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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 others my age were out partying or getting up to the usual activities of a 22 year old, I had my head in national archives documents looking for information from the past. Building stronger bonds and meeting distant relatives all over the world has been the best part of this journey for me.

I am a member of the South African Genealogy Facebook group. One of the members of the group posted this interesting perspective of 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 story tellers 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 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 a grave site of one of my relatives, unvisited in decades, about to be lost to weeds and indifference, and saying, I can’t let this happen. It goes to 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 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 scribing 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 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 given life to the names that started out as lifeless identities on paper. Through this experience I discovered who I am and all the great people from who I come from.

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.

This one

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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:

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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, "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

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

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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.

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Photo Credit: Wendy Nicol

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The value of John’s marble sculptures is based on certain criteria:

  • Condition (if the sculpture is chipped or has fading of the black detailing, shading or colour tone of the actual marble itself (yellow), then this will affect the value)
  • Character (some characters are more rare or sought after, thus making them more valuable).

My personal collection consists of more than twenty John Biccard sculptures, one of which has not been included on the 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.

 

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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 only come across three of these sculptures.

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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.

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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:

“Interests:
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.

Toby Skolmen (1992)
Photo credit: Judy Skolmen Bouwer

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 (a collection of Kristian’s Norwegian landscape watercolour paintings can be seen in this Youtube video). 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.

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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 with sculpting the Indian Head (Pontiac) profile on the façade of the Fleet Motors building (which now houses the Department of Home Affairs).

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Pontiac sculpture that remains above the new Home Affairs building
Photo credit: William Martinson

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.”

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

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Cement squirrel done by Toby Skolmen

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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.

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The cement sign at Clarendon Girls’ High School

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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

Springbok Farm Stall (circa 1986) Photo credit: Grahame Hall

Unraveling the history of the Springbok Farm Stall

The Springbok Farm Stall with its iconic giant egg was a familiar sight on the Gonubie Main Road for decades. Many Gonubians have fond memories of the farm stall, but few are familiar with its history, which dates back to the 1960s.

It all began in 1967 when Biggy Turner (later Barnard) and her husband Adriaan “Snowy” Barnard purchased a property called St Annes along the Gonubie Main Road. Snowy was a big rugby supporter, especially for the Springboks and Northern Transvaal, and since they had started a poultry farm on the property, they decided to change the name to Springbok Chicks.

The Springbok Farm Stall started out in 1968 as a table on the side of the Gonubie Main Road where Biggy’s children, Malcolm and Jennifer Turner, sold vegetables they had grown to make pocket money. The table was later replaced with a wooden hut constructed by Sheila Nel, who worked at Horwitz scrap yard in Abbotsford. In 1971 the stall was converted into a small brick building and it grew from there.

The famous giant egg was added in 1970 after Biggy came across a large rugby ball at Border Boxes. The ball had come from the Border Rugby Union (BRU) grounds when the All Blacks played in East London. She offered to buy it and then came up with the idea to turn the ball into an egg to advertise the eggs she sold from the farm stall. She contracted a local artisan named Toby Skolmen, who was a good friend of Snowy as well as a regular customer at the Springbok Farm Stall. Toby converted the rugby ball into an egg with bricks, cement and plaster.

Gonubie Egg circa 1979 Photo credit: Malcolm Turner

One of the Suttie boys that lived next door, posing with the Gonubie Egg (circa 1979)
Photo credit: Malcolm Turner

Toby Skolmen (1992) Photo credit: Judy Skolmen Bouwer

Toby Skolmen (1992)
Photo credit: Judy Skolmen Bouwer

The egg attracted many customers and so did delicacies such as the memorable large farm-fresh flapjacks. The farm stall did very well, according to Biggy, because there were no big commercial grocery shops at the time. In December 1976, the store won a Citrus Competition, a feat that was written up in the Daily Dispatch newspaper.

