I had the pleasure of visiting Helga’s Folly in Kandy twice this year. Each visit made me more fascinated with the house and its amazing murals. I also had some questions about the house. So I wrote to Helga, the owner and creator of Helga’s Folly, and she kindly responded to my email interview for the blog, despite being stricken with a flu.
- The fact sheet on Helga’s Folly provided on the self-tour mentions that your mother, Esme de Silva, designed the original house in the 1930s. What did your mother envision for the house?
Just a family home in the hills. Designed by my mother who was an artist in the 30’s.
- What is the story behind Helga’s Folly?
I was almost born here. The house became a hotel in the late 50’s, and has hosted many celebrities, and politicians.
- What inspired you to transform Chalet hotel into Helga’s Folly?
I love color, and as I was going to spend much time here, did it my way. Name was suggested by Richard Mason the South African writer.
- There is a mix of whimsy and the spiritual in the artistic theme around the house. Was this intentional from the outset or was the theme an emerging and evolving aspect in the redesigning of the house?
Life should have whimsy and spirituality. The house still evolves.. No theme! Think of the house as a nursery for all!!
- I understand that different artists have contributed to the Helga’s Folly murals and creative pieces. How did this come about?
Not only artists, guests too.. Many come sad, and in a dark place ..I suggest that they ‘paint out’.. I am a great believer in healing through art’!!
- Please tell us about one of your favourite pieces, your own or by other artists, and the story behind it.
I love the Jane Lillian Vance Grotto, where I go for ‘that’ quiet moment, and suggest to guests that they do too. The story behind the grotto : 50 years ago my first husband gave me ‘that’ turn of the century magnificent gilded frame. The frame hung empty for 48 years, for want of an artist. Artists came, BUT went when they were told that I had a penchant for skulls, and would want prominence given in the painting to one! 3 ½ years ago, I was unwell, and I thought before I met my first husband who had gone on to his final adventure, I must give the frame priority. I googled and was ‘taken’ by Professor Jane Lillian Vance’s work. Professor Jane was one of the first Westerners to be allowed to paint the Dalai Lama. ‘Gift To The Village’, on You Tube, is a brilliant documentary of Professor Jane delivering the painting. What hit the ‘Golden Cord’ that I had at LAST found my artist, was the painting also on You Tube by Professor Jane of a field with a fawn, and bumble bee, although it was the field where they found the skeletonized body of one of her most gifted students, recognized by her jewellery. Professor Jane had transformed which would have been a gruesome scene into one of peace and beauty.
I knew then that I had found my artist. I wrote to the professor, asking her if she would consider doing a portrait of a woman on a hill in Kandy.
Professor Jane wrote straight back saying that she was brought here 18 years ago, when a Fulbright student, by Waruna Jayasinghe antiques and was inspired.
The magnificient turn of the century gild frame now embraces Professor Jane’s beautiful portrait of me, which she brought over 3 ½ years ago, and then continued to weave, with her brush, her magic in her great 15 ft mural of my family in her grotto!
The Jane Lillian Vance Grotto is ALIVE telling a myriad of stories!
- The lighting around the rooms seems to have been arranged masterfully to highlight a specific aspect in the artwork such as the logo of savethenextgirl.com in Jillian Vance’s painting, a cause she passionately believes in. Please tell us about the person who was behind the lighting arrangements.
I like atmospheric rooms. Our electrician put the spots where I wanted, highlighting certain bits!!
- Which is your special corner or space at the Folly and why?
Depends on one’s mood.. The Jane Lillian Grotto is one, and the other the small green drawing room, with family photographs, and where I used to sit with my parents and brother as a child. Find this room very comforting.
- I noticed that the music played in the lounge area is mostly from the 30s. Was this coincidental on the days I visited or is there some significance of this music playlist to the theme of the house?
This was the music which we grew up with.
- To wrap up this intriguing interview, please share a quote or verse that inspires or motivates you especially when you are feeling a little down or stressed out or simply in need of some positivity.
“Tomorrow is another day”!!
I remember reading one of your other posts on Helga’s Folly. It’s awesome that you got to interview the owner! It sounds like most attributes of the place are haphazard rather than being planned. I love that she believe in art as a healing mechanism and allows guests to create while they are there. I do have to say that I was a little shocked by her choice quote. It’s from Gone With the Wind. I’m not sure if it’s directly from the book or just from the movie since it’s been a while since I read it. Either way, despite being a book, I don’t know many people outside of the US (or the south US in particular) that are familiar with the book. I’m wondering if she picked up the quote from somewhere else or if she has read the book or seen the movie? Thanks for sharing your interview and discussing Helga’s Folly in more depth! It was very interesting! 🙂
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Thanks for your comment, Mandy. Glad you enjoyed reading the interview. I enjoyed learning more about the place from its owner. As for Helga quoting Scarlett O’Hara, I think the book is famous across the world. I have read the book and seen the movie and most people I know have too.