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Skoelapperheuwel, Skoelappervrou

Artwork date(s): December 1988

Wilma Stockenström  - (poem by)
Judith Mason  - (illustrated by)


Measurements: 422mm

Type: South African Artists Book
Sub-type: Artist, poet and multiple producers
Theme(s): Complex, ironic, and ambiguous contemplation of a woman's role in life, of death, the quotidian, and the human condition

Place publication: New York & Pretoria
Publisher: Ombondi Uitgawes
Pages: unpaged

Reference noteColophon: Skoelapperheuwel, Skoelappervrou is gedruk op 'n lithografiese oorsetpers op 250 gm Rives BFK papier deur Bruce Attwood by die Broederstroompers, Broederstroom, Suid-Afrika.

Dit is met die hand gestik en gebind in natuurlike linne en Aappa-skaapleer en van 'n glipkasset voorsien deur Peter Carstens, Bramley View, Johannesburg.

Die teks is geset in Visigoth, 'n lettertipe spesiaal vir hierdie uitgawe ontwerp deur Cynthis Hollandsworth van AlphaOmega Typography, Inc,. Rhinebeck, Nieu-York.

Bound in three-quarter blue buckram with a paste paper design in the centre of the boards.'

The binding described above was delayed in 1988. Thirty copies of the unbound pages were found in 2010 and Peter Carstens then bound them with blue cloth and matching paste papers and matching slipcase. The title appears on the spine and on a label (printed by Mark Attwood) inset into the front cover of the slipcase. The artist extra-illustrated each copy with individual distinctive pencil drawings.

The following is from the Smithsonian exhibition 2015/2016:

Skoelapperheuwel, Skoelappervrou (Butterfly Hill, Butterfly Woman) consists of a poem by Wilma Stockenström with illustrations by Judith Mason. Her illustrations—pencil drawings and collages transferred to plates—are printed, overprinted as lithographs, and then selectively redrawn with occasional color added for emphasis. The pages are printed on a lithographic etching press on 250 gsm Rives BFK paper. The book is bound in intense blue buckram (a stiffened fabric of cotton or linen) with a paste paper design on the book cover and its slipcase.

Caspar G. Schmidt, director of Ombondi Editions, had approached Wilma Stockenström, a well-known South African poet, about the possibility of publishing a book in which the printed text of a poem is equally balanced with accompanying artwork, which Schmidt refers to as VTD (visual text weight). Schmidt commissioned Stockenström's poem Skoelapperheuwel, Skoelappervrou, and she in turn chose Judith Mason to illustrate the publication.

Visual Text Weight

Embarking on a search for a new typeface fitting his VTD concept, Schmidt contacted calligrapher Arthur Baker in New York State, who took on the challenge of inventing a suitable alphabet design. Baker then worked with a typeface designer, Cynthia Hollandsworth, who used computer software to convert Baker's alphabet for printing. The resulting font, named Visigoth by Schmidt, provides the visual weight against the drama of Mason's imagery as envisioned by Schmidt.

Lost and Found

The book was slated to be published in December 1988, but for reasons still unclear the printed pages went missing. Master printer Bruce Attwood printed the pages with plates prepared by his son, Mark Attwood. The pages were turned over to binder Peter Carsten, but were never bound—probably for lack of money. They were then forgotten. It was not until 2010 that the unbound pages were found in the bookbinder's basement in Johannesburg. Thirty copies were finally bound by Carsten.

Butterfly Hill, Butterfly Woman

Written in a free form verse in Afrikaans, the poem is a complex, ironic, and ambiguous contemplation of a woman's role in life, of death, the quotidian, and the human condition with its inherent pains, ironies, and inevitabilities. Tys Botha reports that “Schmidt describes it as a portrait-epic of a woman who lives with two children in a house on a hill. That is virtually all. A lot of things are evoked.” Ironically, however, this accomplished dramatist, novelist, and poet, admits to a distrust of words as inadequate to deal with the human condition:

I mistrust words. With the heraldry

of poetry they embroider horror into heroic

deeds in quartered hues

snapping gaudily. The house of betrayal

is adorned with words.

(from I Mistrust Words)

An English translation by Malcolm Hacksley and Schmidt in 1989 is provided as a loose-leaf insertion.

Butterflies and Snarling Dogs

While Stockenström's words evoke darker aspects of existence, Mason brings these evocations to life with drawings of butterflies, commonplace objects, tombstones, snarling dogs, and a screaming woman's mouth.

The children's attributes—scissors in the hands of the young daughter and the penis-handled slingshot for the boy—allude to death, particularly the death of the mother.

Mason's sinuous, masterful line drawings are in contrast to some of the content they describe. Halved butterflies have scissors appended like the tails of the wings. Drawings of a snarling dog in almost continuous lines describe his tight sinuous anatomy. Mason creates collage landscapes that echo “the menstrual blood” Stockenström alludes to in the poem. When Stockenström writes of “big blue-and-black butterflies, big yellow ones too,” Mason provides a beautiful colored drawing and in the marginalia identifies the species as Junonia hierto, the brush­-footed butterfly.

Occasionally Mason does provide an almost literal illustration of an object Stockenström describes, as in “a worn jacket swings on the hall stand.” Just as the poem is elusive, Mason's drawings complement this quality with a surreal quality of their own.

The content of Mason's work is recognizable—portraits, animals, figures, landscapes—but her style has surreal, sometimes fantastical and grotesque elements, either from distortions of figurative elements or from the use of color, particularly red. Her drawings, particularly in her artists' books, are masterfully rendered but often appear more like apparitions on a page. Her work exhibits a command and versatility of materials, be it on paper, with oil, or in wood.

About the Artists

Wilma Stockenström

Born in 1933 in Napier, Overberg District, South Africa, Stockenström studied drama at the University of Stellenbosch and received a B.A. in drama in 1952. Her early career included radio announcing, translating, and acting. She appeared in many television and theater productions, including Athol Fugard's The Visitor for which she received the Rapport-Oskar.

Her entrée into poetry began as a lark, but she soon came to be recognized as a major literary voice. She has long been a strong proponent of Afrikaans literature and has received prestigious awards, such as the Herzog prizes in poetry in 1977 and fiction in 1991.

Judith Mason

Judith Mason was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1938. She earned a B.F.A. in painting from the University of Witwatersrand in 1960 and has become an acclaimed painter, sculptor, and graphic and mixed-media artist. During the isolation of the apartheid era, Mason managed to achieve international recognition for her art. She was selected to represent South Africa at the 1966 Venice Biennale, and her works were part of subsequent biennales in São Paulo (1971, 1973) and Valparaiso (1979). She taught painting at major universities in South Africa.

Exhibition notesExhibited at AOP, Johannesburf, 2011.

Included on the exhibition “Artists' Books and Africa”. The Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art and the Smithsonian Libraries Washington DC. 16 Sept. 2015 - 11 Sept. 2016.

Ref: GB/12418

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