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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 here in the natural beauty of Norway with his 9 siblings.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.”

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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.

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 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.”

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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.

All the images I have managed to gather of Kristian Skolmens 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:

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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.”

Berit Svenman (Daughter of Ingeborg Rosjo (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).

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).

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Kristian Skolmen 1940

Gonubie Hotel (15)

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).

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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.”

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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

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

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

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

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

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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 –

GONUBIE PARK TOWNSHIP
“East London’s Better Half.”

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

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

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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.

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Gonubie Mouth (1955). The tea room and the Gonubie Hotel can be seen on the corner of the gravel road.
Photo credit: Unknown

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)

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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. 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).

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Bluewaters Inn (circa 1960)
Photo credit: Chantelle Schwedhelm

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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.

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).

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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.

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

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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”.

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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).

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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).

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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

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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 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.”

 

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

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

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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