Alley of Giants

Cossé-le-Vivien: a speck of a village in the Mayenne Department in the Pays de la Loire region of  France, equidistant from Le Mans, Nantes, and Caen, in a region not on many tourists’ itinerary . But, oh! If you go! A wondrously bizarre environment beckons you in with jaw dropping sculptures.

IMG_3086

This Outsider environment, La Frénouse, was created by Insider artist Robert Tatin.  La Frénouse is a tour de force in concrete that took Robert Tatin twenty years to complete with the help of–you guessed it–his wife, Lise. (Do you think it might be relevant that Lise was his fifth wife? Wonder what he asked of the other four) )

OK, let’s start at the beginning. Robert Tatin was born in 1902 of humble origins in nearby Laval. His father worked for the fairgrounds setting up and even performing in the local circus, an environment which had lasting impact on Tatin’s aesthetics.  Robert Tatin began his working life at age fourteen as a house painter.  As a young adult Robert Tatin took off for Paris to study painting.

When he completed his studies at the school of Beaux Arts he returned home to earn a living. Lord knows, that wasn’t going to be as an artist!  He morphed this first profession as house painter into decorative painter, then designer, and eventually he became a sought after restorer of historic architecture. With extra cash in his pocket from his successful contracting business Robert Tatin set off to travel the world…and to paint!

He was called back to France in 1938 to serve in the war after which he set up a small ceramic and fresco workshop to earn a living.  in Paris. He also began to pursue his painting in earnest.

IMG_3108

While in Paris he formed friendships with several of the great artists living in Paris post World War II: Giacometti, André  Breton, Jean Dubuffet (inventor of the term Art Brut), and Jean Coctueau (of Beauty and the Beast fame). With these colleagues, Tatin participated in what was called the “cultural reconstruction” of post war Paris. Tatin’s painting and sculpture garnered him national and eventually international recognition. He even won first prize in sculpture at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1951. But it was his travels and encounters with indigenous people of Brazil that had the greatest influence on his artwork.

IMG_3060

He quit the rarefied world of fine arts at the age of 60, returned to his homeland to live out the rest of his life. He bought a little ruined farmhouse in Cossé-le-Vivien and got to work restoring it.

IMG_3119

Once this cozy home was livable, Robert Tatin started work on what turned out to be his grand oeuvre, which was to take him the next twenty years to complete. There is really no easy way to categorize or even to describe with words the sculptural environment that Tatin called, La Frénouse. When I checked google translate for the definition of La Frénouse, I got this for an answer: La Frénouse. OK, well…

La Frénouse is first an homage. One enters the property via Tatin’s “Alley of Giants”,

IMG_3120

an 80 meter long paved path lined with nineteen statues, each labeled with the names of a historic, mythical, religious, or artistic personage who influenced Tatin to believe what he believed in and to have the guts to pursue his vision. It’s quite a roster ranging from Joan of Arc (!) to Jules Vernes to Picasso.

IMG_3072

IMG_3069

IMG_3068

IMG_3065

IMG_3123

IMG_3066

By the time you come to the end of the Alley of Giants you are well-prepped for the  bizarro aesthetics that Tatin poured into his garden, an odd combination of grotesque fantasy embedded with lyrical details.

IMG_3073

IMG_3107

IMG_3121

The open-jawed dragon that headed up this post is the Guardian of Knowledge. If you are not totally swallowed up by him you’ll see his claws cradle dice, for surely chance plays a huge role in one’s fate.

At the center of the environment one enters the garden of Meditations, with twelve statues around a central reflecting pool, one for each month. Six rooms symbolize the rotation of the earth. One enters via the Gateway of the Sun and the Gateway of the Moon on the East and West sides.

IMG_3098

IMG_3089

IMG_3100

IMG_3097

 

IMG_3090

IMG_3101

IMG_3092

IMG_3112

 

But really, it’s good not to over-analyze Tatin’s work. Scientist and art lover Otto Hahn put it nicely when he said of Robert Tatin’s creative impulse: “In all his quests, Tatin finds the same answer: you never reach paradise, unless you create it.”  And truly isn’t this what we’re doing as artists in our insane world?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picassiette

My last post, “Creating an Ocean…” brought you just outside the city of Chartres, France. And surely if you are just outside Chartres you will continue on into Chartres.  And surely you will visit the famous, famous Chartres Cathedral.

IMG_3838 IMG_3842

And I know,  because you are a “Quirk” reader, you will not simply finish with the cathedral, go to a cafe, then hop back on the next train to find the next cathedral in the next town. You will go to “Maison Picassiette“, a reasonable walk from the cathedral and one of France’s most famous quirky sites.

