Now is the perfect time to visit Dylan Lewis’s sculpture garden


THAT headline needs to be explained further: it’s the perfect time to visit in terms of a spectacular outdoor activity, more than suitably physically distanced from all other humans, and a balm for the troubled soul battered by lockdown. I have no doubt visiting on any other day of your life will be perfect too.

Dylan Lewis is widely recognised as one of the world’s foremost sculptors of the animal form, big cats in particular (but not limited to); he has also explored the human figure – male and female torsos – and monumental fragments. Born in 1964 into a family of artists, Lewis began his career as a painter; some of these early works can be seen in the Old Studio, which is a natural starting point for a self-guided tour of the garden.

And what a garden it is. Seven hectares, and about 5km to ramble, it is in itself an artwork and a sculpture, carved from the earth. Even if there wasn’t a single piece of man-made art, it would be the most exquisite – and indeed privileged – way to spend a few hours. It’s filled with fragrant flora, the sounds of birds and frogs, and fluttering butterflies and buzzing bees. Ponds, a lake, and gurgling waterfalls abound, and the path will frequently take you across stepping stones. There are umbrellas and gumboots available, by the way.

But then there are the sculptures. Some are in a series of small pieces peeking through the foliage, others tower boldly over the viewer. They crown hillocks, and are secluded in groves. They are wild, they are natural, they play with shadow and light and reflection. “Nature is a ‘church with no dogma’ that connects me to my authentic, untamed inner nature,” says Lewis. From the pamphlet and map you are given upon arrival, we learn his sculptures are an outlet for emotion.

It’s suggested but not compulsory to follow the route in numerical order, however, doing it that way provides an order to the way you view the art and Lewis’s journey. It’s helpful in that you’re more likely not to miss anything, but there are lots of little side paths and detours which should also be investigated. The intrepid and inquisitive walker will be richly rewarded by veering off the beaten track. Rough stone “benches” and ledges can be found, to perch for quiet contemplation.

And it is quiet (except for nature of course). Visits are by appointment only, and although I saw other humans in the distance, they were easy to avoid if it came to that, thank goodness. I never liked them in the first place. This makes it the perfect thing to do while we are in the midst of the plague. It’s outdoors so plenty of fresh air and sunlight, it’s beautiful, and for a couple of hours you can truly forget all the worries of the world, and feel almost normal for a while. Flip, you can even take off your mask for a while. And it doesn’t even matter if you get a bit lost – it’s all part of the adventure. If you’re wondering, yes, I did sort of lose my way now and then but it bothered me not one jot. I took so many photographs I literally flattened my phone’s battery, because everywhere I looked there was something extraordinary to capture…although nothing will ever be as good as being there in the moment, and these words and pictures don’t begin to do it justice.

I’ve been lucky to spend a fair amount of time in Stellenbosch – which I love – but have never visited the sculpture garden before, even though I have always wanted to. Somehow wine farms “got in the way”, or I should rather say, took priority for me. Now of course, those are mostly off the cards, apart from those offering walks and delis and such, so this was a whole new and fulfilling way to experience the region.

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