Alexandria is a small farming town in the Eastern Cape of South Africa and is situated 100 km north east of Port Elizabeth on the way to Bushman’s River Mouth, Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred.
Here you’ll find the Quin Sculpture Garden an unexpected paradise, home to one of South Africa’s greatest artists.
Heading west along the R72 from Kenton-on-Sea, you could just follow the road straight through the farming burg of Alexandria without stopping, and make good time to Port Elizabeth. But then, as you’re nearly through the town, there’s a brown-and-white sign pointing off the main road: Quin Sculpture Garden. Follow two more signs – a left, then a right – and you draw up outside a high wall crested with a massive scarlet bougainvillaea. Here, on a quiet old residential street in a quiet old town in a sleepy part of the province, is where one of South Africa’s most profound and durable artistic talents is to be found.
The garden’s residents
Under the canopy of a massive fig tree, stone heads and figures nest among clivias, glossy and vital after the day’s rain. Young men stare stonily into the middle distance, while a half-amused woman holding a wine glass at the edge of the thicket watches a cubist horse and rider, apparently about to bolt. A pair of figures locked in an eternal embrace do not raise their faces to notice you as you pass, but turn your head and see three heads of the same woman – realist, expressionist and surrealist – holding your gaze with unsettling intensity, their features shifting as the light sifts down through leaf shadows.
Maureen Quin was born in Bloemfontein, where she attended Eunice High School; she studied art at the Natal Technical College, where her talent propelled her to London’s Goldsmith College of Art, and then a short sojourn in Europe. She returned to South Africa, met and married Etienne du Plessis in 1959, and settled in one after another of South Africa’s more remote outposts: O’Kiep, Modder River, Douglas, Adelaide. Finally, in 1975, Maureen, Etienne and their two daughters moved to Alexandria in the Eastern Cape, where we find her today.
Now in her 80s, Quin still works daily: her studio is a high-ceilinged, light space with the ordered clutter of ongoing creativity all around. Since her debut in 1962, she has exhibited at the National Arts Festival, the South African Association of Arts, the Merensky Trust Wood Exhibition, and countless other solo and group shows. Her sculptures stand in locations as diverse as the lobby of Dubai’s iconic Burj Khalifa and the main doorway of the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity in Grahamstown. But there are many treasures in her backyard.
You also might like: Friendly Folk of Port Alfred
Two springbucks in weathered bronze graze beneath a vast pepper tree, under the watchful eye of a girl sitting pensively on a nearby rock. Just beyond her, the Three Graces huddle above a fountain, fixing their gazes on the ever-moving surface of the water. Walk on a little, and find a massive masculine figure rearing with magnificence and not a little menace out of a bed of flowers; just beyond him, the colossal head of an Arab stallion – nostrils flared, eyes wide, teeth bared – rears high above your head. Past a small pool where a bronze woman moodily watches her ever-present reflection is a long pool, three bronze figures are suspended barely above the surface.
Indoors is another exhibition space, with Quin’s Ballet Dancer series and a selection of her pictorial works. The dancers are miracles of physics: figures caught in mid-movement, their balance delicate as their lines; they seem to be only momentarily still, suspended in a second of rest.
The Quin Sculpture Garden is a place of gorgeous strangeness and verdance, hidden away well off the beaten track, confident in its own genius.
The Quin Sculpture Garden is situated at 5 Suid Street, Alexandria, Eastern Cape. Opening times are from 9am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday, and from 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Saturday afternoons and Sunday by appointment. A nominal entry fee is charged. Entry is R25 for adults. Tea, coffee and biscuits available.
+27 (0) 46 653 0121; +27 (0) 82 770 8000
Words Kylie van Zyl
Photography Carey Finn