In the middle of the fields in the Perche region of France, just 30 kilometers west of Chartres lies an oasis of blue,
a whole ocean tucked away behind the walls surrounding the modest home in the village of Harponvilliers, of nonagenarian, Renée Bodin.
Renée Bodin, who calls herself “Hurfane” (a name she derived by combining the first three letters of her father’s name and the first four letters of her mother’s name), spent most of her life in Paris as a Classics language teacher. In 1978 she purchased this house as a summer residence:
In 1980 she began her mosaic work, but, still being a teacher, her work was limited to weekends and school vacation. When Hurfane retired from teaching in 1992 she threw herself full time into the transformation of her property. Hurfane feels she’s been working on this oeuvre her whole life as she began envisioning the creation as a child.
We felt lucky to be welcomed for a visit to Hurfane’s mosaic masterpiece as we had arrived at the “Jardins de la Feuilleraie” a the very begining of April, before the official start of the visitor season. We sheepishly knocked of the door of this tidy but ordinary looking house and patiently waited, wondering if anyone was home. A tiny, shy-looking woman opened the door and we immediately began apologizing for arriving unannounced and before the start of the visitor season, but, we explained, we had traveled a long way and hoped we might be allowed to have a peak. “Yes, yes, you may, but really, it’s not ready–it’s a mess”, she answered. Of course we said” We don’t mind!” and she ushered us in. As we walked about, Hurfane darted ahead of us, picking up fallen leaves, which was clearly the “mess” she had been referring to. But really, what’s a few fallen leaves among artists? The grounds were pristine! The first area Hurfane led us to was her rose-colored garden in which the imagery is a folksy mix of animals, flowers and peasant life.
All very lovely, but nothing prepared us for the vast mosaic masterpiece at the back side of the house. It was as if Hurfane’s vision had catapulted itself from human’s puny little concerns to the vastness of earth’s surfaces and finally to the infinite universe.
Here she explained were the elements of the universe: the sea, the stars, the heavens.
Hurfane had attempted to capture Time itself, but she explained, “Time runs away and is lost forever.”
“They made fun of me when I first began this work–a woman attempting masonry. But really, I found that working with cement was no different than working with flour to make a cake.” And so Hurfane persisted, one tile at a time for forty years. The universe is not quite finished, but almost.