June 24, 2018

Vladimir Nikolaevich Zaznobin, Скульптуры в саду/Sculptures in garden

picture by unknown photographer

Occasionally it happens that a folk art artist makes a number of life-sized creations which he by way of storage places in his garden, thus inadvertently transforming the garden into an art environment ¹.

This could also be the case with regard to the Russian folk artist Vladimir Zaznobin (1900-1981).

Life and works

Zaznobin was born in the small community of Sudenets in the Russian region Pereslavl. 

He became a carpenter and settled in neighbouring Pereslavl-Zalessky, a town of some 43.000 inhabitants,140 km north-east of Moscow.

As a carpenter Zaznobin was involved in the construction of farms and houses, and on the right bank of the river Trubezh, that runs through the city, he also built his own house, where he settled with his wife Evdokia Vassilyevna.

picture by unkown photographer

In the 1940's Zaznobin began making wooden toys, but as a folk artist he started only at an older age. As a seventy-year-old, using a knife and an axe, quite unexpectedly he started making wooden sculptures, making as he said  ".... windmills and birdhouses with funny little men and little animals that I had seen as a young boy from old village carpenters".

In addition to these creations marked by mobility, Zaznobin made a variety of predominantly small-scale sculptures with as main themes peasant life and fairy tales He also made a series of works dedicated to Alexander Pushkin.

The expressiveness of Zaznobin's sculptures apparently touched some sensitive strings in people's souls, and soon newspapers began to write about him and he became invited to participate in expositions.

picture from the website of the Bogemskaia-Turchin collection.

The reviews of Zaznobin's art, as far as available on the internet, almost all discuss the sculptures as such. There is only one publication available on internet that incidentally reveals something about a configuration of artworks in the artist's garden. 

In that publication is said that among apple trees wooden figures and windmills on high poles reach out to heaven. 

Probably not so intended by Zaznobin and in any case hardly noticed by his reviewers, with the series of life-size sculptures under a canopy, as in the first image, together with those poles capped with small creations, the garden could have become kind of a sculpture garden, or art environment in current terminology.

In 1981, shortly before Zaznobin died, part of his sculptures was bought by and transferred to the All-Russian Museum of Decorative, Applied and Folk Art (Moscow).

It is unclear whether something in or around the house currently (2018) reminds of Zaznobin.

* Article on the website Russian naive and outsider art (Bogemskaia-Turchin collection)
* Article on the website of the Museum of Russian lubok and naive art
* Article (april 2013) on the website Заявления о художниках (Statements about artists)
* Article on the website about Russian museums

¹  For example Erich Bödeker (1904-1971) from Germany

Vladimir Nikolaevich Zaznobin
Sculptures in a garden
Pereslavl-Zalessky, Yaroslavl region, Russia
all sculptures probably have been removed 

June 21, 2018

Veikko Koukonen, Puinen eläintarha/Wooden zoo

pictures are screen prints from the video
referred to in the documentation

Visible from the road, a 4.75 m high sculpture of an adult giraffe accompanied by a young, makes it clear to eventual visitors that the garden full of wooden sculptures of animals in Pieksämäki, Finland, is near.

Life and works

This sculpture garden, also referred to as a zoo, is a creation of Veikko Koukonen (born 1924 or 1925).

He had his own company in wood and metalworking and when retired, probably in the early 1990's, he wanted to continue applying his skills in woodworking, but now in a creative way.

It became a project that would keep him and his wife busy for many years and which resulted in a  garden with a large collection of wooden sculptures of all kinds of animals that in Europe usually can be found in a zoo. 

So one can see a cheetah, crocodiles and giraffes, as in above pictures, but also a kangaroo, a deer, horses and a variety of other animals, altogether some sixty items

Leila and Veikko Koukonen's house is situated in the outside area of Pieksämäki and the garden covers a fairly large area and so small groups of animals can have their own corner.

In addition to the sculptures of animals displayed in the garden, Koukonen also made two-dimensional wooden creations of animals, trees and the like, which are attached to a stone wall of the house.

And then, he also has made various pieces of furniture for indoors.

Currently in his early nineties, Koukonen is still active in taking care of the sculpture garden.

In the summer of 2017 the site was open for visitors as part of the ITE Samaai project aimed at tracking autodidact artists in Finland's Southern Savonia region.

In the context of this project the site will be open for visitors in the summer of 2018 too. 

* Article (august 2016) in newspaper Iltalehti (includes video)
* Article (july 2016) in newspaper Yle Uutiset
* Article on the website of the community of Jappilä (some 20 km east of Pieksämäki, to which it belongs administratively)

Veikko Koukonen
Lampipolku 1,
Pieksämäki, Finland
in 2018 open in summer months
in the context of the ITE Saimaalla project

June 17, 2018

Emilio Padovani, Parco di dinosauri di sasso/Park of stone dinosaurs

pictures from Padovani's website and social media sites

Borgo Tossignano is a community of some 3300 inhabitants, located in the Emilio-Romagna region, some 30 km south-east of Bologna.