Leaving the cathedral and the lovely half-timbered houses of the center city behind

IMG_3847 IMG_3844

you will enter the  neighborhood where Raymond Isadore and his wife Adrienne Dousset made their home. Isadore, a cemetery sweeper,  built his house in 1930, cozy enough, but nothing that would have stood out in his ordinary surroundings. On a walk one day his eye was attracted to a pretty shard of broken pottery which he picked up and brought home. And so, it is said, began his collecting habit. Soon he was frequenting rubbish dumps, actively seeking out cast away crockery. With the little pile he had amassed in his garden Isadore began a modest mosaic project on the wall of his home.

IMG_3875

Pleased with the effect, Isadore carried on.

IMG_3904

In fact he didn’t stop until twenty four years later, when he had covered every surface of his house, inside and out.

IMG_3854

From walls to floors to ceilingsIMG_3848

interspersed here and there with his folkloric paintings.

IMG_3865

IMG_3864

With his wife’s approval, when all the structural surfaces were covered, Raymond Isadore tackled the furniture.

IMG_3903

IMG_3902

IMG_3901

IMG_3897

An autodidact, Isadore paid homage to great artists and monuments, including these mosaic portraits of French cathedrals adorning the garden wall. And in the center–a throne for his Madame and himself to rest a spell and admire his work.

IMG_3882

IMG_3859

Word of his marvel spread, and in 1954 Pablo Picasso paid a visit. Some say that the “Pic” in “Picassiette”, the nickname given to Isadore by neighbors, refers to Picasso. Assiette is the french work for plate.  But most translations converge on “scrounger” or “scavenger”. Whatever the case, the word “picassiette” coined for Raymond Isadore has entered the French lexicon,  interchangeable with the term for mosaic-ing. Come to think of it, we’d be well served to use “picassiette” as I see spell check does not approve of mosaic-ing or mosaicing, or mosaicking.

Raymond Isadore completed his ouevre in 1962, two years and one day before he turned 65. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he was a happy man.

If you are itching to see more and don’t have a trip to France in your back pocket here’s a nice walk-through video.

 

 

Creating an Ocean, One Blue Tile at a Time

In the middle of the fields in the Perche region of France, just 30 kilometers west of Chartres lies an oasis of blue,

IMG_3792_cropped

a whole ocean tucked away behind the walls surrounding the modest home in the village of Harponvilliers, of nonagenarian,  Renée Bodin.IMG_3818

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:

IMG_3776

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.

IMG_3762IMG_3779IMG_3782IMG_3780IMG_3772IMG_3781IMG_3784

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. IMG_3790

Here she explained were the elements of the universe: the sea, the stars, the heavens. IMG_3820

IMG_3808IMG_3807IMG_3810

 

 

 

 

Hurfane had attempted to capture Time itself, but she explained, “Time runs away and is lost forever.” IMG_3803

“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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pourquoi pas?

Since the theme of these last couple of years has been TransAtlantic, I’m going to zip from this side of the pond where I’ve located the last few posts over to the other side, to the lovely and lightly trodden Sarthe department of the Pays de la Loire, France.  A few years ago I had mapped out a route through Pays de la Loire (the region where my mother was born) and Normandy visiting the myriad of outsider art sites along the way.  YES, there are many. And yes, I too have wondered why. Of all cultures, the French are known  the world over for being proper. And yet, AND YET, France has the highest concentration of wacky built environments. Sitting alongside their deep sense propriety is a simultaneous undercurrent of “pourquoi pas?”, maybe more commonly thought of as Joie de Vivre! I can hardly think of two more apt phrases to describe “Le Jardin Humoristique” that I visited in the Alençon suburb, Fyé.  This roadside environment had been on my bucket list since I found this book , “Bonjour aux Promeneurs”, in 1996. If ever there was a character beckoning to me from a book cover, this was my man!

smaller_IMG_20190217_165017

By the time I made it to Le Jardin Humoristique this jolly fellow felt like an old friend AND I saw, as I stepped  out of the car, he had gotten a face lift and had sprouted hair!

IMG_3719

Fernand Chartelain, a one time baker and subsequent farmer, built this roadside attraction in his retirement for his own and passerby’s amusement.  He sculpted a welcome sign, “Bonjours aux Promeneurs” and affixed it front and center to the modest fence that bordered his property on Route 138.

IMG_3752

Knowing that drivers would be jamming on their brakes he added admonitions such as “Be careful not to have an accident” and later more whimsical advice, “Only roll downhill”.

Chatelain drew his first inspiration from a dictionary illustration of a centaur.

IMG_3694

And the Mobile gas station logo of Pegassus:

IMG_3717

And the familiar children’s story, Babar.

IMG_3754

But as he grew more confident he let his imagination go wild, and wild was his imagination!

