interesting small details to look at in each picture, including some trolls in various stages of creation.

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Anton’s older brother, Otto Sveen (1910-1997), was also an accomplished carver.

Otto Sveen

Otto making a fire in the Norwegian woods.
Photographer: Per Jordhøy

Otto was famous for creating sculptures and decorating churches. He spent several years decorating Lesjaverk church in Gudbrandsdalen. He made the altarpiece, pulpit, and baptismal font in the church.

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Otto Sveen with the woodwork he created for Lesjaverk church.
Photo credit: Magne Sveen

Otto also produced carved trolls, quite unique, but simpler than the trolls Anton made. Otto’s trolls were usually shorter, had a smaller round nose, and were happier looking with a smile. Whereas Anton’s were taller, had a longer nose, and harsher looking face. Otto also signed his trolls beneath the foot with “Øsv”, but like Anton trolls – not all of them are signed.

Below are some pictures of the trolls created by Otto Sveen:

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A collection of Anton and Otto Sveen trolls - see if you can tell whose is who - credit Cliff

Here is a mixed collection of Anton and Otto Sveen trolls – see if you can tell them apart.
Photo credit: Cliff Sharp

Anton’s trolls were sold by specialty retailers in Norway, on Norwegian cruise ships and at selected shops around the world. Today, these collectible wooden trolls can be evaluated using the criteria below:

  1. The size of the sculpture – From my research, I have established that Anton charged more for larger sculptures and less for smaller sculptures, this was due to the amount of birch wood he utilised and the amount of effort taken to make the sculpture. His larger trolls are somewhat rare, as he did not make that many of them to sell.
  2. If the sculpture is in original condition – Wooden sculptures often break and get repaired. This is usually easily noticeable and will affect the value.
  3. The condition of the sculpture (the points below can affect the value of a sculpture):
    • Fading of the color detail – over the years when the sculptures are handled or cleaned, the color detailing often becomes faded and not so prominent. This can also happen if the sculpture is exposed to direct sunlight. You can do a comparison of your troll sculpture/s with the many pictures found on Google images.
    • Damages to the wood – if the sculpture has any cracks, chips, or scratches to the wood. Things such as cracks/chips/scratches are very typical for hard wood carvings, but the placing of the crack/chip/scratch and the size of the crack/chip/scratch can impact the value differently (e.g. if it is underneath the base of the sculpture or on the back, then this will not impact the value very much, as it would not detract from the troll’s sheer, um… beauty! However, if it is on the sculpture’s face or easily noticeable when displaying the sculpture, this can impact the value significantly. The same goes for the size of the crack/chip/scratch; the larger the crack/chip/scratch, the more impact it will have on the value of the sculpture).

Below is a slide show of photographs of Anton’s trolls found on the internet:

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Through my research, I also managed to find a 4-minute video from the 22 August 1970 of Anton and Jenny Sveen explaining the different stages of the troll making process. Their interview can be seen at 26:24 – 30:14:

According to Magne Sveen, “Anton’s son, Oskar Sveen (born 1942), is the only artist remaining from the family who brought the tradition of carving trolls through to our generation. He has his own style of trolls and has produced his own style of fine art. Oskar was a teacher at the the Oslo Academy of Architecture and specialised in wood carving and art furniture. Oskar built and carved the chairs for Pope Paul’s visit to Oslo, Norway and to our Crown Prince when in Parliament. He also led projects in USA decorating churches.”

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Oskar Sveen carving at his desk.
Photo credit: Magne Sveen

Osker Troll

Oskar’s hand-carved trolls.
Photo credit: Magne Sveen

Anton pour his blood, sweat and tears into each of his unique trolls, that have since made their way around the world. And as long as they are around, and people love trolls, he will be remembered.

Today these wooden sculptures are very collectible and highly valued by those who own and love them.

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Old Anton Sveen sits carving trolls from hard mountain birch wood in Lora. Having done this for most of his adult life, his trolls have provided him with a living to support the whole family. Anton passed on in 2009.

If any readers have any information or pictures regarding Anton Sveen, please do not hesitate to contact me at dayne.skolmen@gmail.com

Kristian Skolmen – Norwegian Artist (1863-1946)

There was something very special about Torger and Ingeborg Skolmen’s eldest son, Kristian. This became apparent at an early age when the Norwegian farmers son started attending a little country school.

Kristian was born on 23 March 1863 on the ancestral farm named Skolmen in Nordre Land, Norway. He spent much of his youth growing up in the natural beauty of the Northern Land of Norway with his 9 siblings. One of his sisters, Tora Skolmen, was otherwise a well-known feminist. Kristian lived there until he was in his 20s.


A sketch of the ancestral farm named Skolmen, done by Kristian in 1893

When Kristian was 19 years old, he graduated with highest honors from Hamar Seminar teaching school.


Kristian Skolmen around the age of 19

He continued his studies at the royal design school which is now known as “the States Trade and Art Industry School”. The opening of this school in 1818 gave Kristian and other Norwegian artists the first opportunity to get at least part of their education domestically. Although, in Europe the general artistic trend was impressionism at the time, many Norwegian painters broke through as naturalists.

Kristian was a naturalistic painter, he depicted nature and familiar sites without using idealized or abstract methods. His paintings were based on observation. Kristian’s studies of Latin helped in his true portrayal of the animals and plants in nature that surrounded him.

Although Kristian had both the knowledge of and talent for painting, he was not completely satisfied. He wanted to teach. After he finished his studies at design school, he  taught in Ostre Toten at an elementary school. It was there he met his future wife, Marie Fritsvold.


Marie Fritsvold

They got married on 24 May 1888 at Paulus Menighet, Oslo, Akershus, Norway and had a big family of 6 children over the next 6 years that followed. “There was a difference in social status between them, as Marie was raised in a fairly wealthy family who were the owners of a large farm in the country where good farm land was scant. The Fritsvold family tree has been traced back as far as 585 AD and includes numerous noblemen and even some seven kings.” (Ronald Skolmen). However, this didn’t seem to be a problem for them, “Kristian and Marie seem to have had a happy marriage. They raised six children in a loving environment and sent several of them forth without reservation to find their destinies.” (Ronald Skolmen).





Kristian came to Kongsberg in 1888 and taught there for more than 40 years. He was long before his time in his teaching methods. He was, without a doubt, the most popular teacher in the village. He won his colleagues and students respect and admiration with his zeal and love for his trade.

According to Per Sunmann, “My father, one of Kristian’s students, had many happy memories of Kristian Skolmen. My father was a professional musician and showed a strong interest in music at an early age. He had built a “salmodikon”(one stringed instrument that was common in the schools at that time) of an orange crate because wood was hard to come by. He proudly took it to school to show Kristian, who was so touched that he gave my father a real salmodikon.”

An extract taken from Kristian’s eldest son, Thoralf Skolmen’s life story book gives us some insight into the early days in Kongsberg: “As my father, Kristian Skolmen, had no inclination for farming, he was educated as a teacher and got an appointment at Kongsberg. He was also choirmaster in the church and glee clubs in town.”


Kristian Skolmen’s actual baton he used as a choirmaster. The tips are believed to be made from ivory. (Source: Catherine Jackson)

“My mother, Marie Fritsvold, daughter of Paul Fritsvold – a farmer from Dahlen Toten, lost her parents when she was a young girl and was brought up by her uncle Even Rogneby, on one of the biggest farms in Østre Toten. Like my father, she was very fond of music; she had a fine well-trained voice (light soprano) and often took the solo part at charitable and church concerts. I have many memories from my childhood and schooldays in that fascinating town. It is an ideal place for winter sport; skating on the wide river Lågen which runs through the town, and skiing in the heavy snow and steep hills or in the high mountains nearby. In spring the river was full of timber logs, which were floated to the Sawmills near the coast. The river was the place for us kids in the summertime; bathing and fishing for trout. In the woods, there were many kinds of wild berries and mushrooms.”

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This colour photochrome print illustrates the town of Kongsberg circa 1890-1900 (Source: National Library of Norway)

“In midsummer when the school holidays came, we generally left town to visit relations and friends. I recollect we visited the famous Rogneby farm with its mansion-like buildings, where mother came from; but only a week after we arrived, my brother Paul and I were stricken with diphtheria, which in those days was looked upon as a deadly infectious disease. We were isolated to an empty house with an old nurse to look after us and a daily visit from doctor Aabel (father in law of Rev. Hans Astrup who I later met in Zululand). All the things in the room we had occupied were burnt, including all our fine clothes, specially made for the occasion.