Daily Dispatch article about the Springbok Farm Stall receiving the National Greengrocer of the year award (December 1976)  Photo credit: Daily Dispatch

Daily Dispatch article about the Springbok Farm Stall receiving the National Greengrocer of the year award (December 1976)
Photo credit: Daily Dispatch

Biggy continued operating the farm stall until 1980, when she sold it. At the time the business was thriving. The store went through several owners with Jenti Jeeva sticking it out longer than the others and becoming  the most successful and popular owner.

People pictured from left to right:  Norman Weber , Veronica Weber (Biggy’s cousins that were visiting from Johannesburg), Mrs Lee (Teacher at Gonubie Primary School - still presently teaching there), Douglas Diesel and Snowy (Adriaan Barnard) posing with the Gonubie Egg (circa 1979) Photo credit: Malcolm Turner

People pictured from left to right: Norman Weber , Veronica Weber (Biggy’s cousins that were visiting from Johannesburg), Mrs Lee (Teacher at Gonubie Primary School – still presently teaching there), Douglas Diesel and Snowy (Adriaan Barnard) posing with the Gonubie Egg (circa 1979)
Photo credit: Malcolm Turner

Springbok Farm Stall (circa 1986) Photo credit: Grahame Hall

Springbok Farm Stall (circa 1986)
Photo credit: Grahame Hall

When President F.W. de Klerk visited Gonubie around 1990-1993 his face was painted on the egg and the resemblance was striking because de Klerk was bald. Shortly after this, the egg was modified with Coca-Cola branding. According to Dave and Lynn Hulley, who owned the farm stall from 1994 to 1998, “Coke offered to redo the egg for us as advertising – they put on arms, legs, a red cap and a coke bottle in the egg’s hand.” Dave and Lynn also started restoring and selling cottage furniture from the farm stall, which Dave was sourcing in the Transkei and Ciskei. They arranged the furniture outside the farm stall so that passing motorists could see it, which did very well.

The Gonubie Egg with Coca-Cola branding (December 1998) Photo credit: Tracy Skolmen

Haydn Skolmen and his 3 month old daughter, Megan Skolmen, taking a photo with the upgraded Gonubie Egg in its Coca-Cola branding (December 1998)
Photo credit: Tracy Skolmen

Renee Ladwig owned the farm stall from 1998 until early 2001, when she and her husband sold it to Nico Venter. In 2003 Malcolm Turner and his wife Lila bought it from Nico’s father, Jhart Venter. Malcolm and Lila tried to recapture the feeling of the original farm stall, where Malcolm had sold home-grown produce as a boy. They turned the garden into a tea garden, which they called “The Rainforest” and expanded the building. But according to Malcolm “times had changed and the business faced fierce competition from the growing number of grocery outlets and garage shops in Gonubie. The amount of traffic on the Gonubie Main Road had also increased, making it difficult for cars to turn into the farm stall entrance.” The business closed on the 28th February 2005. Later that year Biggy sold the entire farm and Cypress Construction took over.

At this time, Mark and Kerry Derbyshere took over the farm stall. They painted the building purple and turned it into a pub named “Rodillos.” Apparently, someone attempted to move the egg and broke its arms off, after which it was converted into a Springbok rugby ball. Further attempts to move the egg resulted in its crumbling and permanent removal. Between 2007 and 2010 the farm stall was painted yellow and turned into an antiques shop named “Something Old.”

Springbok Farm Stall (March 2010) Photo credit: Google Earth

Springbok Farm Stall (March 2010)
Photo credit: Google Earth

The Gonubie community on Facebook remembers the Springbok Farm Stall’s egg as a huge “Welcome to Gonubie”. Children in particular loved the giant egg. Others have fond memories of the tasty goods sold at the farm stall and the memorable stops when leaving Gonubie. Nowadays the farm stall is an abandoned yellow eyesore along the Gonubie Main Road, a sad reminder of times past, and a great loss for the people of Gonubie. With the recent construction for the expansion of Gonubie’s Main Road, the future of the Farm Stall is unknown.

If any readers have any information or old pictures regarding the Springbok Farm Stall or any further details on what happened to the Gonubie egg, please do not hesitate to contact me at dayne.skolmen@gmail.com