Irma Stern remembered – Amanda Botha
Amanda Botha shares her memories as a school girl meeting Irma Stern.
Recorded at the Irma Stern™ Museum Oral History Tea, 3rd June 2023. The Oral History Tea project invites people to share personal encounters and memories to preserve stories to gain a fuller appreciation of Irma Stern as an artist and inspiring, complex figure.
When I say I know her, I must say that I’ve met her and I’ve had contact with her over a period of three years but that was when I was 14 years old. So please understand that that is my remembering her in a period when I was a school girl. And it happened on a Friday I was at the Jan van Riebeeck High School in Cape Town and on a Friday afternoon I used to go to the galleries as a school girl to watch to look at the various galleries and one of them was the Argus Gallery it was known generally, but it was the Association of Arts Gallery in Berg Street in The Argus building and I I think it was on the fourth floor if I remember and that was the place where she regularly once a year would have an exhibition. And I always went on a Friday and then if I like it or something like that – please remember I’m trying to recall something when I was a child – if I like it I would go back to have a look. So on my second visit to the gallery the following Friday, she was sitting there on my first visit she was already there and she always had a little table in front of her and a kind of a a basket sort of close by and there was always food or flasks of water or you know coffee or tea or what this is all kept here. She was also her own salesperson, she would get up if you’re interested then she will be able to sell it to you immediately. She was very good, it always sold out in the first week or so. But anyway the first time when I got there she just sort of looked and didn’t… I looked and left but I wrote my name to say I was present here that was one of the things that I learned from an early time and when I came there following Friday she said: “Oh, here is the kid again”. And she got up and she came to me and she said what am I doing here, so I thought “No, I’m coming to look at your paintings”, I said and she says “Which one is the nicest one, which one do you like most” and I pointed something out and that was the … and she said “That is a good choice” she said and that was the end of that story. Then, when I came there again – in the meantime – close to where I grew up and that was on the grounds of the old Ford’s Hospital which is today the Cape Town Mediclinic, just a bit higher up, was a professor Izak [Wilhelmus] van der Merve, who is the poet known as Boerneef and who had a vast collection of paintings. His collection, which is the Boerneef Collection is now housed at Welgemeend at the Jan van Riebeeck High School. And I was as a child a kind of a friend of Boerneef because he always read little things out to me and he was a person interested very much interested in the art and Irma specifically. So he told me, I told him that I was at the exhibition and he said that he was interested to buy a painting there, maybe two. But he is not buying it at the Argus, he buys it he she – who is Irma – knows that he’s going to buy these paintings, but he gets it from her house. So I don’t know whether it was the commission, you will understand that I wouldn’t have known whether there was a commission involved… So I went again on the Friday and there he was with Irma and she said oh, she wants to introduce him to this kid who comes regularly and he said, no he knows me and maybe that was what was important, because he said, no he knows about me and I know that he’s buying the work here and out of that is then that she said that he must come and fetch the painting from her house – here – and then he must bring me along. I was very happy with this thought and the next week, now we have to wait till the next week, because Professor van der Merwe was a year at UCT at the Department of Afrikaans and and he was also the first person who created the Afrikaans-English in English-Afrikaans dictionary, so there’s not a lot of time floating around. And on top of it, he never had a car and he didn’t drive, so everywhere where he wanted to go, we go by bus. So we went – oh, and also he never went overseas in his entire life, because he said that the money and the double cheque that they got, he kept that to buy paintings. So he’d rather buy a painting than have an overseas trip, that was his kind of motto. So we went, we came here by bus. We took had to take two buses from the Molteno bus, which was standing outside of the Ford’s hospital to Cape Town and then we stepped over at the Standard Bank into a bus coming here and we get off here at the Station Road, I think it was and then we walk up to here. And we’re coming now to fetch the paintings and she was very now when we came here she was very friendly with us and we came into this very room and she had the painting ready and it was all beautifully wrapped up and so on. And we sat down and she had cake and tea, very much as our reception today, and she spoke non-stop about so much that she’s got to do – she’s got the garden work now to attend to because she spent all these times every day at the gallery… I can’t recall the conversation, I only recall because I was so in awe just being here and looking around and wondering what was going on and I only could recall that she said that she had this four weeks at the gallery and now she’s got so much to do because she’s got all this garden work and many letters to write, that that was all that I could recall. But I went she said that I could go out and look at the garden and when I came back, she took me to the studio here and she showed me there was a painting that she was working on and she said I could have a good look around if I wish and you know that was my visit here with her.