Father did a lot of landscape painting in his spare time, and as a little lad at the age of four, I naturally took a great interest in all these lovely colors, and once when he was away, started dabbing paint on a nearly finished picture. Another time it was just before Easter, we were expecting grandfather and two aunts. All the wrought iron stoves were polished and there were new curtains everywhere. Mother and father had gone to a song rehearsal at the church and our two servant girls in the kitchen evidently had some boy visitors, for they seemed to have forgotten about me. I made a beeline for the paint and chose a bright red colour with which I painted the stove to give mother a pleasant surprise when she got home. Finally, it was getting dark and I got tired and fell asleep behind the piano in the corner. When the girls started the fires in the stove, the room soon got filled with thick black smoke. They looked for me but could not find me, and opened the windows. Some passers-by in the street below saw the thick black smoke and promptly called the fire brigade and the Church Bell started ringing. My parents, desperate with anxiety, hurried home and met the fire engine on its way back. There was nothing to worry about, but what a sight met them at home. Everything was blackened by smoke and there was no sign of me. The girls were crying hysterically, and mother soon gave way to crying too. Father noticed a smell of burnt paint and saw a line of red paint leading to the back of the piano where I was found fast asleep with red paint on my hands and clothes. Mother was very glad when she found me unhurt, and I told her how nicely I had painted the stove red and was eager to show her. I was only three years old at the time, and I had meant to give her a happy surprise, so I got no hiding for my most unusual enterprise as a painter.”

Kristian dedicated his life to the fine arts. He involved himself in choir, directing, singing, acting, play-writing and painting. He founded choirs, and the technical night school in 1898, he taught drawing there as well. Although painting was just a hobby and supplementary income for Kristian, his art was honoured at the Lands Museum Autumn Exhibition in 1890. He used both traditional oil painting technique, and also painted watercolours. His interest in painting came at an early age. It is said, according to Nils Thomle and Inger Elisabeth Dalen, that he fire-painted at the age of five years old with ash logs from the oven. There is evidence he produced images from late 1800-century to 1930.

Ronald Skolmen (Son of Paul Skolmen) had the following to say about his grandfather, “Kristian was a nationally honored artist. He traveled all over Norway, getting free lodgings while he painted art and scenes for the inns and hotels of the country. This work may only have taken place during his earlier years because he had a residence in Kongsberg, where his family was raised. In contemporary photographs, he appears to have been a loving father, devoted to family life. I don’t remember my father ever speaking disparagingly of his father. There is a street named “Kristian Skolmen Vei” in his honor in Kongsberg. During the dark days of the Nazi occupation of Norway, it became nearly impossible for Kristian to obtain a palette of colors. He was reduced in some cases to two colors. We received several of his watercolors after the war, that were executed in vermilion and a gray-green. Even with these limitations, he captured in landscapes, the vibrancy and beauty of the countryside. In an age of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism, his paintings might look old fashion to some, but he painted what he saw, and he saw much of the country of his birth. He painted the Norway he loved.”


Kristian flanked by his tow older sons; Pal (Paul) on the left, and Thoralf on the right. Circa 1895 (Source: Robert Skolmen)


To the people of Kongsberg, Kristian with his sketchbook and pencil was a known and loved feature of the town. His paintings are of strong historic and folklore interest. After he stopped teaching in Kongsberg, Kristian lived with family in Mjondalen, Drammen, Asker and Hakadal. His work from the years he lived in these places is preserved. A vast majority of his work is privately owned.


Kristian painted the painting below entitled “To America” in 1914. It shows Lars Martin Pedersen’s departure from Skolmbakken in 1869 as Kristian experienced it the age of six.


All the images I have managed to gather of Kristian Skolmen’s art can be viewed in the slideshow below. Many of which, came from the Kristian Skolmen art exhibition that took place at Lands Museum in Norway from the 2 October 2008 – 31 October 2008. Highlands Museum and the National Art Society obtained 128 paintings and objects painted by Kristian Skolmen. A total of 38 individuals lent their paintings to the exhibition. During the opening, Lands Museum was packed on the premises where the paintings were hung.

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Kristian also painted portraits of his relatives:

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In addition to painting on canvas, it seemed Kristian was also tried painting on wooden boards and doing some pottery:

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Thoralf Skolmen shows us the generosity and kindness that Kristian had, “In 1927 I returned to Norway after 18 years of being away from home, to fetch my wife and children who had gone over for a visit. Whilst visiting Wilhelm Bölling and my wife, I told them that I had to go to Kongsberg to see my father and sister and to take my son out of school and would be away for a few days. So, I took the train to my hometown Kongsberg. The trains were now all electric and it was a swift run. My youngest sister kept house for my father who was still teaching. They lived in a new house near Sandsvar main and Auerdahl’s house, and the railway station was close by. It was nice to see my dear old father again, he had aged considerably since I saw him last and his mass of curly hair had turned grey, he had also put on considerable weight, my brother John was still there. Nice as it was to be home again, it was not the same with mother gone. I told my father all that had happened and the shipping arrangement and asked him to help me with the passage money for me, which he promptly did.”

Jon Skolmen (Son of John Fritsvold Skolmen) had the following to say about his grandfather, “There is not much I remember myself. Grandfather died when I was six years old, in 1946. Knut Røsjø probably has more stories to share about grandfather. I do remember that I met him a few times and that he was a kind man who scratched my hair when I was visiting. I know that my grandfather was invited to many hotels to paint towards free room and board. In many ways, I followed in his footsteps and have taken up his legacy. When I starred in the children’s program on TV, I was often invited to the mountains during the holidays, to entertain the kids, and was granted my stay for free. I’m proud of what Grandpa did. I knew he had painted many pictures, but that he had made so many so beautiful pictures, I did not know. I have even more respect for my grandfather now. I’m impressed. If I get to heaven, will I go straight to St. Peter and ask where Kristian Skolmen is.”

Jon Skolmen

Picture of proud Jon Skolmen admiring his grandfather’s art at the exhibition (October 2008)

Knut Røsjø (Son of Ingeborg Røsjø (Nee Skolmen) had the following to say about his grandfather, “He lived as an artist in Hakadal during the last years of his life. He had a big production. He was not a practical man. He lived with nature and painted there. He liked to be out in the woods. He was a modest but determined man. He was a living encyclopedia on staffroom at Kongsberg. My grandfather was knowledgeable. He was ahead of his time. He took students with him into the wild to let them see and learn there.”

WHERE AM I Grandfather painted my sister and me skiing on the image, said Knut Røsjø

Knut points out a painting of him and his sister, Berit, skiing (October, 2008)

Art historian, Gunhild Brink, studied all the paintings at the exhibition, and found that Kristian Skolmen was inspired of Norwegian folk tales and Norwegian nature. She held a great chat about the painter during the exhibition . She could tell he was a modest painter and knowledgeable teacher. “My paintings are mostly as husfl id to rain. It’s not art , he had written in his own memoir , told Gunhild Brink

“He had a varied production. The biggest production he had was between 1920 and 1935. Skolmen painted oil paintings and watercolors, he also painted on objects, and directly on the wall,” said Gunhild Brink .

He came from a strict religious home. His parents were Haugeans. “I’ve heard grandfather did not like fiddle music. It was sinful. Therefore, he took his fiddle on the farm and fired it up in the oven,” chuckling Jon Skolmen.

Both Knut, Jon and Jon’s sister, Eli Ryg, sat on a panel at the opening of the Kristian Skolmen art exhibition on Thursday 2 October, 2008 at Lands Museum. The two cousins, Jon Skolmen and Knut Røsjø, were clearly touched when they saw how much interest there was for the painting exhibition.

Jon Skolmen and Knut Røsjø

Jon and Knut at the exhibition (October, 2008)


Jon Skolmen looking through an old family album

Additional pictures of the art exhibition can be seen below:

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Berit Svenman (Daughter of Ingeborg Røsjø (Nee Skolmen) had the following to say about her grandfather, “I remember him well, as he lived by us during his last two years. He was mostly sitting, painting with his easel – or in his rocking chair with his pipe. There was always a smell of turpentine and strong tobacco around him. He had great curly hair and brown eyes, many of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren inherited this trait from him.”



My father, who had made his home with my sister Ingeborg, passed away on 16 November 1946; he suffered a stroke about a month previously which paralyzed the side of his body so he was quite helpless. He was 83 when he died and was cremated in Oslo in the presence of many of his old friends and fellow teachers. His only remaining sister, Oline Enger, had died two months previously.” (Thoralf Skolmen, 1957).