IMG_3711

IMG_3697IMG_3745

IMG_3723

IMG_3741

IMG_3734

Though most reports suggest Chatelain’s creations were enjoyed by the public, his work also suffered from periodic vandalism. But despair and discouragement were not in Chatelain’s wheelhouse. With the assistance of his wife, Marie Louise, he  repaired and re-painted, his work constantly evolving. Finally after 23 years creating his Jardin Humoristique, Chatelain was forced by age to abandon his work in 1988. For 20 years forces of nature took their toll on this whimsical roadside attraction until at nearly the last minute a group of art brut admirers formed “The Friends of Fernand Chatelain”  in 2005 and got to work to restore the sculptures. Though there have been detractors to the shockingly vibrant new paint applied to the reconstructed concrete surfaces, I really don’t think Monsieur Chatelain would have minded at all. In fact I’m quite certain he is broadly smiling from above or below.

 

 

 

 

 

Memory Forest

For my third visit to Bread and Puppet in Glover Vermont last summer, I was lucky enough to have my son along. We had just finished poking around the “Cheap Art” bus

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk261

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk270

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk320

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk315

and were headed back to our car ready to call it a day, when we saw Bread and Puppet founder, Peter Schumann crossing the street. Our chance to say hello and tell him in person how much we love his work!

 

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk323

He graciously set down his wheelbarrow and asked us whether we’d been to the Memory Forest.  “Come along,” he said. “It’s a special place.”  We persuaded him to let young, strapping Isaiah take up the wheelbarrow laden with little cement figures and down the path and into the woods we went.

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk328

I kept pace with Peter and his grandson so I could benefit from the most wondrous telling of Jack and the Beanstalk that Peter was concocting for his grandson. It is not hard to understand why hundreds of puppeteers over the last 4 decades have spent their summers laboring for free on Bread and Puppet productions. I can see that a chance to hang out with Peter Schumann would make for a magical summer. (Here’s the link to apply for a summer apprenticeship. )

We made our way through the impeccably straight pines and suddenly we saw what appeared to be a little village.BreadAndPuppet-shrunk332

IMG_20171015_122545medium

This is the Memory Forest, where each puppeteer who has passed on from this world is honored. “Every Wednesday”, Peter explained, “we gather to tell stories of one of these puppeteers. We will never forget them. Look around. Each one has a place here.”

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk333

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk334

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk340

This memorial tells the poignant story of puppeteer Andy Trompetter, who, as a baby, was left in the care of a Dutch resistance group in 1942. Both his parents died in concentration camps.  Andy was kept in hiding until 1945. After the liberation he was found by his aunt and uncle who raised him as their son.

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk344BreadAndPuppet-shrunk355BreadAndPuppet-shrunk353BreadAndPuppet-shrunk337

Peter got to work unloading the wheelbarrow and added the little figures to one of memorials. When he was done he bid us farewell, saying, “Make sure you visit the Paper Maché Cathedral before you go!” A cathedral? How did we miss that? “It’s back behind the Museum, ” Peter explained. So off we went, stopping on the way to admire the amphitheater (a former gravel pit)  where the outdoor performances of Bread and Puppet are held each weekend in the summer. We vowed to come back next summer!

IMG_20171015_123512

If you’re a Vermont school bus and you’ve been very, very good, you might just come back for a second life at Bread and Puppet!

IMG_20171015_123805medium      IMG_20171015_123639medium

IMG_20170822_094918382cropped

We made a pit stop on the way over to the Paper Maché Cathedral, appreciative of the excellent illustrated instructions on the side of the loo.

IMG_20171015_120428766cropped

 

The exterior of the Paper Maché Cathedral is magnificent enough–but wait til you step inside…

IMG_20171015_124807a

As we cracked open the door the shaft of light illuminated the hundreds of figures dancing on the walls and ceiling:

IMG_20171015_125248medium

We’d be in good company  if a rainy day forced the performance inside.

IMG_20171015_125412medium

 

This panoramic image does justice to the concept of this space as a cathedral.

PANO_20171015_124932medium

Hallelujah to Peter Schumann!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread and Puppet

The directions to get to the Bread and Puppet Museum in Glover, Vermont from nearby Barton were simple enough.  Still I managed to take a wrong turn which I noticed only after I had my first Bread and Puppet sighting:BreadAndPuppet-shrunk1

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk3Even without the identifier painted above the windshield, I would have recognized a Bread and Puppet bus anywhere. In this case the bus was in for a little TLC at the local mechanic. Wrong turn or not I knew I couldn’t be too far away. I turned myself 180 degrees around and headed properly towards Glover. My little unplanned detours took me past some lovely hand painted signage–something I’m always on the lookout for.

misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk1

and this very enticing motel

misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk2

with seven rooms to choose from.   (I’d like the Aardvark’s Attic please!)

misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk8     misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk7     misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk6

misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk5   misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk4   misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk3

misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk10

 

I know if I don’t stick this excellent, excellent sign I saw in  Lyndonville now I’m going to miss the opportunity to show it to you altogether.