In the outskirts of the small village of Codrignano, which belongs to Borgo Tossignano, there is a garden with a large amount of creations made of stacked or otherwise bundled stones. These creations mainly represent dinosaurs, so this note is about the park of the Dinosauri di sasso


Life and works

This art environment was created by Emilio Padovani, who was born in 1948 or 1949 and had a job as a driver at a large regional institution in the field of health care.

Inspired by the Stephen Spielberg movie Jurassic Park (1993) he began creating dinosaurs he installed in his rather large garden. These creations have as a specific characteristic that they are made of stones he collected himself.

Manufacturing the creations Padovani used a variety of stones. Small and light ones he collected himself in the region. Large and heavy ones, up to a hundred kilos, obtained from quarries, had to be transported by car.

When travelling, for example to Split in Croatia where he originally came from, he also looked for stones he could use. And then there is a nice story that he also found a suitable stone in Paris at the foot of the Eiffel tower.


Reports say that the Dinosauri di sasso garden includes some hundred sculptures of prehistoric animals, among which a Stegosaurus, a Triceratops, a Brontosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus Rex, all quite big appearances.

But Padovani also has also made smaller creations, including funny characters as shown in the accompanying series of images.

Meanwhile retired, Padovani currently (2018) still takes care of the garden. 

Although it has been reported that he welcomes and entertains school classes in his garden and he also is on Facebook and has a website where he talks about the site, there is no information available regarding the exact location of this art environment or about opportunities to visit it.

a map of Italy in stones

* Emilio Padovani's website
* Article (march 2012) on news website Romagna Noi
* Article (june 2012) on news website Il resto del Carlino
* Pictures on the website of Italian photographer Francesco Galli

* Video by OfficineMedia (2'23", You Tube, october 2017, Teaser 2, I Babelici)

Emilio Padovani
Parco di Dinosauri di sasso
Codrignano (Borgo Tossignano), Emilio Romagna region, Italy
address or information about opportunities to visit the site not available

June 08, 2018

Maria Shishkin and family, Детская игровая площадка/ Children’s playground

picture from website omutninsky news

Along the main road from Nolinsk to Kirov in Russia, in the village of Vostrizhan'ye, some 16 km north east of Nolinsk, one comes across an art environment in the capacity of a children's 

The site is close to the road and motorists often stop to take a look, if it does not happen that accompanying children want to get out of the car to visit the site.

Life and works

Maria Alekseevna Shishkin, the inhabitant of the property where this art environment is situated, was born in 1931 or 1932. In 1959 she settled in Vostrizhan'ye. She got a daughter, Alevtina Gennadyevna Makarova, and a son, Boris Gennadievich Shishkin. The available documentation has no information about a spouse.

When Maria Alekseevna went to live in the village, most of the houses were still inhabited, but gradually the residents moved to neighboring towns and in any case from 2011 she was the only inhabitant. Many houses in the village are now used as a dacha, a holiday home.

this picture and the next one screen prints 
from the video in the documentation

When a grandchild was born -at the end of the 1990's or early years of the 21st century- Maria Alekseevna and her son and daughter came up with the idea of making a playground in the garden of Maria's house. That plan took shape and the first attributes were a playhouse, a sandbox and a swing,

But unlike most families, it did not stay there. As is usually the case with people who create an art environment, it became a project that would keep the family actively involved for many years..

All kinds of creations were added, such as small animals, cars, planes, mushrooms, fairy-tale characters and the house of Baba Yaga, who is in Slavic mythology a kind of witch.

All attributes were made by hand, mostly of surplus material, embellished old car tires, multicolored empty bottles and other wooden and plastic items. 

Daughter Alevtina Gennadyevna mostly provided the ideas and son Boris Gennadievich was, especially in the winter months, active in the manufacture of new parts of the site.

Around 2010 the site must have reached the large size as shown in the images. From 2011, the site became known in the region and it got some publicity in regional news media. Boris Gennadievich hasn't experienced this development anymore, he died in 2012.

In its appearance and use of material, this art environment has many similarities with creations known in Russia (and some countries of the former USSR) as ZHEK art, a qualification of creations of surplus material made to provide playground for children and/or decorate spaces located between flats in new urban housing estates. However, unlike art environments created by ordinary people who will be active for many years, sometimes for life, ZHEK art usually involves one-off, short-lived activities of apartment residents.

* Article (sept 2011) on website of newspaper Notinskogo
* Article (july 2012) o website of newspaper Omutninsky News
* Article (march 2014) on website ProGorod
* Article (dec 2017) by news site Rupor, with pictures of the site in winter time
* Video (may 2014) by Natalia Kopylova (0'25",You Tube)

Maria Alekseevna Shishkin and family
Children's playground
Vostrizhan'ye, Kirov region, Russia
can be seen from the road
streetview (2015)

June 04, 2018

Charles Roux and Alain Martineau, Le petit train de Palavas/The little train of Palavas

the station in Lattes
all pictures courtesy of Dominique Clément

Above pictures depicts the small station in Lattes, a stop in the train connection that existed for almost 100 years (1872-1968) between Montpellier in the south of France and the seaside resort of Palavas-les-Flots. The scene is part of a large elongated fresco from mosaic on a wall in Lattes,  a decoration dedicated to the historic train connection, created by Charles Roux and Alain Martineau.