Kristian’s ashes were buried in the Kirkegården ved Næringsparken cemetery in Kongsberg, on 7 June 1947. There was no formal grave site with a marble tombstone laid in his honor; there was simply a large rock placed at the site. This was typical of Kristian, as he was once quoted saying “to live unnoticed, appeals to me.”

“Kristian lived for his art and was never finished with it. In spite of his great age, life was too short. He had much left that he wanted to do. The Latin phrase “Ars longa, vita brevis”,  (Art is long, Life is short) really fits Kristian Skolmen” (Per Sunmann).


Kristian Skolmen 1940

If any readers have any information or pictures regarding Kristian Skolmen and his art, please do not hesitate to contact me at dayne.skolmen@gmail.com

Gonubie – Jewel of the Eastern Cape

Whether you grew up in Gonubie, had memorable family holidays, or Sunday visits to this wonderful town, it has always been a very special place. Having grown up in Gonubie, I wanted to capture and preserve its history for future generations, and to express my appreciation to a town that will always be very dear to me.

Gonubie is a seaside town at the mouth of the Gonubie River. It is situated just south of Morgan’s Bay and approximately 21km North-East of East London (Buffalo City) in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. The history of Gonubie is both rich and distorted. Gonubie boasts a rich history in that its narratives date back to the early Khoisan and Xhosa inhabitants of the area (Mfundiso Mahlasela and Gary Minkley, 2006). In fact, the name Gonubie itself is a corrupted form of the original word “Gqunube”. The specific language of origin of the name has been disputed. For more information, see “Origin of Gonubie’s name is wrong – claim”, Daily Dispatch, 25th April, 1985.” Although the long standing view holds that the name is of Xhosa origin, another view, based on lexicology (the study of the form, meaning, and behaviour of words), contends that the name is of Khoi (Hottentot) origin and is derived from the Khoi term for the brambleberry bush. “However, it has traditionally been considered that the name was derived from the brambling bush called Royena with its small yellow flowers. The bush grew in profusion along the banks of the Gonubie River and produced sweet, juicy berries which were much sought after by the local Xhosa inhabitants who named the area Gqunube, the Xhosa name for berry” (Bwalya, 2011, p.119). “Legend has it that the area was once covered by brambleberries. Various forms of human activities, including gathering, hunting, farming, mining and settlement led to the disappearance of these valued berries. Their legacy, however, survived these human interventions” (Mfundiso Mahlasela and Gary Minkley, 2006).


Gonubie is first mentioned in recorded history in 1752, when Ryk Tulbagh (Governor of the Dutch Cape Colony) sent August Frederik Beutler (who was an Ensign at the time) up the East Coast to report on the tribes living along the route, the possibility of trade and on anything else that might be profitable to the Dutch East India Company. The expedition lasted 8 months from 29 February to November, and extended eastward from Cape Town as far as the present-day site of Butterworth. This movement inland and up the coast came as a prelude to the Great Trek. Beutler records having crossed what must today be the Berlin Flats. He also records (in Dutch) his impressions of the Gonubie River Mouth and tells of having a hippopotamus shot for provisions. Doubtless Gonubie had been visited by ship-wrecked sailors several times, as through the years many ships foundered along this surf-pounded coast (Source: old newspaper article entitled; “JUST THE BERRIES AND A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY…..”).

The next mention of Gonubie in historical records might be the occasion in 1862 when the Lieutenant General of Territories of British Kaffraria granted farm number 188 to Duncan Mackintosh in lieu of service. From January 1863, Mackintosh was required to pay 4..1..0 pounds per annum to lease the property of 2024 acres. The land was bordered by the river banks on one side and by the farm of the Rieger Brothers to the west. In 1869, Sir Edward Yewd Brabant (major-general in the British Army (Empire)) bought the farm for £4000 and built “Gonubie Park”. His house still stands and it is said that the beams of the roof were cut from the masts of a ship wrecked at Eastward Ho (Source: “JUST THE BERRIES AND A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY…..”).

Through my research it was identified that the history of Gonubie is distorted in that, as is the case with most of written South African history, it represents mostly the narratives of White settlers and their descendants. According to Gail Bean, this may be owing to the fact that the traditions of the natives were based on patriarchal lore were information and stories are passed down from father to son or mother to daughter. It is important to make this point because Europeans came with the schooling and histories, etc. of the Norhtern Hemisphere and the well heeled and educated amongst them kept diaries and passed this information back to the friends and family they left behind, which is why we have this view of recorded history today. This does not mean that the “natives” they found did not have a similar system, simply that they preferred to convey it differently. Traditionally this is why the various customs took place when couples wished to marry for example and why ancestry is still as important to them as it is to us. isiduko resides in the memories of the elders usually males but also females. The recolonization of the Europeans and imposition of what was familiar in terms of laws and acquired skills was part fear resulting in self defense by superior arms. Sadly many of the natives elders lost their lives and with them went some of their vital history. Without dwelling extensively in pre-colonial and colonial history, it is important to note the following:

“The last and ninth frontier war saw mass migration of Blacks to the lands across the Kei River. Thus ‘creating space’ for White settlers. Historical records show that this war between the invading White settlers and retreating Xhosa natives was fought in 1877- 1878 in and around Komga (Qumrha). Gonubie was first formally settled by Europeans in 1877 under a scheme known as the Kaffrarian and Border Immigration Society. As with the general history of South Africa, in particular that of the frontier areas of the Eastern Cape, Blacks in and around Gonubie faced many challenges. After their ancestors were forcibly moved to the impoverished and overcrowded areas of the former homelands of Transkei and Ciskei, Blacks had to ‘come back’ to earn a living as farm workers, child minders, house-keepers and general workers.” (Mfundiso Mahlasela and Gary Minkley, 2006). Rich and intriguing as the history of Gonubie may be, it is important to remember the struggles and hardships of the natives that originally occupied this land.

The first church in Gonubie was built on the eastern side on the Gonubie River by Presbyterian settlers in 1902 (Whitfield, 1979). This church, which still stands today, was used both as a place of worship and final resting place.

In 1927 the township was registered for the first time.

Gonubie River Mouth (circa 1930) Photo credit: Jenny Balson

Gonubie River Mouth (circa 1930)
Photo credit: Jenny Balson

“Gonubie Mouth Primary School came into existence in January 1930 with Miss V. Egelhof as the first teacher. A banana ripening shed, belonging to Mr Leopold (Louis) Rosenbaum, was used until a classroom was built. There was an enrolment of 30 pupils.” (Source: A brief history of Gonubie Primary School). According to Sigi Howes, “Although the present Presbyterian Church at Gonubie was built in 1902, there was an earlier School-Chapel established in 1876, as the Scottish settlers wanted a place to worship as well as to educate their children immediately. This school pre-dates the Gonubie Primary School by about 50 years. A separate building was built for the school next to the Presbyterian Church in 1905. The school was later moved to Sunrise-on-Sea (Bryson property) and is now the Kwelera Mouth Primary School.”


Gonubie aerial view (circa 1932)
Photo credit: Delena Properties Gonubie

Before the boardwalk (circa 1960)

Photograph of Gonubie beach before the boardwalk, featured in S.A. Travel News January 1932, from article: “On the Grassy Downs at Gonubie Mouth – Seaside Seclusion Near East London”
Photo credit: Hilton T


Aerial photographs of Gonubie (1934)
Photo credit: Jana Cooper


Aerial photographs of Gonubie (1934)
Photo credit: Jana Cooper


Aerial photographs of Gonubie (1934)
Photo credit: Jana Cooper


Aerial photographs of Gonubie (1934)
Photo credit: Jana Cooper


Certificate of the land surveyor who took the aerial photographs shown above (1934)
Photo credit: Jana Cooper

The year 1933 proved to be one of the most significant in the town’s history. This was the year local resident Louis Rosenbaum bought “Gonubie Park”. Rosenbaum decided to sell off plots and called this development “Gonubie Park Estate, Ltd.”  Gonubie Park Estate, approximately 1900 acres, was divided into two sections, “Gonubie Park,” approximately 1100 Acres, and “Gonubie Manor,” approximately 800 Acres. Gonubie Park was the land that was for sale. This was to be the beginning of residential development in the town.  All plots were approximately a quarter Acre in extent and priced from £50 to £200. Copies of the plan and price lists could be had on request and picked up from No 53, Oxford Street, East London in those years (Source: http://www.gonubie-manor.co.za/about-us/history/).

