Celebrating the legacy of Oliver Schreiner at artSPACE durban

JvanHeerdenOS 5 Olive's Loss

‘Olive Schreiner Revisited, a solo exhibition by Jannie van Heerden, has been extended and can now be seen at artSPACE durban until March 30.

Olive Schreiner is best known for her novel, The Story Of An African Farm, and when he was growing up Van Heerden’s father would often take him to visit the Schreiner house near Cradock in the Eastern Cape.

The farm was home to the teenage Olive and her elder brother and sister. The author worked later as a tutor on the farms, Gannahoek and Klein Gannahoek.

When the Van Heerden’s visited the Schreiner house, which was then derelict, they also once ascended Buffelskop to look at her grave.

Imbued with so much history, it’s not surprising that the legend of Olive Schreiner found expression in his 2013 exhibition ‘Olive Schreiner: The Story Of An African Farm’, at the KZNSA Gallery, Durban. However in the past few years Van Heerden felt that he had not done her justice; thus the revisit.

Olive was born on the Wittenberg mission station in 1855. Her first encounter with Cradock was in 1867 when as a teenager she lived with her elder brother and sister in Cross Street (now part of the English National Literacy Museum).

The landscape and its people left a deep impression upon her, and influenced her famous novel which was published under the pseudonym Ralph Woods, as women were not allowed to publish at that time. Her other best-known works are: Thoughts On South Africa and Women And Labour, long considered as the bible of the women’s movement.

Olive was deeply involved in politics and was a fighter for all the oppressed peoples of South Africa, she was totally opposed to Rhodes and British imperialism.

In 1894 she married Cron, eight years her junior and they settled on the farm Krantzplaats, Cradock district. She insisted that he took her name and he was known as Cronwright Schreiner. During this time they ascended the mountain Buffelskop, with its breathtaking view across the valley. Olive decided that this was where she wanted to be buried and acquired the plot.

Olive was excessively asthmatic and she soon had to leave the damp riverbeds of Krantzplatts and spent a lifetime searching for a suitable climate for her health, first Hanover, then Kimberley, Johannesburg and eventually Matjiesfontein. Her firstborn child lived for only nine hours and after that she had three miscarriages.

Olive and Cron eventually drifted apart and she left for Europe and England in 1914.  She already knew many influential people there like Havelock Ellis and Eleanor Marx, both of whom influenced her outlook on life.

Olive returned to Cape Town in 1920. She died in 1921 and was buried in the family crypt. According to her wishes Cron had her body exhumed and buried in 1921 on Buffelskop. The re-internment was a very dramatic event. Eight carriers spent two days carrying her coffin plus those of her dead child and her dog, Nita, up the hill.

artSPACE durban is at 3 Millar Road (off Umgeni Road), Durban. The gallery is open from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 1pm on Saturdays. Inquiries: 031 312 0793.

Please note: the gallery will be closed on Tuesday, 21 March (Human Rights Day).

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