What a difference sculptures make to any environment. The gal thinks of Sculptures By The Lake, Simon Gudgeon’s glorious artistic walkway in south-west England, and the sculptures he has put in the area’s top luxury hotel, Chewton Glen. South Africa has three fabulous sculpture-garden hotels, Ellerman House and Mount Nelson in Cape Town and, in Johannesburg, The Saxon. Here the collection of modern pieces has been collected by the Leading hotel’s owner, insurance magnate Douw Steyn, with the help of MasterArts and, apparently, South Africa’s Minister of Culture.
As soon as you are driven in, through the 12ft-high sliding wood ‘wall’ off Saxon Road, you are aware of glorious rolling greenery with strategic sculptures, all by today’s South Africans. There are olive wood sculptures by Meshack Raphalalani, born in 1950, and other wood shapes by the venerable Koos Botha, 1934 vintage. I love all the bright coloured pieces by Mark Swart, a young’un born in 1966. His Relationship is pink and blue. There is one that is pink and orange. He has done a series of knots of the world and here we have Red Knot. The bronze Hare-piece is by Guy du Toit, born 1958.
The hotel has a beautiful, and highly educational, catalogue showing many of the pieces here, all of which are for sale. Anton Smit, born in 1954, is master of stone. His Faith figure stands in the middle of the gigantic decorative pool in the front of the building, next to the terrace that flows out from the hotel’s friendly bar. Elsewhere, there is Smit’s gigantic female head, Queen of Kungwini, with a spiky outline (is this hat, or hair?). Anton Smit also did the masculine head that stands by the heated pool to the rear of the hotel – this pool, by the way, is a sculpture in itself in that a giant old fig tree leans right down into the water.
Douw Steyn loves this tree and will not have it cut, I am told. This makes for interesting swimming. You can see from the photo how the tree dominates the pool. Doing laps is exciting as you make your way through the foliage to the secret area behind – and secret area it is, too, as the tree there, behind, provides a canopy for the terrace at the rear of the fabulous Qunu restaurant, so those eating at outdoor tables are particularly secluded and private. Personally, after navigating the foliage for one lap, I went back to the sunny end and did cross-laps instead, which gave me a chance to look at Anton Smit’s head, and at the koi in the adjacent, non-heated pool.
Mr S. obviously also loves koi. Those in the pool above are tiddlers, only a few inches long. There is another non-swimming pool here, with lots of koi that are at least two feet long. Take the stone walkway between all these pools to get to the hotel’s gym, which is terrifically well equipped with Technogym, a Power Plate and wall of Kinesis, plus a selection of Pilates balls and lots of apples. By day, walls are pulled back so you look straight into greenery, a few feet away. This is a 24/7 facility, I was told. Well, I tried it out, at 4.30 am (yes really) and the door was open, and as I went in lights automatically turned on. The wire sculpture on the wall was my only companion.
I had also had a faultless wake-up call, on time, from a lovely friendly female voice, who asked if I wanted a reminder. Just make sure my breakfast comes, I said. Sure enough, at five exactly a man – smiling like everyone in this luxury hotel – rang my bell. He was in full morning suit, and instead of the usual cheap-looking ‘room service trolley’ he had a lovely sculpted wood trolley, two tiers, linen cloths and exactly what I had ordered. After eating my full-flavour brown toast with orange marmalade from Stellenbosch, and drinking coffee from a shiny steel plunger just like the one I have at home, I was ready, but extremely sorry, to be on my way (Armstrong was, of course, ready-and-smiling to drive me to the airport, thought he told me, enroute, that it was 100 percent certain that MH370 had been stolen by aliens, no doubt about it).