In his advertising campaign, Rosenbaum described that these plots were on a gradual slope with a sea frontage of approximately one and a half miles and extended inland for over two miles to a frontage along the Gonubie River of nearly three miles. It was 16 hours distant from Durban by boat, and roughly six miles by sea from East London.

Strategically located, GONUBIE PARK TOWNSHIP will offer in a few years the finest examples of: “I could have bought at a third of that price!!!”

Safeguard against this by investing now in –

“East London’s Better Half.”


Advertisement of Gonubie Park Township.
Photo credit: http://www.gonubie-manor.co.za/about-us/history/


Advertisement of Gonubie Park Township.
Photo credit: http://www.gonubie-manor.co.za/about-us/history/


Advertisement of Gonubie Park Township.
Photo credit: http://www.gonubie-manor.co.za/about-us/history/

During 1950 electricity was laid on and in 1953 a village management established.

A.C.Trangmar postcard - 34

A.C. Trangmar postcard of Gonubie Mouth (circa 1950s)

A.C.Trangmar postcard - 30

A.C. Trangmar posctard of Gonubie Mouth (circa 1950s)

Artco [Art Publishers Durban] postcard. Love the old cars!

Artco [Art Publishers Durban] postcard of the Gonubie Mouth (circa 1960s)


Postcard of Gonubie Mouth (circa 1950s). The tea room and the Gonubie Hotel can be seen on the corner of the gravel road.
Photo credit: Unknown

E.R.Trangmar postcard - 31

E.R. Trangmar postcard of Gonubie Mouth (circa 1950s)

The Gonubie Nature Reserve (also known as the bird sanctuary) was established in 1955 to conserve a coastal wetland habitat and associated bird, plant and animal species. Today, the reserve is home to over 130 species of bird, mostly water birds such as the beautiful Grey Crowned Cranes. There is a well-established walking route and a bird hide overlooking an open body of water, which makes it ideal for birdwatchers interested in wetland species. The reserve also has a small interpretive centre with bird and animal listings and a brief history of the area. (Source: showme.co.za)


Two Grey Crowned Cranes

In terms of accommodation, two hotels have been around for many years, the first being the Gonubie Mouth Hotel, which is a 3 star family run hotel boasting two restaurants and 4 bars with magnificent views over the Gonubie bay. The hotel is a stone’s throw away from the beach.

Artco postcard

Artco postcard of the Gonubie Mouth Hotel (circa 1960s)

There is also the Bluewaters Hotel, originally called the Bluewaters Inn, which is also uniquely situated just 30 meters off the Gonubie promenade and 50 meters from the ocean. The hotel itself has a popular pub & restaurant attached, the Slipway, where locals and guests alike come together for entertainment. A kids play centre ensures that the children are catered for and overall the place is very family welcoming. Conferencing facilities are on offer as well. The hotels website offers an excellent video, which showcases the beauty of Gonubie (The video can be accessed via this link -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYrwo0mnxMo&feature=youtu.be).


Postcard of the Bluewaters Inn (circa 1960s)
Photo credit: Chantelle Schwedhelm


The very first entries in the Bluewaters Inn register (1969)
Photo credit: Chantelle Schwedhelm

Alternatively, if you are up for some camping, then the Gonubie Caravan Park & Resort is great for enjoying the independence and freedom of a caravan or camping holiday. All their sites have electrical outlets and water points nearby, and most offer full or partial shade. The sites are level and are large enough to accommodate most caravans, motorhomes and tents.

Art Publishers postcard.

Art Publishers postcard of Gonubie beach (circa 1970s)

Artco postcard (2)

Artco postcard of Gonubie beach (circa 1970s)

Arthur English Prints postcard

Arthur English Prints postcard of Gonubie (circa 1970s)

The year 1975 was when Gonubie held it’s first Surfers Marathon (known today as the Discovery Surfers Challenge), however, the first race was not as formal as it is today. “The race was born from some friendly rivalry between local athletes and surfers who frequented the same watering hole in East London. Having not fared as well as some of their road running friends in a road relay from King William’s Town to East London, the five-man surfing team came in for a fair bit of ragging. Seeking retribution, the surfers issued a challenge to the roadrunners to meet them on their turf – the beach – and set about planning a route taking in the sand, rocks, loose boulders and rivers between two points. The first race, which stretched for about 1 kilometer further that the current one, began with just 36 enthusiastic runners. To further rub salt into the wound, the race was won by one of the runners! However, the stage was set for what has become one of the most sought after marathon cum obstacle courses in the country. The race has stayed in the hands of the surfing fraternity ever since and currently boasts an entry base of between 1500 and 2000 participants every year.” (Source: Discovery Surfers Challenge – History of the event).


2015 Discovery Surfers Challenge
Source: showme.co.za

The informal settlement of Mzamomhle was established in 1987 and was situated on sandy soil, on the coast, which was not environmentally suitable for settlement. “During apartheid South Africa, Blacks had no security of tenure or any significant property rights. All Blacks were relocated in 1989 from the farms on which they were born, to the new township of Mzamomhle. A city official, Rodbey Bouwer, confirmed the date but could not comment on politics and history behind the relocation. It is interesting to note here that of all the libraries searched, there is no written history on Mzamomhle.”  (Mfundiso Mahlasela and Gary Minkley, 2006). According to Garth Petzer, “Mzamomhle was not the first Xhosa township. The first existed below the present police station and not too far from the municipal workshops. It was a tidy, well organised little community with corrugated iron dwellings and a Methodist Church just next to it. It was in 1977/8 the homes were forcibly demolished and people evicted. Mzamomhle was justifiably sited just a mile further down the little stream from that site.”

Over the years to follow, South Africa became a free Democratic nation in 1994 and Gonubie began to grow immensely. According to a 2011 Census, Gonubie has about 11471 residents, who reside in the lower income area of Mzamomhle, the middle income area of Riegerton Park, and the majority of the residents residing in the middle to upper income bracket Avenues and Streets. Gonubie has 18 avenues and 12 streets. There is also the lavish riverside area, which is a popular tourist destination.

Gonubie Beach is one of the best kept secrets of the Sunshine Coast. The beach can be found at the mouth of the Gonubie River, as it enters the ocean, with hillsides covered in lush vegetation and only a few houses peeking through. The beach has a unique access point along a 500m raised wooden boardwalk of international standard, built to protect the primary dunes from human traffic. This impressive boardwalk leads down to a tidal pool and eventually arrives at a beautiful sandy beach. The boardwalk is a fantastic vantage point for spotting passing whales and pods of dolphins, as well as surfers, bodyboarders and windsurfers.  There are facilities for the handicapped, as well as Buffalo City Municipality (BCM) lifeguards on duty throughout the year from 8.30am to 5pm in the evenings. During the December period, more lifeguards are added and they’re on duty from 7am to 6pm. Popular surfing spots are located towards the tidal pool and at Gonubie point. There is also a boat launching site next to the beach. The lagoon is wonderful and calm – a fantastic place to muck about. To add to that the perfect swimming conditions from the warm waves of the Indian Ocean and the superb natural scenery along the boardwalk and it’s easy to understand how time can pass here without complaint.

Gonubie Boardwalk

Gonubie Boardwalk (4 July 2007)
Photo credit: Danie van der Merwe



Gonubie aerial beach scene (circa 1999-2000)
Photo credit: Wilfred Van Zyl

In 2004 Gonubie Beach gained pilot Blue Flag status, but lost it in 2007 due to poor water quality. It regained the coveted status again in 2009, only to lose it again four months later because BCM officials failed to submit water samples within the allocated time. Blue Flag beaches are required to submit water samples once a month in order to retain their status. The Blue Flag status is awarded to beaches based on water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and services. The prestigious but hard-earned Blue Flag is a powerful drawcard for tourists around the world. At the time, Tourism Buffalo City CEO Peter King said it was disappointing news “since the tourism industry uses this status as a marketing tool to promote the attractiveness of the region”.


Gonubie Beach back in the day when it could still sport its prestigious Blue Flag.
Source: Dispatch Live, 2016.

