24 July 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Something out of Nothing

I can’t get Outa Lappies out of my mind. Since I heard of his death at age 84 a few weeks ago, I keep looking at the objects he made that adorn our house. They’re created from discarded tin and bits of coloured glass. I think there’s an old car tail-light in one of them. Suspended from windows, they bring a hand-hammered kind of stained-glass feel to the place.

I keep thinking of the first time we met him. At the time, Jan Schoeman, aka Outa Lappies, aka the Patchwork Man, aka the Lappensman, lived at Botterkraal farm just outside the Karoo town of Prince Albert.

It was the year 2000, and Outa Lappies had just won the Tourism Personality of the Year. Attracted by the shiny tin and glass inlaid into cement along the wall, we pulled over. Another couple were already chatting ten to the dozen with Outa Lappies, dressed in his self-made, trademark patchwork clothes.

He was busy making a waist-high coach out of hammered tin-cans, wire and broken glass for the Queen Mother. It was the second one he’d made. The first (posted at a dizzying cost of R700) had become lost in the mail. Seeing that he had so little, the couple pressed R50 on him.

“No, I can’t take it,” he demurred. Eventually he relented, but only if they would please take the recently made door of the coach.

When they’d gone, he welcomed us like old friends, and explained his philosophies of life.

“Every day I try to give the Earth something from nothing. I see what I can make. Life is too short to make it sour… You must decorate the Earth, not desecrate it. I use rubbish and my time to make something, not to waste it…. Even ash is valuable. A lot of energy went into these things. We must put light into the world.”

Rest in Peace, Outa Lappies. You gave so much more to the Earth than you took.

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