FRIEDA OLLEMANS  – sculptor supreme

I don’t remember her that well.  But I remember the whisky-and-cigars voice, and the eyes that saw everything through the lens of irony.  Her dress … well, she didn’t pander to fashion.  Yes, you couldn’t escape it — there was a bohemian rising out of the late years of modernism.  Her husband Helmut was, in the words of someone who considered Helmut an enemy, “the most professional wine farmer in the Western Cape.”  And Helmut supported every hammer, every chisel, every chip of cedar wood or ebony, everything that Frieda did, because Frieda was an artist.  That’s what you did with artists.



Born in 1915, Frieda studied sculpture under H.V. Meyerovitz in Cape Town in the early-1930s.  She went on to an award-winning career at the Slade School in London for three years.  On her return to Cape Town in 1940, she made marionettes for puppet theatre as well as pioneering childrens art centres in  the Western Cape.  The Frank Joubert Centre in Stellenbosch is an example.

Wood nymph

She had exhibitions in South Africa and abroad.  Some of her work was displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as in Chicago.

                The Dancer

Her first one-person exhibition was held in Stellenbosch in 1972.  She presented pieces in ebony, teak, cedar wood, olive wood and lead.  Unlike any artist I’ve known she had notices up amongst the works:  Please Touch the Sculptures.  For me, there are few instances in the history of art more sacred than that.

       Woman – Bearer of life

              A figure for Mutti

It was a huge price to pay, but I clenched my teeth and did it.  And I have it yet — a figure by Frieda.  Her work for me is harmonious as well as being braced against an obvious realism.  The lines flow.  I once heard her say, The wood tells me what it must become.  And it’s in the organic design, never unsettling, never stark and hard-edged, always leading the eye easily, sensuously to surprising detail.  The finish is immensely satisfying.  You ponder these pieces.  I have pondered mine for more than forty-five years.   Those who inherit what I have will ponder it too, as will their grandchildren and those beyond.

                Figure by Frieda

                Figure by Frieda


© Will van der Walt

Bridgewater, Somerset West

August, 2017



With special thanks to Süsse Bakker who provided the biographical information.

With thanks to Miki Flockemann.


Odysseus, Wood nymph – Süsse Bakker

Remaining images – my photographs






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