Gonubie’s estuary coupled with the flourishing vegetation on adjacent sand dunes alone is enough to place it in a league of its own. “The Gonubie River offers Flyfishing from the bank and from the boat. The Main species to be found are Kob, River Skipjack, Garrick and Grunter with the odd Shad, Kingfish, River Snapper and Barracuta.The Best time of the year is Spring and Summer. Hot spots on the river are the Drop-off, Schwedhelms, Rocky Bank, Red Cliffs and the Top Pool. The best time to fish the river are on an outgoing tide and two hours on the pushing tide. Start at the top of the river and move with the tide to be at the Drop-off about one hour to full low. Kob are found from the Drop-off to Rocky Bank. Garrick frequent the Drop-off and Schwedhelms. River Skipjack are found at Top Pool, Rocky Bank, Schwedhelms and the Drop-off. Grunter can be targeted at the various prawn beds along the river banks. Access to the river is from the beach, tide waters and the estuary, the latter being private property so permission must be required.” (Source: http://www.fishingowl.co.za/swvenue.html).


Aerial view of the Estuary (circa 1999-2000)
Photo credit: Wilfred Van Zyl

Things are relaxed here and letting go of tension is easy when the beach and lagoon offer hours of tranquility and sunshine pleasure. When the tide is out, the lagoon is a perfect place for exploring – collecting shells, discovering birds, small fish, hermit crabs and other marine creatures and, particularly for families, an ideal place to while away the time. Furthermore, the river serves as a great place for activities such as canoeing and kayaking.

“In addition to the beach, a round of golf at the Gonubie Golf Course with its excellent facilities is a must for visitors and golfing enthusiasts” (Jacobs, 2012). The Gonubie Golf Course is a parkland country layout course and is challenging as there are 9 greens with 18 different tee boxes in different positions. You have to hit the ball straight from the tee box otherwise you have to accept a drop shot on each hole, a great test of golfing ability. (Source: encounter South Africa – Gonubie Golf Club).


Gonubie Golf Course

Even your need to restock the coffers is adequately met by the local Spars and recently opened King’s Mall at the corner of Gullsway Road and Main Road. This modern new shopping mall was built in the modern style of the indoor/outdoor lifestyle centre. This style enables the architect to create a unique flow of features with a combination of open walkways as well as indoor and outdoor line shops.

For a small town, Gonubie has everything one needs, including: a primary and a high school with excellent academic and sporting facilities, a Christian school for an alternative form of schooling, multiple doctors, a local pharmacy and a Clicks, a veterinary clinic, a police station, a traffic department, a library, a post office, a butchery, multiple petrol stations and a number of modern shopping complexes offering a wide variety of popular clothing and food stores. There’s a flea market or two every Saturday in front of the library and the anticipated annual Gonubie Christmas Fair takes place at the Gonubie Sports Field, holding various fun filled activities to keep families entertained all day long. Furthermore, the Gonubie Marine Club, for deep sea fishing enthusiasts, holds monthly Steak Evenings. and the Gonubie Sports club offers many sporting facilities such as tennis courts, squash courts, a lawn bowls pitch and cricket nets.

Apart from the natural beauty, one of the main attractions of living in the area is that no industrial development is planned, ensuring that this little piece of paradise remains just that. The cover photo of this article, taken by Wilfred Van Zyl, is a beautiful rendition of Gonubie, captured in all its glory.

When wanting to go out to for a bite, Gonubie offers some fine local restaurants; the prefect breakfast/ lunch is had alongside the sea at the Heavenly Pancake House. For supper time, Guido’s restaurant is recommended for their delicious pizza, which is baked in traditional wood burning ovens. They also offer tasty pastas, schwarmas, steaks and seafood. Or perhaps you just want to indulge in a local Shamrock pie from the petrol station and a Steri Stumpie milkshake to wash it down.

Whenever Gonubie is faced with difficulty, the community comes together and ‘makes a plan’. Gonubie is well established in the world of social media, many groups exist on Facebook, including: Gonubie Home of the legends, Gonubie Marine Club, Gonubie Hotel, Gonubie Primary School, Gonubie Project Neighbourhood Watch,  etc. One particular group called Nubians Unlimited has united the community and through their efforts have managed to preserve the beauty of this wonderful town when faced with difficulties. An example of this was when Superspar Gonubie kindly opted to repair and paint all the damaged white fence poles along the area between the Boardwalk and Gonubie Point, which were damaged during new years day celebrations. This community group gathered residents together and assisted in the repair and painting of the white poles.

This small coastal town has certainly grown over the years and will no doubt continue to increase in size with the new expansion of the Gonubie Main Road. Gonubie is fast becoming a ‘hot property’ spot and holiday homes in particular are popular. Although Gonubie is considered to be a suburb of the city of East London, the chilled vibe and awesome scenery of Gonubie belies this. Lying on the estuary of the Gonubie River and enjoying a wonderful climate, Gonubie is a small piece of paradise on the Eastern Cape Coast and will remain so for many years to come.

If you wish to provide further information or photographs that you feel would be valuable to include in this article, then please send me an email at dayne.skolmen@gmail.com. Furthermore, if I have provided incorrect information to your knowledge or used a photograph without consent or without giving credit to the photographer, then let me know and I will remove it/ credit the photographer if they would like the photo to remain in this article.

14440991_10153794295931363_8510097629290690913_n.jpgThese streets hold my deepest days, this town taught me golden ways, and for this I will always hold a special place in my heart for GONUBIE


If any readers have any information or pictures regarding the history of Gonubie, please do not hesitate to contact me at dayne.skolmen@gmail.com

The Power of Genealogy

My personal journey to uncover my family history began in 2013. I was a university student at the time and had an abundance of spare time to research the roots of my family tree while completing my Masters degree in information technology. I was guided by the saying “like branches on a tree, we all grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.”

Whilst others my age were out partying or getting up to the usual activities of a 22 year old, I had my head in South African national archive documents, searching for information from the past. The bug had bitten hard and I was hooked. With each discovery I wanted to know more and dive further into the lives of my ancestors. Who were they? Why did they come to South Africa? What did they look like? What was their story?

Discovering my family history has allowed me to build stronger bonds with current relatives and reunite my family with distant relatives all over the world. I am a member of the South African Genealogy Facebook group, and one of the members of the group posted this interesting perspective on discovering ones family history.

We Are Chosen

“My feelings are that in each family there seems to be one who is called to find the ancestors. To put flesh to bone and make them live again. To tell the family story and to feel that somehow, they know, and approve. To me, doing genealogy, is not a cold gathering of facts, but instead, breathing life into all who have gone before. We are the storytellers of the tribe – all tribes have one. We have been called, as it were, by our genes. Those who have gone on before cry out to us, tell our story! So, we do. In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood before and cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told my ancestors – you have a wonderful family, you would be proud of us. How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt that there was love there for me? I cannot say. It goes beyond documenting facts. It goes to who I am and why I do the things I do. It goes to seeing an ancestor’s grave, about to be lost to weeds and indifference, and saying, I can’t let this happen. It goes to showing respect and doing something about it. It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish. How they contributed to what we are today. It goes to respecting their hardships and losses. Their never giving in or giving up. Their resolution to go on and build a life for their family. It goes to deep pride that they fought to make us a Nation. It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us, that we might be born who we are. That we might remember them. So, we do, with love and caring and inscribing each fact of their existence. Because we are them and they are us. So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family. It is up to the one called in the next generation to answer the call, and to take up their place in the long line of family storytellers. That is why I do genealogy and that is what calls those, young and old, to step up and put flesh to bone. We are chosen!”

This perspective really spoke to me on so many levels. I have developed such a great passion for family history. My family history adventure has been exciting, with many great discoveries, as well as dead ends. When I compiled my family tree, I knew I had ancestors, but they were fictitious to me. It was only once I got in contact with distant relatives, that their stories started to take shape. My journey to discover my family history has given character and breathed life into the names that started out as lifeless identities on paper. Through this experience, I discovered who I am and my life was enriched with the stories of all the great people that paved the way for me.

So I wish you all the best of luck in your family history endeavors and may each discovery enrich your life and bring you closer to finding yourself at the same time.

“Remember me in the family tree
My name, my days, my strife;
Then I’ll ride upon the wings of time
And live an endless life.”


If any readers have any information or pictures regarding the family history of the following surnames: Skolmen, Hillestad, Bauer, Ruffer, De Bruyn and Snyman, please do not hesitate to contact me at dayne.skolmen@gmail.com


The Biccard Collection

The Biccard Collection is the collective works of John Biccard, a renowned artist from Cape Town, South Africa. After searching the internet for information about John and his career, I found that the internet did not have much to offer. It was because of this discovery that I decided to write a blog post to honour the work of a great South African artist and visionary who appears to be relatively unknown.

