Stellenbosch Photo Walk: The Dylan Lewis Sculpture Trail

Earlier in the year, I had read a newspaper article about South African sculptor Dylan Lewis, who had created large bronze sculptures of cheetahs, leopards, buffaloes and rhinos. The exciting news was that 19 of these had been placed in various locations throughout the central area of the quaint little town of Stellenbosch, with the remaining four sculptures on display in outlying areas.

“With its majestic old oak trees, thriving wine industry and the longest row of conserved historic buildings in the country, Stellenbosch is undoubtedly among the finest cultural jewels of the Cape, if not South Africa. Dating back to 1679 and the second oldest town in the country, it boasts many fine examples of Cape Dutch, neoGothic, Georgian, Art Deco and Victorian architecture. Interestingly, where these gracious buildings now stand was once “renosterbos”, an untamed landscape inhabited by an abundance of wild animals including lion, buffalo, cheetah and leopard. It is to pay homage to these now extinct creatures and to remind us of the pristine wilderness that once was their home that Lewis returns a selection of them to Stellenbosch, juxtaposing their great forms and spirits (now captured in bronze) with the architectural urban markers of civilization.” (website)

In September, on a nice and sunny day, we thus headed out to Stellenbosch on a quest to photograph all 23 sculptures. I had downloaded the map from the official website of the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Trail.

“The suggested walking route on this map takes in 19 of Lewis´s magnificent animal sculptures, and provides a perfect opportunity to soak up the atmosphere and architecture of the historic town at the same time. You will notice that on every sculpture is a plaque bearing a cell phone number, something of a technological first for art tours in South Africa. By phoning the number, you will hear information about the sculpture in front of you, as well as general information about the artist, and the profits from this cellphone platform are to be donated to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Parking can be difficult in Stellenbosch, so it is advisable to walk the route. It should take approximately two hours, but longer if you wish to stop for lunch or tea at one of Stellenbosch´s many restaurants and coffee shops along the way. Well worth a stop en route is The Rupert Museum, where more recent and surprisingly different work of the sculptor can be viewed. Note that the sculptures in the outlying areas of Ida´s Valley, Jamestown, Kayamandi and Tennantville are too far to comfortably reach on foot, and transport is advised.” (website)

We found parking in Dorp Street, and then headed down to the corner of Dorp Street and Papegaai Road to find the first bronze sculpture, the so-called elevated leopard in front of the offices of Alexander Forbes.

1. Elevated Leopard

1. Elevated Leopard

From there, we marched down Dorp Street and past the world-famous Oom Samie se winkel (i.e. Uncle Samie’s shop), searching for the next sculpture, which was supposed to be nearby. We couldn’t find it.

So we continued on along Dorp Street until we reached the entrance to the yard of La Gratitude, where a large leopard was sleeping on a branch.

2. Sleeping Leopard

2. Sleeping Leopard

Almost directly opposite it on the northern side of the road, a large cheetah was running towards Richard.

3. Running Cheetah

3. Running Cheetah

At the corner of Dorp Street and Bird Street, another cheetah was surveying its terrain.

4. Surveying Cheetah II

4. Surveying Cheetah II

From there we continued along tree-lined Dorp Street, turning left into Andringa Street. At the next corner, with Church Street, was a walking cheetah, with its head turned towards the back.

5. Walking Cheetah

5. Walking Cheetah

We walked along Church Street, turned right into Van Ryneveld Street, and returned to familiar old Dorp Street. A little further along, on the well-kept lawns of the Theological Seminary, we found a cheetah stalking us.

6. Stalking Cheetah

6. Stalking Cheetah

From there, we crossed back to the northern side of Dorp Street, and walked up Drostdy to the Moederkerk. In front of this, we found this massive buffalo bull pair. Unfortunately, we had timed our arrival with the end of a church service, so we were suddenly surrounded by a swirl of dozens and dozens of well-dressed and serious-looking people, so we hurriedly took a few photos.

7. Buffalo Bull Pair

7. Buffalo Bull Pair

Heading north along Drostdy, to the corner with Van Riebeek/Plein Street, we saw this pair of running cheetahs.

8a. Running Cheetah Pair I

8a. Running Cheetah Pair I

Here’s a close-up.