IMG_20170822_132424381enhanced

OK, on to Glover! On this, the first of three visits to Bread and Puppet, I pulled into the uncongested parking lot

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk8

I slipped right in beside the B and P vehicle that was not paying a visit to the mechanic:

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk268

crossed the street to the BIG barn

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk269

adorned with the signature Bread and Puppet signage

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk262

and found a hive of activity in the yard. It was the Friday before the last Sunday performance of the season and there was still paper-mache-ing to be done!

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk10

I chatted awhile with this fellow and headed up the wooden stairs to the upper floor of the barn which houses five decades of puppets from Bread and Puppet performances around the globe. I’ve visited the museum four times now, but each time when  I reach the top of the stairs and catch my first site of the collection it takes my breath away.

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk12

 

PANO_20171015_111020medium

Here I am in the converted dairy barn, given to Bread and Puppet visionary , Peter Schumann and his wife Elka,  by Elka’s parents, the last farmers on this property in Glover, Vermont. The barn,  now known as the Bread and Puppet Museum, houses, as Peter describes his creations, “the retired warriors from the battles against the tides.” There is no shortage of causes that Peter and his ever-changing cast of puppeteers have taken on over the decades and so the barn is stuffed to overflowing with every manner of puppet who has fought the good fight. Every inch of floor except the central walkway,

IMG_20171015_105018medium

every inch of the walls,

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk74

and every plank between the ceiling rafters is covered.

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk29

 

IMG_20171015_105651medium

One recognizes familiar heroes here and there.    Our founding fathers:

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk23     BreadAndPuppet-shrunk41

(Our memory of elementary school history lessons is jogged by proper museum signage)

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk40

I see an understandably doleful Abe Lincoln:BreadAndPuppet-shrunk119

And over there, isn’t that Oscar Romero?!?!

IMG_20171015_110710medium

We are awed by the mythical beings of gigantic proportions

IMG_20171015_105555medium

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk233      BreadAndPuppet-shrunk231

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk68

several soaring to the rafters to look down upon the little folk populating the earth at  their feet.

IMG_20171015_110649medium

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk19

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk125

there are deities, demons and demigogues

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk20       BreadAndPuppet-shrunk72

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk161      BreadAndPuppet-shrunk89

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk104    BreadAndPuppet-shrunk44

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk161

There are victims and perpetrators.

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk146

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk140

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk252                 BreadAndPuppet-shrunk253

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk235

and grandmothers who have seen it all

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk251   BreadAndPuppet-shrunk210 BreadAndPuppet-shrunk255

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk256

Laborers:

IMG_20170822_102945375medium

Bureaucrats:

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk259

Royalty (Let them eat cake”) :

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk121

Impresarios (or perhaps our elected officials):

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk43

And beasts–let us not forget the noble beasts:

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk55

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk159

And reminders here are there of the impermanence of the collection:

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk204     BreadAndPuppet-shrunk205

Suspended through-out the museum are globes which simply cannot contain and sustain the burden assigned to our humble sphere, Earth.

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk57  BreadAndPuppet-shrunk33

IMG_20171015_105830mediumIMG_20171015_111408medium

There are little drawings lined up like storyboards.

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk134

This one, a one word poem:

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk73

And everywhere, everywhere images of fire:

BreadAndPuppet-shrunk100  BreadAndPuppet-shrunk101  BreadAndPuppet-shrunk96  BreadAndPuppet-shrunk90   BreadAndPuppet-shrunk102  BreadAndPuppet-shrunk109

Contained in the Bread and Puppet Museum:

IMG_20171015_124731medium

I return to Bread and Puppet in October and have a happy encounter with Peter Schumann. With Peter leading the way I will visit the Memory Forest and Paper Mache Cathedral in my next post…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyday Life in the Northeast Kingdom

In need of a salve for your soul in these depressing times?  Zip, zip, take a trip to the Northeast Kingdom. Fellow New Englanders know this means heading up to the tip top of Vermont to hug the Canadian border (which will feel good in and of itself). You’ll feel FAR, FAR away from urban madness and start to wonder just why it is that you MUST live in a city.

misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk11

My son and I pondered the reason why  eggs would be cheaper on Wednesday. We spent the better part of an hour discussing the possibilities.

 

OK, I said zip, zip, but if you’re reading this soon after I’ve posted it, in November, Vermont’s “bleak season” wait til summer or fall, which is when these trips were made.