It seems one of the main reasons why it is so difficult to get any information on John is because he was a very private person. Through my continuous pursuit for information, I was able to uncover the following about the life and work of Mr. John Biccard.

John Biccard was born John Henry Burnwood on the 6th of February, 1941. He was raised in the farm and wineland regions of the Cape peninsula, near the major sea port of Cape Town. John was educated in Cape Town and travelled extensively throughout Europe, spending some time studying at Cambridge in London, England, hence the Euro-centricity of his works. He returned to his native land to carry on with his first love, sculpturing. John was a very private person who liked to be known as “a person who is indigenous of this fair and wonderful part of South Africa,” a true Capetonian (Source: PJ Designs). According to an old acquaintance; John created his art under his mother’s maiden name (Biccard), as his father did not approve of his profession and wanted him to have a more formal occupation.


John worked in the medium of crushed marble, creating his collection of whimsical sculptures (known as the “Biccard Marbles”) from drawings he had done of subjects that caught his interest and imagination. He started with a pencil sketch of his subject and then formed the finished caricature. John produced a set of 22 “cards” depicting his characters (some of which did not make it into a sculpture). According to Peter Lane, a long time Biccard collector from the UK, the Biccard website does show some of these images, however not all are displayed. Furthermore, Peter told me that he purchased the set of cards from Classique in Bedfordview Shopping Mall, Johannesburg.


Photo Credit: Peter Lane

One can tell that John had a great sense of humor that went into his creations. Most of the sculptures are caricatures of animals depicting “important” people or events, such as CholmondeleyChumley” the Caterpillar who is smugly awaiting the coming of Spring so that he can turn into a beautiful butterfly, or Phileas Frogg who can be seen sitting by the roadside fishing for compliments (Source: PJ Designs).

Chumley the caterpillar

Chumley the caterpillar
Photo credit: Seektiques


Phileas Frogg

In the early 70s John had a studio in Church Street in Cape Town. Through enquiry with multiple collectors/sellers I managed to identify that John sold his Marbles in the shop on Table Mountain, in a gift shop at Sun City and in a Décor shop in Johannesburg. John’s charming sculptures are all hand finished in exquisite detail and were produced during the late 1970’s to early 1980’s. In the 1980’s these magnificent sculptures were sold exclusively from Excalibur Art Ltd and came in a brown box denoted with the Biccard Collection insignia on the front. Included in the box was an information leaflet containing a description/story of the specific character and the following standard text; “These pieces are hand created in Mr John Biccard’s studio in modest quantities and are already collector’s pieces. They are intended to be handled, viewed from all angles and to make you smile, thus giving pleasure. Each piece carries Mr Biccard’s monogram. (Direct sunlight may cause colour tone change).” Each sculpture had a label on the bottom that read “Hand made in South Africa.” Unlike normal antiques/collectables that can be authenticated by a makers mark or stamp underneath the base, John’s sculptures are exclusively marked with a trademark design of his initials – “JB” that adds to the beauty and authenticity of the sculpture.



John Biccard’s  initials that can be found on every sculpture

These sculptures are becoming increasingly scarce and are highly prized and sought after. For the avid collector out there, John’s marble sculptures will last a lifetime and more, with only the minimal amount of care. These rare creations of beautiful intricacy would make a wonderful addition to any collection. Owning a Biccard sculpture is a statement in itself. He captures the similarity between man and animal with a sense of humor, yet an air of realism. Only a True Collector could understand and appreciate these unique handmade works of art with a whimsical touch. Due to the limited availability of these sculptures, they are deemed to have significant value and will only continue to rise in value.

Examples of John Biccard’s marble sculptures:


Introducing “Sufi (The Magus’s Camel)” from the Biccard Collection

Sufi weighs approximately 800g and stands 11x18cm. This camel has amazing muscular detail to his face, shiny black eyes, a heart-shaped nose (which John seemed to love to do since you see this on a few of the figurines) and a look of pure serenity and satisfaction in his smile. Sufi is wearing a fringed and tassel blanket. He is richly decorated with palm tree’s and etched flowers as the background designs. On one side you see the dolphin and pyramid, the sun and the moon, water and land and sail boat. The opposite side shows the camel walking through the eye of the needle. He is truly Blessed. John Biccard’s initials can be found above both main designs on either side of the camel. The headdress is simple which compliments the ornate blanket. This funky camel is John’s version of the eye of the needle. Read more about Sufi’s features here: http://www.pjdesigns.com/pj/biccard1.htm

Photo credit: Seektiques


Introducing “D’Artagnan” from the Biccard Collection

D’Artagnan is either a Persian or Angora cat with his long fur and is clearly an alias for Puss in Boots. He is wearing a wide brimmed plumed, cavalier hat. Dressed in frilly cravat, waistcoat and boots. If you look carefully at the back, peeking out of his long fur and sash is a sword. D’Artagnan has an eye patch as well. His whiskers are curled into a mustache. John Biccards initials adorn the hat.

Photo credit: Seektiques

Pie Face

Introducing “Pie Face” from the Biccard Collection

Pie Face is one cool chimp! Dressed like he is right out of the 1970’s. He wears a Gatsby or newsboy cap, wide collar shirt with butterfly motifs, diamond cut pattern tie with John Biccard’s initials as the accent. His face is very expressive as you can see. A thoughtful and wise look as though he knows something that we don’t. He has piercing shiny black eyes, a slight smile and heart shaped nose, sideburns like Elvis and long fur over the back of his collar.

Photo credit: Seektiques


Introducing “Prof.” from the Biccard Collection

Prof. is dressed like a scholar and perched on a podium. An exquisite quill pen is the center design. The distinguished P.H.D. hood on Prof’s back shows a spread winged owl with a book. Great detailing has been done to all the feathers. The eyes are grooved out for added depth. The talons are very detailed. John Biccard’s Initials can be found on the left side of Prof’s checkerboard-patterned vest.

Photo credit: Seektiques

Red Baron 1

Introducing “Red Baron 1” from the Biccard Collection

Red Baron weighs approximately 200g and stands 8cm high. Red Baron has a wide muzzle and heavy lidded eyes. He is dressed in full flying attire with his flying cap with ear flaps and flying goggles which bear John Biccard’s initials. Two detailed old fighter planes which show a dog resembling Snoopy sitting inside have been carved on either side of Red Baron’s jacket. Carved out in the center on the back of his jacket is “The Red Baron.”

Photo credit: Seektiques


Introducing “Sherlock Holmes” from the Biccard Collection

Sherlock is a super sleuth! With his keen sense of smell, intelligent eyes, this hound is great. A reverse of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Another one of John Biccards whimsical antics to his figurines. Sherlock is dressed in his deerstalker hat and overcoat both done in a checkered pattern. The detail on this bloodhound is just amazing. The hound has deep folds in his face, deep set eyes and long ears that protrude from under his cap. John Biccard’s initials can be found on the back of Sherlock’s coat.

Photo credit: Seektiques


Introducing “Napoleon (War) and the Saint (Peace)” from the Biccard Collection
These miniature pieces were sold together as a package and symbolize war and peace.

Napoleon is John Biccard’s artistic take on Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French. Napoleon stands 8.5cm high and 4.2cm widest at the base. The piece is named “War.” He is dressed in his finest uniform; the jacket has fringed epaulets and six buttons down the front, he has high military boots and a large bicorn hat with a ribbon. His Jacket is cut away exposing a very round belly. If you look closely, you will notice he is pigeon toed. Napoleon’s face has the look of determination. This is a fabulous depiction of the man himself with all the details picked out and brilliantly executed from a few wisps of curls under his hat to the arms folded behind his back. John Biccard’s initials can be found carved into each pocket.

The Saint is named “Peace” and is depicted to be the opposite of Napoleon (War). As you can see, Saint has the look of tranquillity. Dressed in a checker board cape with varied patterns. Saint’s robe shows earths bounty with grapes, bananas, pineapple and apples. In addition to these, there are also flowers and a butterfly. The inside brim of the hat shows bunches of grapes. Four doves adorn the outside of his hat; two dove’s holding an olive branch – a symbol of peace and harmony, the other two doves I assume symbolize love. This man is holding his belly. Which could very well be representational of mother earth or he is full with nature’s gifts. Whichever way you look at him, he is blessed. John Biccard’s initials can be found inside the apple on Saint’s robe.