8b. Running Cheetah Pair I close-up

8b. Running Cheetah Pair I close-up

We turned left into Van Riebeek/Plein Street, and at the next corner turned right into Van Ryneveld. According to the map, there were supposed to be two so-called ‘fragments’ in the grounds of the Sasol Art Museum. But the gates to the museum were closed, because it was Sunday, and so we only managed to take a photo of the ‘Running Fragment’ through the bars in the fence. We figured that the second fragment was probably locked away inside the Museum. In retrospect, this was the ONLY sculpture we didn’t manage to photograph, which was a real pity.

9. Running Fragment

9. Running Fragment

We walked further north along Van Ryneveld Street, and crossed Victoria Street, which was a very beautiful tree-lined street.

Victoria Street

Victoria Street

In the grounds of the Ou Hoofgebou, right in front of this gorgeous white-painted building, a lion was striding along.

10a. Striding Lion

10a. Striding Lion

Here’s a close-up. I think it looks so regal!

10b. Striding Lion close-up

10b. Striding Lion close-up

We returned back the way we’d just come until we reached the intersection with Plein Street. Here we turned to the right, until we came to two cheetahs sitting side by side on a plinth.

11. Sitting Cheetah Pair

11. Sitting Cheetah Pair

A little further along on the same side of the road, on an open grassy area in front of the Town Hall, a cheetah was chasing a buck. We both agreed that this was definitely the most spectacular and dramatic of all the sculptures. The detail was just extraordinary. And the sculptor had captured the movement of the cheetah so well, that it looked entirely realistic.

12a. Cheetah chasing Buck

12a. Cheetah chasing Buck

A close-up of the buck, silhouetted against the sun.

12b. The hunted buck

12b. The hunted buck

We crossed the road and entered the pedestrian passage near the De Wet centre, diagonally linking Plein Street and Bird Street. A cheetah was sitting on a plinth right in the middle of the path.

13a. Sitting Cheetah in the pedestrian passage

13a. Sitting Cheetah in the pedestrian passage

Here’s a close-up.

13b. Sitting Cheetah close-up

13b. Sitting Cheetah close-up

We emerged on the other side of the passage, and found ourselves at the intersection of three roads – Church, Mill and Bird. On the grassy patch between them, there was another pair of running cheetahs on display.

14. Running Cheetah Pair II

14. Running Cheetah Pair II

We headed vaguely northwest from here across the large open lawns called ‘Die Braak’. A couple of locals were sitting at the foot of a huge white rhinoceros sculpture, and having a leisurely smoke – judging from the fragrance, it was dagga.

15. White Rhinoceros

15. White Rhinoceros

We crossed the Braak, keeping our eyes peeled for the next sculpture. It was hidden behind the white perimeter wall in front of the Burger House, but the gate was open and so we walked inside to take some photos. I really like this one, because it has captured the look in the leopard’s eyes, as it’s stalking its prey.

16a. Walking Leopard (front)

16a. Walking Leopard (front)

This is a side-view of the same leopard sculpture.

16b. Walking Leopard

16b. Walking Leopard

We walked briskly southwards down Bloem Street, where we found this leopard doing battle with a serpent. The leopard has clasped the snake in its front paws, and is looking directly down at it. The snake has wrapped itself around the left leg of the leopard, and its mouth is wide open. It was a very powerful image.

17. Leopard and Serpent

17. Leopard and Serpent

And from there we made our way back down to Dorp Street, hoping to find the sculpture we’d missed earlier. This time, we found it! It was this fighting leopard pair in front of Melissa’s Food Shop, right next to Oom Samie se Winkel.

18. Fighting Leopard Pair

18. Fighting Leopard Pair

Very pleased that we had managed to take photos of all but one of the sculptures in central Stellenbosch, we climbed into our car and set off for the Hillcrest Berry Orchards, where we’d booked a table for an early lunch.

Suitably fortified, and minus a fair bit of cash (because the many jars of jam and marmelade and preserves in the shop are an irresistable temptation, never mind the superlative scones you can buy there), we drove back to Stellenbosch, keen to see whether we could locate the other four sculptures. The descriptions on the map were rather vague, and our navigator could only help us so far. So it was thanks to a combination of good eyesight, logical thinking and sheer dumb luck, that we succeeded in finding them!

This leopard was sitting in the grounds of the Ida’s Valley Public Library, at the corner of Sonnebloem Road and Rustenburg Road. The library was closed, of course – it being a Sunday and all, but I managed to take a fairly good photo through the fence.

19. Sitting Leopard

19. Sitting Leopard

This leopard was lying down in the middle of a large grassy area at the entrance of Tennantville, more or less at the corner of the R44, the R310 and Lang Street. Richard pulled over to the side of the road, while I sprinted over to take a photo.