I had the good fortune of being called up to the Northeast Kingdom this summer to mount an exhibition at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury. I packed my car and drove up there on the most auspicious of dates: the solar eclipse. After  a seamless day of installation (interrupted by a dash up the hill to the Fairbanks Museum for the eclipse viewing party), Catamount gallery director extraordinaire, Katherine French said, “Come let’s have dinner and then I’m going to take you to a little museum I  think you’ll like.” Given that we were finishing up as the sun was setting, I was a little doubtful that she could make good on her enticing promise. What museum would be open after 7PM? “You’ll see”, she said.  I was still worried as our lovely, leisurely dinner pushed past the hour that ANY museum would still be open. “Ok, let’s go!” And off into the starry night we drove further north and west to Glover. We pulled off the road onto a pitch black driveway. Ha! We had arrived at The Museum of Everyday Life.

Every Day Life shrunk40

I knew right then and there I was going to have to return the next day to photograph in daylight. Here’s what I hadn’t been able to see as we approached at night:

Every Day Life shrunk47Every Day Life shrunk49

Katherine fumbled for the lights just inside the entrance

Every Day Life shrunk44          Every Day Life shrunk43

and we found ourselves in the Raymond Roussel Vestibule

Every Day Life shrunk1

where there was a nice little introductory assemblage of quotidian objects which set the stage for what lay ahead.

Every Day Life shrunk34  Every Day Life shrunk36  Every Day Life shrunk35

Even though I have made a career of celebrating the cast away  stuff of our over stuffed world I was unprepared for the depths that are plumbed in the six or so exhibits in the Museum of Everyday Life. The museum is the brainchild of Intensive Care RN and Crankie enthusiast, Clare Dolan, who I had the pleasure of meeting the next morning when I came back for my daylight photos. She was racing around her yard mowing at a faster pace than I’ve ever witnessed.

“Let me go ahead'” Katherine French said as she opened the (beautifully adorned) door that lead from the vestibule to the museum and found the next set of lights.

Every Day Life shrunk57.jpg     Every Day Life shrunk59

We were greeted by a curious and pleasing little tinkle of bells which continued tinkling  for our entire visit,  a sonic version of the starry night outside.

Every Day Life shrunk16

You can’t be a reader of this blog and not know that I was utterly enthralled.

Every Day Life shrunk10

Pencils to toothbrushes

Every Day Life shrunk5

Every Day Life shrunk4

If you’re going to feature toothbrushes, you gotta throw in Toothpaste.

Toothbrushes to safety pins

Every Day Life shrunk13

Every Day Life shrunk12

Safety pins to matches

Every Day Life shrunk11

Violin, made by a musical prisoner,  entirely out of wooden matchsticks

Matchsticks to—wait for it—DUST! By far my favorite exhibit! I thought I had intimate knowledge of dust. (I can practically name the individual dust bunnies that live under my bed). But, no, apparently until now I had only the barest sprinkling of knowledge. Here is a bit of the  stupendous Dust display with accompanying label information:

Every Day Life shrunk6

“Hanging for 10 years directly above the kitchen stove in the Chicken Hut in Brooklyn, This ornament is crusted in layers of grease-adhered dusts of all kinds. On loan courtesy of Gregory Henderson”

Every Day Life shrunk66

“Cosmic dust from NASA’s ultra clean Cosmic Dust Laboratory, established in 1981 to handle particles one tenth the diameter of a human hair. The Laboratory curates thousands of cosmic dust particles… Cosmic dust grains…contain material in the same condition as when the solar system began to form…” And being NASA, the explanatory label went on for another three paragraphs.

Every Day Life shrunk68

I was clever enough to photograph the label, so you can read it yourself.

Every Day Life shrunk9

same ilk as the Chicken Hut grease/dust encrusted kitchen ornament above, this is a single paddle from a fan blade.

After seeing this exhibit your response will either be to vacuum the minute you get home, or never vacuum again! I just checked under the bed. The bunnies have multiplied, well, like rabbits. I am feeding them and they are happy.

Every Day Life shrunk8

I reached the back of the museum and finally discovered the source of the tinkling bells. This were the very last display in the Bells and Whistles exhibit:

Every Day Life shrunk23

I was too enchanted to remember the video function on my cell phone, and I really think it would be a spoiler to explain how this tinkling at the back of the museum was precipitated by turning on the lights at the front. I am sure by now you are clicking on your calendars and mapping out your visit. You’ll see for yourself.

misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk16

Stay here if you go: Rodgers Family Farm, Glover

misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk15

And get up just before sunrise to walk to  the beaver pond just a quarter mile down the road. I don’t like getting up that early either, but it was worth it!

misc Northeast Kingdom shrunk29

PS I foolishly thought I would cover every magical thing I saw during my three visits this summer and fall to Glover and environs, but I’ve barely scratched the surface. Stay tuned for Bread and Puppet, Red Sky, and other marvels in the Northeast Kingdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Underground

My last post featured three quirky cave environments in France. You might think that would complete my postings on the French underground, but two more visits must be described: both with top ratings on the quirk-o-meter.

