Step into Stephen’s world of myth and magic

Stephen Rautenbach

Who does not love listening to bedtime stories, especially folklore handed down from generation to generation?

Stephen Rautenbach’s mother was a librarian and an English teacher, and so the story begins of his fascination with creating images: bringing stories to life in 3D which you can touch and hold to much delight of both the art enthusiast and the novice.

His gallery is situated at 44 Church Street, Stellenbosch, and the first thing you will notice on the stoep is his depiction of the North Westley Wind: the mother who’s caring wind brings rain and thus productivity. It plays on the South African folklore of the wind, where it comes from and what it means.

Inside the gallery you will find all kinds of creatures from cats to mice and an owl guarding the inside. The owl protects his property carried over from the superstition some cultures still have around owls.

Stephen actually had an interesting childhood, growing up with the challenge of reading with his dyslexia, but once he mastered reading there was no stop to his love for stories and making them come to life.

When you sit at his desk, you will find little gems created by him like The Crowing Rooster, the almost extinct hare from Alice in Wonderland and a character from his favourite Italian nursery rhyme, The Elephant dancing on a spiderweb.

He learned this rhyme for his daughter, now three, because his wife is Italian and they spend half their time in Pietro Santa, Sicily, and half their time in Stellenbosch.

“I have a fascination especially for animals who are close to extinction and prolonging their life through my art,” he says. “I have a passion for birds and find pleasure in bringing them to life showing their human characteristics through my sculptures.”

What really catches one’s eye is the new pieces coming to life: The Three Furies and Medusa (The winged human female with snake hair).

They are based on Greek mythology of the three goddesses of vengeance: Tisiphone (avenger of murder), Megaera (the jealous) and Alecto (constant anger).

The models (maquette) are only about a meter high with intricate detail but once they are done they should become colossal masterpieces. To create just one piece can take years of shaping and perfecting to capture the beauty and the moment.

And yet still more years to go into manufacturing: turning the wax pieces, supported by a metal frame, into fibre-glass and the final stage casting it into bronze.

“Once you start to appreciate mythologies across the world, you understand your own culture better and that makes it easier to bring it to life in art. I’ve been lucky to be versatile in my interests in art and also style of sculpting which ranges from classisism to realism and beyond,” he says.

One thing is certain: when you visit his art gallery and studio you have to be ready to play and awaken your imagination. Stephen’s work is full of humour and be sure to ask the stories behind the pieces because they are very unique and proudly South African.

“People from all over the world enjoy my art and you will often see tourists frequent my shop recognising the characters of their favourite lore.

“The Fury, that I am currently working on, is a commissioned work for an Austrian client.”

Stephan Rautenbach’s sculpture studio and gallery is open from Monday to Saturday, from 9am to 5pm. Contact him at 021 886 7005 or Stephen_rautenbach@hotmail.com

Sister Marthie Nel Hauptfleisch is a singer-songwriter, a registered nurse, and an inspirational speaker, who lives in Stellenbosch.