Since each sculpture was hand made by John, they were issued as Limited Editions only. No two are exactly alike. Colours may vary from sculpture to sculpture; some sculptures have a brown shading, some have black detailing drawn or painted on and others seem to be plain white. The colouring can easily be mistaken for ivory or bone at first glance, but once you lift the sculpture up, they are relatively heavy considering their size and cold to the touch. The colour variations can be seen below in the two examples of John’s orangutan sculpture named “Dolby.” Orangutans are intelligent and for the most part, peaceful animals. This is how John portrays Dolby, his orangutan. This ape appears to be meditating in a Yoga position, complete with a headset. Dolby’s facial expression is serene and it is evident that he must be listening to some very relaxing music. The attention to detail is superb. With his arms folded across his belly, Dolby resembles an ape-like Buddha.


There are also variations in the types of marble sculptures John created. The majority are full bodied characters, however he also created busts, animal heads fixed on a stand, bookends and what appears to be a rhino horn dubbed “Queen (Her Royal Rhiness).”  Below is John Biccard’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” an example of one of the animal head on a stand sculptures John made. It is 23 cms in height and comes with a copy of Lawrence’s “CV” (Source: Skyscraper Cape Town). These witty little stories were originally sold with each sculpture.

According to long time Biccard collectors Joan and Steven Pye,

According to long time Biccard collectors Joan and Steven Pye, “when John first created his sculptures he valued his work on the size of each piece, the work involved and of course the amount of crushed marble required to product each piece. We believe his works on the stands were his latest creations and Lawrence of Arabia was one of his last. We also believe that Lawrence of Arabia is one of John’s finest sculptures.” John clearly valued his exquisite camel sculpture as he wrote a short poem about him:

“Sufi, the magus’s camel,
was a remarkable mammal,
as at home in a busy bazaar
as alone on a dune with a star.”
– John Biccard

Photo Credit: Peter Lane


Photo Credit: Barbara Spencer

One of the most intriguing sculptures John created was his marble chess set. Each chess piece is designed in John’s own unique style. John also wrote a book in 1972 entitled “Insulting the Pawn” which was around the time he was working on “prototype” designs for the chess set. The book was published by J. Burn Wood 1972 “Watergang”, Stellenbosch, Cape and apparently has a reference to The Grand Master Boris The Russian Bear which is presumed to refer to Soviet chess grandmaster Boris Spassky. It does not look like a conventional book; it has been described as 11 sheets of A4 sized pages “sandwiched” between 2 A4 sized cardboard covers in “Landscape” orientation. In John’s own words, it describes his thoughts during the process of carving his 6 prototype chess sets. It does give an insight into his personality with some amusing “expressions” and poetical statements.


Photo Credit: Wendy Nicol


John’s marble sculptures can be evaluated using the criteria below:

  1. The rarity of the sculpture – Some characters are more rare or sought after and are not often seen for sale, thus making them more valuable. It is uncertain if John made a limited number of certain characters, thus making them more difficult to acquire today.
  2. The size of the sculpture – From my research, I have established that John charged more for larger sculptures and less for smaller sculptures, this was due to the amount of crushed marble he utilised and the amount of effort taken to make the sculpture.
  3. The condition of the sculpture (all of the points below can effect the value of a sculpture):
    • Color tone of the marble – if the sculpture has been exposed to the sun then the color of the marble can become yellow.
    • Fading of the black detail/ shading – over the years when the sculptures are handled or cleaned, the black shading/ detailing often becomes faded and not so prominent. You can do a comparison of your Biccard sculpture/s with the mint condition sculptures displayed on the official John Biccard website.
    • Damages to the marble – if the sculpture has any scratches or chips to the marble. The placing of the chip and the size of the chip can impact the value differently (e.g. if the chip/ scratch is underneath the base of the sculpture, then this will not impact the value very much, however, if the chip/ scratch is on the sculpture’s face or easily noticeable when displaying the sculpture, this can impact the value significantly. The same goes for the size of the chip/ scratch; the larger the chip/ scratch, the more impact it will have on the value of the sculpture).

My personal collection consists of more than twenty John Biccard sculptures, one of which has not been included on the official John Biccard website. This leads me to believe that there are additional John Biccard sculptures out there. The sculpture which is not on the website has been displayed below.


Introducing “Batman” from the Biccard Collection

John Biccard’s initials can be found on the back of his cricket bat.

Another unique sculpture John created is the rare Pablo sculpture seen below. According to Janice Cocks, in the early 70s her mother worked in the center of town and found John’s studio on one of her lunch time explorations. “She took a liking to him and used to pop in to his studio. She seemed to get to know him quite well. The Pablo sculpture is actually a self-portrait. Looking more closely at the photos of John, there is definitely a resemblance. John was obsessed with getting both halves exactly the same. He felt that no one would buy this item, so it is uncertain how many are in existence.” Through my time collecting I have come across four of these sculptures.


Photo Credit: Chris Prinsloo

“Pablo is a shepherd boy and one of the earlier characters produced by Biccard Studio. I am told he has now become the main character ‘Pablo’ in Biccard’s ebook ‘Chessablanca'”

Production of the “Biccard Marbles” ceased in 1999. According to unaccredited internet sources, John passed away seven years later in 2006. However, there is no evidence to substantiate this claim on the John Bicccard website (which was created in 2012 and has recently been updated (2016) with additional photographs of John and his sculptures). Through my research I came across an issue of the National Gazette which stated that John Henry Burnwood (Born 6 February 1941) legally changed his name to John Biccard on the 5th of April, 2012 (Source: National Gazette No 35212, 05 April 2012, Vol 562 (Part 1, 2), Page 11). I also noticed that John Biccard has user accounts on Pinterest (member since May 2012) and Goodreads. However, it seems that John’s close friend Christopher Burton-Thomas (known as “Blue”) posts on these platforms on behalf of him.


Photo Credit: Denise

Photo of John and his close friend Chris (known as ‘Blue’).

John’s last known physical address was previously listed on the Biccard website as 17 Pastorie Street, Prince Albert, Western Cape, 6930. His user profile on Goodreads provides us with some insight into what he may be getting up to today:

Books, gardening, sailing, horse riding and classical music – Mozart, Beethoven, Corelli, Handel.

Favorite books:
Physics, cosmology and the perennial philosophy.

Favorite Authors:
Shakespeare, William Blake, Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse, Lewis Carroll.

Born in Cape Town. School – Diocesan College (Bishops). Graduated at University of Cape Town. Taught for 3 years at a private school. Then invited as a guest to sail around the Mediterranean on a yacht. Collected BMW motorcycle in Valencia and traveled extensively around Europe, the Greek islands and the Middle East including Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Returned to Cape Town and joined the editorial department of Oxford University Press in Cape Town for 3 years. He then went to live on the Greek island of Patmos to write poetry. On returning to Cape Town became an artist and went to live on a beautiful wine farm in Stellenbosch. Then returned to Cape Town to live in Clifton above the famous Clifton beaches. He now lives in the Great Karoo in the Western Cape with his two much loved horses, Chumly and Darcy and two resident Cape Eagle owls Owlbert and Victoria. He is currently writing more stories.”

John imprinted a small piece of himself in each one of his creations that have since made their way around the world. Today these marble sculptures are very collectible and highly valued by those who own and love them. Picture3

Visit the official John Biccard website to see a full display of John’s graphic designs, drawings, animal cartoons, plus The Biccard Collection of bonded marble figurines and chess pieces. The site also offers some of John Biccard’s downloadable eBooks, in particular: Chessablanca, a light-hearted romantic and courtly fantasy.

If any readers have any information or pictures regarding John Biccard or would like their personal Biccard collections appraised, please do not hesitate to contact me at dayne.skolmen@gmail.com

A quest to honour my grandfather by documenting the sculptures he created throughout East London, South Africa

Many East Londoners are familiar with the Pontiac Indian Head sculpture that adorns the glass façade of the new Home Affairs building. Some have fond memories of Gonubie’s ‘Humpty Dumpty’ Egg. But few know that these, and other iconic pieces of East London history, were the work of a local artisan named Toby Skolmen.

Toby (as everyone called him) was born Thorbjorn Christian Synnestvedt Skolmen in Nqutu, Zululand in the Natal Province on 28 January 1912. His parents, Thoralf Skolmen and Henninge Bolling Hillestad, were both Norwegian immigrants who arrived in South Africa just after the turn of the century. There had already been evidence of artistic talent in the Skolmen family; Toby’s grandfather, Kristian Skolmen, was a renowned Norwegian artist (to view a collection of Kristian’s Norwegian landscape watercolour paintings click here). Toby lived and attended school in Norway for five years (1922-1927) and could speak Norwegian and Zulu in addition to English.