The tiny village of  Dénézé-sous-Doué , a village in the Loire region for which Wikipedia can find nothing to say except; “Its church and the attached cemetery have the distinction of being away from the village.” Really, the entry is just this one sentence! I have never been so disappointed by Wikipedia and Geez–are they ever missing something!  Dénézé-sous-Doué is home to one of France’s most intriguing mysteries: La Cave aux Sculptures. After poking around a bit we found the non-descript entrance leading to steps down, down, down, deep under sleepy Dénézé-sous-Doué.

IMG_2821

This is only sign of business I saw in Dénézé-sous-Doué. Things are not exactly hopping in Dénézé-sous-Doué, at least not above ground!

IMG_2863

In front of us a 24 meter long, multi- chambered cave revealed itself , carved every inch with hundreds of bas-relief figures emerging from the walls.

IMG_2843

 

 

IMG_2847

IMG_2832

Despite serious archaeological efforts, no definitive explanation or even dating of these carvings has been agreed on. There are no other examples of similarly carved caves in Europe so no clues can be found elsewhere. Clothing , hairstyles and musical instruments typical of the Renaissance era

IMG_2831

This lady is playing a medieval bagpipe

help date the sculptures to the 1500’s. One of the archaeologists dated the sculptures based on his observation that some of the female characters are wearing underwear (!!), the  practice of which did not take occur until the 1500’s. Oh, for close archaeological scrutiny! I did not discern any underwear but I don’t know if that tells you more about my observational skills or about the keen eye of the French archaeologist. I can tell you one thing though; given that the French word for “bra” is “soutien gorge”, which translates as  “throat supporter”, I would say there’s a cultural divide between the American and French understanding of underwear.

It is generally agreed that these three figures:

IMG_2828

are a blasphemous representation of King Henri II (in the middle) with his wife, Catherine de Medici (depicted scandalously with her breasts exposed–no soutien gorge for her!) on the left, holding hands with Henri’s mistress, Diane de Poitier, on the right. This is not the only scandalous bit of carving.

IMG_2857

I might add, besides love-making couples there is at least one depiction of self-pleasuring. I have spared you the full frontal, but here’s the fellow caught in the act:

IMG_2824

There are several screamers such as this breastfeeding mom:

IMG_2858  IMG_2862

And several heads with no bodies and limbs strewn about and some devilish monsters that I was unable to photograph for lack of lighting. Incredibly there is even a sculpture of a Native American– the first known depiction of a Native American in Europe! Apparently there is documentation of a Native American who was brought to live in Anjou, France in the 1500’s so finding his likeness in this cave is not so far-fetched a notion.

IMG_2837

There’s plenty of Christian references, but they are loaded with parody. The customary figures in the sculpted Pieta– Mary, Joseph, Jesus– have been replaced by Catherine de Medici as Mary, holding her son, Francois II as Christ and the Cardinal of Guise sits in for Joseph. Mary Stuart as Ste Jeanne, looks on. It makes my head hurt to try to untangle the unseemly relationship between the French royals and the church during this period of the Religious Wars. If you’re determined to try to wind your way through this Gordian Knot, here’s a good synopsis that will help you.

IMG_2846

All this was enough to get the cave sealed off in 1633 by a priest who felt his flock might be led astray by  images of debauchery and blasphemy. Hmmm, the cave closure, according to another account was perhaps in 1740. Well, what’s a hundred years between archaeologists?  Whatever the case, La Cave aux Sculptures was completely forgotten until 1956 when–you guessed it–village children, playing in the fields, stumbled upon the underground passage.  The site was opened to the public in 1973. Here’s a terrific video shot with much better lighting than I had at my disposal. (Don’t worry about the French subtitles–the images are excellent.) There remain passageways blocked with debris which hold the promise of countless more figures to be discovered.  Much research still needs to be done to determine the meaning of this work.  Current theories include:  a work of political satire, a site for pagan rituals, a holy site of miracles and cures, a meeting place for initiation rites for the fraternal order of stone masons (there’s a few ram sculptures, the medieval symbol of the stone mason), a 3D illustration of Rabelais’s tales of devilry (he came from the neighboring village and made references to the demons of this region)

After dwelling in the ancient subterranean world of La Cave aux Sculptures my visit to the nearby site, l’Hélice Terrestre felt like futuristic travel to another planet. However l’Hélice Terrestre is just a few a few kilometers away in the village of Saint-Georges-des-Sept-Voies.  As one would expect in troglodyte country, l’Hélice Terrestre (translation: Earth Helix) is underground, except, well, the part that’s NOT underground! Here’s a view from the highest point of the helix.

L'Hélice Terrestre © B. Alberti

And like any good troglodyte helix should, this helix spirals its way down, reaching deep into the bowels of the earth.