A coloured lady, heavily weighed down with bags, approached me to ask what I was doing, so I told her we were trying to photograph all the sculptures.

She looked utterly dumbstruck, and then asked, “Why are you doing that?”

Because they’re beautiful, because I love treasure hunts, because they’re there, because they won’t be here for much longer….?

20. Sleeping Leopard

20. Sleeping Leopard

From the sleeping leopard, we returned to the traffic light at the intersection between Lang Street and the R44, drove south a little bit, and then turned right onto the R304 in the direction of the township of Khayamandi. Here it was dumb luck that allowed me to spot the next sculpture from the highway.

At the next traffic light, we turned cautiously left – into a squatter camp. Cripes.

To the left was a cluster of brandnew buildings, which I figured had to be the Khayamandi Tourism Corridor. It looked closed. We turned left into the next little street, and I saw that there was a pedestrian gate open, with a female guard sitting on a chair a little further down the passage. While Richard did a u-turn between the shacks, with their hustle-and-bustle, I raced down the passage, and asked the guard where the statue of the leopard was.

She said she didn’t know and said there wasn’t one. I told her that I had seen the sculpture from the highway, but she insisted in a very friendly way that I was mistaken.

A little irritated now, I ignored her, walked between the buildings, and – found the sculpture! How she could have not known that it was there will probably always remain a mystery.

This leopard was reaching up to mark a tree trunk. It was beautiful, and the setting – with the mountains in the background – was spectacular.

21. Tree Marking Leopard

21. Tree Marking Leopard

While I’d been photographing this sculpture, Richard had managed to locate the Weber Gedenk Primary School in Jamestown on the navigator, and so that’s where we went next.

We missed the Webersvallei Road turn-off, but saw that there was another road into Jamestown – Klaradyn Crescent, I think it was. But it became a narrow sandy track, full of potholes, stones and puddles. We did a u-turn, and drove back to the Webersvallei Road. From here, we zigzagged towards where we thought the school had to be.

When we reached the school, it was closed (of course – I can’t imagine any school kids voluntarily coming to school on the weekend), but a gate was open, and so we went in to find the leopard. It was standing, proud and alert, on a slightly raised area, overlooking green fields, against the backdrop of the spectacular mountains and the brilliant blue sky.

Awe-inspiring.

22. Alerted Leopard

22. Alerted Leopard

The spirit of adventure was still strong, so we drove down to the R44 along the bumpy and badly eroded back road, before heading back home.

Back road in Jamestown

Back road in Jamestown

It had been such a wonderful treasure hunt!

11 thoughts on “Stellenbosch Photo Walk: The Dylan Lewis Sculpture Trail

  1. What a great outing. My favorites are the Running Cheetah, the Fighting Leopard Pair and the Alerted Cheetah. The backgrounds of sand, grass and sky make them look so much better than they would appear in a museum.

    • I agree. Those sculptures are just so awe-inspiring. They look so solid and heavy, but when you touch them, you can feel that it is hollow metal. And the outside is textured, seeming to reflect how the muscles and tendons lie on the body when the animal is actually running or in that pose. And the movement poses (striding, running, hunting etc.) have captured the actual movement of the animal so perfectly, showing which muscles are bunching and which are stretching. It’s when you look at them really closely, that you realise what an amazing sculptor Dylan Lewis is. I don’t think my photos can fully do justice to them.

  2. Stellenbosch one of my favourite towns, but was not aware of this series of magnificent sculptures. Have a vague memory of seeing one or two of them on my last visit. I was still on crutches at the time, so was intent on navigating, rather than sightseeing!
    Will make a point of hunting up more of them on my next visit. Thanks Reggie!

    • I can highly recommend it!

      According to the website, the exhibition was supposed to end at the end of June 2009, but then it was extended to the end of October 2009.

      So you may only have a week or so left to see it.

      However, when I phoned the contact number, the friendly lady who answered said that they were trying to extend it until next year. Before you drive out to Stellenbosch, why don’t you give them a call?

  3. Reggie
    I just wanted to let you know that the Dylan Lewis outdoor exhibition has now been extended till the end of July 2010.

    Also, an exhibition of Dylan’s most recent human figure bronzes will open at 6.30 on Thurs 4th March at the Oude bank Bldg in Church St, Stellenbosch – opp Vida Cafe – and you are most welcome to join us. The exhibition will probably run for a few months.

  4. Pingback: The hunt! | Finding Frohsinn - Living Now

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