Toby learned the building trade while growing up in Durban. He apprenticed with the stonemasonry firm of Pike and Martin Modellers, Plasterers and Tilers. During his apprenticeship he also took evening classes at Tech College (Natal Technical College). He later joined the R.N.V.R (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve) and became a leading Seaman Gunner and Drill Instructor.


Toby in his Navy uniform
Photo credit: Gary Skolmen

In the late 1930s Toby was employed by a contractor named Mr Rorvig and worked on two of Durban’s landmark Art Deco flat blocks, Manhattan Court and Nordic Court in Broad Street.

Manhattan Court

Manhatten Court

Nordic Court

Nordic Court

Toby was invited by his foreman (Wallace Jordan) to spend Christmas with his wife’s family in East London. During this time Toby met and fell in love with his foreman’s young sister-in-law, Eva Hilda Bauer. Toby and Eva married in 1940 and started raising their family in Durban. The couple moved to East London around 1946 with their sons John Frederick Skolmen and David Ernest Skolmen. They purchased a farm in Thornvlei Road, Meisies Halt, which Toby named Sunset Farm (now owned by Umso Construction). Two more children were born in East London: Linda Marie Skolmen and Edward James Skolmen. Linda’s name was derived from the Zulu word meaning “long awaited” since she was the couple’s first daughter. Toby built a house on Sunset Farm to accommodate his growing family.

Toby devoted his life to the building trade. In the late 40s and 50s he worked for the firm of Ch. Katz Building Contractors in East London, for whom he apparently assisted Chaim Katz with sculpting the head of a Native American (in relief plasterwork or precast concrete) representing the Pontiac logo.


An old advertisement for Ch. Katz Building Contractors (circa 1948).
Photo credit: William Martinson


This job was done for Fleet Motors, situated on the corner of Fleet Street and Cambridge Street in East London’s Central Business District.


Orient Garage – Corner of Fleet Street & Cambridge Street – before it was Fleet Motors. Photo credit: Mike Greyvensteyn

Pontiac is a brand of motor vehicle named after the famous Ottawa chief who had also given his name to the city of Pontiac, Michigan where the car was produced. Fleet Motors was a Pontiac dealership. The sculpture was mounted on the curved stone parapet wall, and advertised this fact (source: William Martinson, October 2014).


The Indian head can be seen in the distance of this photograph taken in 1973 (Source: Unknown)

The building itself has housed many businesses in the past, including Chieftain Paints and Motorland, where it was used as a Mahindra franchise.


The building when it was owned by Motorland (Frans Strauss) and utilised as a Mahindra franchise.
Photo credit: William Martinson


Close up of the Pontiac sculpture
Photo credit: William Martinson

The building was substantially modified in September 2014 with a wrap-around, inclined glass facade at ground floor level to accommodate a government office. Fortunately, this adaptive re-use did not obscure the Pontiac Logo. This alteration, however, significantly modified the curved outline of the original cantilevered concrete forecourt canopy and entailed the removal of the original inclined plate-glass shop fronts (source: William Martinson, October 2014).

Originally painted plain red in the typical colours of the Pontiac logo, the sculpture has been painted quite decoratively over the decades. But sure as the sun sets, no matter what it has been used for or as, the iconic East London symbol has remained, even now as the Government Department of Home Affairs building. From what I understand, it is a protected part of the local heritage and may not be removed from the building.


Photo of the Pontiac sculpture in 2017.
Photo credit: Eddie Botha



Although there is no solid evidence pointing to Toby Skolmen as the creator of the Pontiac sculpture, according to members of the Skolmen family, the Indian Head was a significant project for Toby. “I remember Grandpa Toby telling me about the Indian Head, he apparently battled with the feathers” says Gary Skolmen. Judy Skolmen Bouwer agrees. “Toby was very proud of the Indian Head,” she says. “He had a unique talent and was sought after to do ‘special’ jobs in East London.” This was further discussed with Reinard Joseph Ivan Hill, a family friend who stayed in a rondavel with his wife on Toby’s farm in the early 1970s for a year or two, “Toby and I chatted many times when he was in the mood, which was very often. In fact, he was very proud when he mentioned doing the Indian chief head. I have no doubt that he did it, even though he worked for Chaim Katz. Why would he out of the blue mentioned a lie? That was not Toby. He was genuine! He also mentioned the egg at Springbok Farm Stall, but it was the Indian Head that intrigued me.”

Later, Toby worked for a company called Christofferly & Son, which specialized in mosaics. Toby was very talented with his hands. He created wonderful castings in his spare time including cement gnomes, squirrels, frogs and bird baths.

Cement gnome done by Toby Skolmen

Cement gnome done by Toby Skolmen
Photo credit: Nigel Meier


Cement squirrel done by Toby Skolmen


Cement frog and bird bath done by Toby Skolmen

Toby made each unique mould for his cement scupltures, which according to his son Eddie Skolmen, was quite challenging and requires creativity and artistic skill. Eddie also mentioned the difficulty with the process of casting, “Casting is a very difficult task and requires great skill. You have to angle the wood and when you place the cement in, everything is upside down. It is like building a sandcastle; when you place the sand inside a bucket and turn it over and pat the back of the bucket and out comes the sand in the exact shape of the bucket.” Toby also created many interesting sculptures, such as the cabbage, tomato and pineapple that were displayed on the roof of Attwell’s Farm Stall outside Gonubie right before Farmarama. Many readers may recall the plastic Donald Duck head that also stood on the farm stall’s roof (which is now situated in Billy Nel’s collection on his farm near Kei Mouth), this item was not done by Toby.

Donald Duck Head

Donald Duck head on Billy Nel’s farm (Photo taken December 2014)

Toby would also create works of art from looking at photographs. He created a white plaster bust of his wife’s head simply by looking at a photograph of her. As you can see in the image below, the resemblance is striking.

Plaster bust of Toby's wife Eva flanked between two of Toby's cement gnome sculptures. Original photograph of Eva on the right.

Plaster bust of Toby’s wife Eva flanked between two of Toby’s cement gnome sculptures. Original photograph of Eva on the right.

Toby also carved a wooden sculpture from a postcard of an African carving a thick wooden baton-like stick with an African face at the top. He mimicked what he saw on the postcard and the end result was identical.


One of Toby’s best-known sculptures was the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ Egg situated next to the Springbok Farm Stall, which could be seen when leaving Gonubie. The egg was more than just a decoration, according to Biggy Barnard. “I came across a large rugby ball at Border Boxes, which had come from the Border Rugby Union (BRU) grounds when the All Blacks played in East London. I offered to buy the rugby ball and then came up with the idea to turn the rugby ball into an egg to advertise my egg business from the farm stall. I contracted Toby Skolmen (who was a good friend of my husband and regular customer at the farm stall) to have the rugby ball plastered with bricks and cement in order to turn it into an egg.” Milly Skolmen recalls that when President F.W. De Klerk visited Gonubie in the early 1990s his face was painted on the egg. The resemblance was striking, since the president and the egg were both bald. Later between 1994 and 1998 the egg was painted with Coca-Cola branding and arms, legs, a red cap and a coke bottle were added. The iconic egg met a sad fate, according to the Gonubie community on Facebook. After losing its arms and legs in a misguided attempt to move the egg, it was converted into a Springbok rugby ball. A second attempt to move the egg resulted in its destruction and permanent removal. Many were saddened by the demolition of the egg, feeling that a significant part of Gonubie’s history had been lost. Joy Phillips wrote “Very sad that we lost the Humpty Dumpty egg. Was an icon for all people especially the children.”


Haydn Skolmen poses with his daughter, Megan Skolmen, in front of the Gonubie Egg with Coca-Cola branding (December 1998). Photo credit: Tracy Skolmen

In addition to these pieces, Toby was contracted by Katz and Robinson in the seventies to do the Clarendon Girls’ High School cement sign with its detailed trimmings. He also made the plaster sculpture of the Beaconhurst Primary School badge located at the entrance to the school.


The cement sign at Clarendon Girls’ High School

SAM_5299 - Copy

The plaster sculpture of the Beaconhurst Primary School badge

These two works, along with the Pontiac head, are all that remain of Toby’s legacy, according to Eddie Skolmen. Toby died on the 30 June 1993 from a stroke. He was 81 years old. Since then much of his work has been lost and all that remains are family stories and a few old photographs.

If any readers have any information or pictures regarding any of the items Toby Skolmen made, please do not hesitate to contact me at dayne.skolmen@gmail.com