IMG_2878  IMG_2881

IMG_2879  IMG_2882

IMG_2864  IMG_2866.JPG

IMG_2865  IMG_2885

IMG_2871  IMG_2893

As I tunneled my way down the light receded til I was in pitch dark, feeling my way down by inching my feet forward and running my hands along the damp, mossy walls. I was only able to see the carved forms for the split second of the flash of my camera. ( I must admit that when we visited there was no one (except one black cat) at the site. I’m not entirely sure we were supposed to be wandering around l’Hélice Terrestre on our own. If you have the good fortune of visiting you will hopefully have your path more illuminated than I did.)

IMG_2876  IMG_2889

IMG_2869.JPG IMG_2873

IMG_2872  IMG_2877

L’Hélice Terrestre  is the work of Polish sculptor, Jacques Warminski  who had spent some of his childhood vacations in nearby  l’Orbière, one of the last remaining Troglodyte villages in France. L’Orbière was completely abandonned in 1950, but kept alive in Warminksi’s imagination. It served as the inspiration for his life’s culminating work.  Warminski created this mind boggling sculpture in four years time in the early 1990’s. It doesn’t seem possible that stone carving of this intricacy on this scale could have been accomplished just in four years, but unlike La Caves aux Sculptures, the dates for L’Hélice Terrestre are not in dispute. Jacques Warminski died in 1996 at the age of 50, just two years after completing L’Hélice Terrestre.

Currently l’Hélice Terrestre is being maintained and kept open by Warminski’s widow, Bernadette Alberti and is  used as a site for comtemporary art performances.

Troglodytes

I had no idea what to expect as I criss-crossed the small town of Doué la Fontaine in search of the remarkable home of  Bernard Roux.  Doué la Fontaine is in the Pays de la Loire region of France, in the heart of troglodyte country, and I just happen to be a fan of all things troglodyte. So before setting off for Doué la Fontaine, I spent the better part of the day in the troglodyte village of Rochemenier, just ten minutes away.

IMG_2806

Now a museum which preserves twenty of the dwellings, Rochemenier was an village built underground by burrowing into the soft tufa stone of this region. Like all caves these dwellings had the advantage of constant temperature–warm(ish) in the winter, and cool in the summer. It was amazing how cozy these cave dwellings felt.

IMG_2801  IMG_2805

When a family was expecting a new baby, a room would be added by tunneling deeper into the stone at the back of the house. No zoning or building permits required! In fact the troglodyte family sold the stone they quarried as they dug the next room, so they actually made money as they expanded their home!

IMG_2942

IMG_2811

Passageways in Rochemenier connect one building to the next, so villagers didn’t need to venture outdoors on a nasty winter day. Several communal chambers served the whole village for their shared endeavors such as wine and cheese making and even a room where women gathered to chat as they did their textile work.

IMG_2812     IMG_2796

The most remarkable structure in the village is the cave cathedral built in the 13th century and which stayed in use until the 1930’s. A little tough to photograph, but here’s an image of the vaulted ceiling–an underground spire, of sorts.

IMG_2815

 

IMG_2816

supporting columns for Cathedral spire

My favorite postcard from Rochemenier is of this avant garde woman, one of the last generation Rochemenier troglodytes driving her locally made automobile.

Rochemenier Troglodyte smaller

Now, onward to Bernard Roux’s. After several false turns,  we spotted a little garage that looked different from the surrounding neighbors. Could this be Monsieur Roux’s home? I didn’t really think so as nothing else seemed out of the ordinary.  Then stepping out of the car and venturing towards the garage I could see I was standing at the precipice of a cavernous space, filled with, well, filled with what? It wasn’t clear from this angle.

IMG_2944

We rang the doorbell at the side of the garage and waited. And waited. And waited. Sigh. No one home. We’d have to be content with this glimpse from on high. We took a few photos and started to walk back to the car when suddenly an elderly gentleman appeared at the gate. How did he get there???

“Bonjour, Monsieur. Nous cherchons Monsieur Roux. ”  “C’est moi. Bienvenu.” And we followed him down the tiled steps into his wonderland.

IMG_2950

Built in the hollowed out cavity of an old quarry, Bernard Roux has injected a quirky twist to the eons-old troglodyte tradition.

IMG_2959      IMG_2967

This is the front door to his cave dwelling. (well, it’s probably the only door as caves homes don’t have back doors)  Monsieur Roux, with the indulgence of his wife, has transformed the quarry into a fantasy courtyard that’s part Disney

IMG_2965

and part, well, a window onto Monsieur Roux’s rich imagination where dinosaurs are allowed to roam in the Garden of Eden.

IMG_2958

IMG_2968

Monsieur Roux pointed out his homages to great French architecture: The Chateau de Chaumont and the Cathedral de Chenille.

IMG_2956

 

IMG_2955

This wall of tools serves as a testament to Bernard Roux’s days as a laborer, in the trades of builder, butcher, baker, and mason.

IMG_2966

So happy we could meet this delightful gentleman who has taken troglodyte living to new heights.

IMG_2960

Oh, there’s more tales to tale from the land of troglodytes. It will take another post. But, may I advise you, if you’re in this region, especially in Saumur–eat mushrooms. Here’s where most of France’s mushrooms are grown. Remember those constant cave temperatures?Perfect for champignons:

IMG_2939   IMG_2930

IMG_2929   IMG_2927

YUM!

For the Glory of…

Just beyond the heavily touristed French town of St Malo (Brittany) lies the less frequented Sculpted Rocks of Rotheneuf . If I were in charge of compiling the Seven Wonders of Europe list, I’d secure a spot for this astonishing site!

IMG_3197

I had seen images of “Les Roches Sculptes” (where the heck are the accent marks on American computers?) in a wonderful book on visionary environments which I found decades ago in a second hand book store in San Francisco: Les Batisseurs du Reve.   This book has served as the cornerstone for my now extensive collection of  outsider art books. Turns out it’s a much more notable book than I have realized over all these years. Believe it or not, I just discovered yesterday, when I was taking this photo of the book below, that the lovely hand-written French inscription  inside the front cover is a note to Niki  deSt Phalle (whose work is pictured on the cover) from the book’s photographer. (“Niki, mon coeur est toujours a ta maison. Michael”) Geez–there must be a story of how this special copy of the book ended up in California. Niki, I beseech you, speak to me from the Netherworld–tell me what happened between you and Michael.

IMG_20170317_130825867_smaller         IMG_20170317_130952344_smaller

You can imagine how excited I was when I realized my post grad school trip to France would allow me to check off two major sites in this book.  Les Rochers Sculptes on the Brittany coast and Le Palais Ideal in the Drome valley would anchor the northern and southern most points of our loop. Well, to make a long story short, I never made it to Les Rochers Sculptes that summer because, feather brained twenty-something year old that I was, I left my wallet on the bus and didn’t discover this til I was pitching my tent that evening.  Instead of hopping another bus the next morning to Rotheneuf, I spent the day tracking down my wallet. If you are old enough to picture accomplishing this feat in the days before cell phones, you will marvel over my ability to overcome the inscrutability of French payphones to converse with an operator who could find the number of the public bus service, track down the name of the actual bus-driver, call him during his dinner time (a major faux pas!) and arrange a meet up at the bus stop to retrieve my wallet. You will marvel over the miracle that reconnected my wallet to me and commend me for my stoicism about not getting to check off numero uno on my bucket list. But oh! It would be another THIRTY years til I made it back to this part of France!  Reading all this you will understand why my heart was going pitter patter when I finally arrived at the entry gate of  Les Rochers Sculptes, with wallet firmly in pocket and camera ready at hand to shoot my first encounter with one man’s inexplicable, obsessive, magnificent work.

 

IMG_3220

IMG_3190

For thirteen years, from 1894 to 1907 (which does not seem like nearly enough time to accomplish this work), Adolphe Julien Fourere (later changed to Foure) chipped away, day after day to tell a tale which made no sense what-so-ever. it made so little sense that I double checked in my French/English dictionary every irksome word in the little explanatory pamphlet I got for 4 Euros at the entry gate.

IMG_3203       IMG_3202

This jumble of rogues and monsters

IMG_3209

supposedly is an account of the notorious band of pirates and privateers who laid claim to this section of the French coast in the 16th century.  I don’t believe that for a minute, nor do I believe that the sculptor, the Abbot Foure carved this part of coast after  he could no longer carry out the duties of the priesthood due to a crippling stroke.

IMG_20170319_151948326_HDR_smaller

Really?!? Too weak to give a sermon so what the heck, I’ll just get me a hammer and chisel and start carving granite day and night for 13 years. I don’t think so. In fact further digging on the web turns up  much more believable biographical info on the Abbot Foure than that untrustworthy little tourist pamphlet. Historian Joelle Jouneau has been doing her best to debunk the notion that Foure was a stroke-weakened, pirate-obsessed priest released from his duties by a benevolent church. More likely the pirate figures and monsters are stand-ins for local characters. Maybe these caricatures were Foure’s way to whack at the powers that be who threw him out of his parish for his social activism. Jouneau has been fantasizing creating a Foure museum for which she’s been amassing Foure memorabilia. So maybe we’ll eventually get to the bottom of his story. Meanwhile, enjoy what one determined man with time on his hands can do with a hammer and chisel:

IMG_3192     IMG_3195

IMG_3213   IMG_3228

IMG_3196

IMG_3222     IMG_3200

 

I cannot find one mention anywhere of the mysterious rectangular foundation-like shape that we see through the clear blue of the ocean:

IMG_3227

We stay long enough to see this stone rectangle emerge completely as the tide goes down. What, oh what were you thinking Abbe Foure?

IMG_3224

A dieu…

IMG_3231