This art environment has only recently become known after Dominique Clément discovered it by accident and devoted an article to it in his weblog Hérault Insolite of May 30, 2018.

Currently, no factual data are available on the history of this creation. Also little is known about the makers, except that Charles Roux is a widower at age and that Alain Martineau is a family member.

The pictures show different parts of the creation on the wall which in reality is a whole that extends over the entire elongated wall.

The wagons of the train carry numerous cheerful passengers, mostly on their way to the beach of Palavas-les-Flots, with the former French president Hollande in the  first class carriage .

There are also many scenes from daily life in earlier times, with the Sunday lunch in the garden, campers in a tent at a meadow with grazing cattle, but also a flight of flamingos, someone who has lost his money in the casino and swarms of mosquitoes.

In addition to the large creation that represents the train connection with the surrounding landscape, the art environment also includes smaller, self-contained creations, as shown in the image below.

There are also some sculptures, standing alone or in groups.

Charles Roux and Alain Martineau
The little train of Palavas
Lattes, Occitanie region, France
exact location unknown

May 31, 2018

Margarita Travkina, Дом с куклами/House with dolls

 this picture and the next five (november 2015) 
from news site Vittasim as published on LiveJournal 

The doll-decorated front of a shed, as depicted above and below, can be seen in Kolomna, an old city in the Moscow region, Russia, about 110 kilometers southeast of the capital.

Life and works

The dolls attached to the barn are only a small part of the collection of dolls assembled by Margarita Leonidovna Travkina, who was born in the early 1940s.

It all started in 2005 when she walked past a lot of rubbish and noticed that there was a discarded doll in that garbage. She took the doll home, washed and restored her dirty doll clothes, repaired damaged parts and gave her a nice spot in her house.

At that time Margarita Travinka was in her mid-sixties, she lived with her husband after her two sons got married and had left home. She was artistically gifted, loved embroidery and also made small paintings of special material, as in the composition below, where the basic material consists of processed shoe leather.

Repairing the rescued doll probably inspired Margarita Travinka to continue this kind of activity and so she asked friends and neighbors if they had old, disused dolls available. And indeed, they had......

It was the start of a project to which she would spend all her time in the coming years and that resulted in a collection that now includes 13,000 dolls.

Indoors, the dolls are arranged side by side on chairs, benches, tables and other furniture.

They are all nicely dressed, their hair is cut, some wear hats. If female dolls have nails, these are provided with nail polish.

Margarita Travkina creates the beautiful and often richly decorated clothing of the dolls herself on the sewing machine. One garment takes about four hours to make, so this activity requires a large part of her daily time. This besides the time needed to clean the set up of the collection and keep it in order.

Her house has a modest size and includes only a couple of rooms, which means that almost all  available interior space is occupied by the collection. After her husband died some time ago, Margarita Travkina lives alone in the house.

Unknown in which year, but probably in an early phase of the project, a small part of the collection of dolls has been attached to the front of the barn outside. These are generally smaller ones, made of rubber or plastic. The facade has also been decorated with a number of clocks.

* Article (November 2015) in news website Vittasim (IiveJournal)
* Diana Strazi, Article (July 2017) on website 360tv.ru

* Video (30'47'. 2017) by Life Новости (Life News) as published on Facebook

Margarita Leonidovna Travkina
House with dolls
Ulitsa Posadskaya 50
Kolomna, Moscow region, Russia
exterior decorations can be seen from the street

May 21, 2018

Oļģerts Miķelsons, Latvijas Antonio Gaudi/Antonio Gaudi of Latvia

decorations at the site of the Evangelic Lutheran Church 
in Čiekurkalna, Riga, Latvia 

Some who wrote about Oļģerts Mikelsons and his creative work have called him the Latvian Gaudi, but he himself has never supported such statements, although he agreed that both found their inspiration in a similar way. 

Apart from this, with the creation of two art environments in succession, Mikelsons as a self-taught artist has done a great job, which until now has received little or no attention, especially outside Latvia.

Oļģerts Mikelsons at the premises of the church (2015)

Life and works

Mikelsons' biographical data are still far from complete. He was born in 1927, participated at age 18 as a Latvian soldier in the second world war (where he was imprisoned too), graduated in 1950 from a construction engineering school and got married in the same year. He found employment as a civil engineer.

In the 1970's, living in the Latvian town of Jürmala, he began creating his first art environment, an activity that lasted until the beginning of 1983. Then he divorced, moved to neighbouring Riga, where he remarried and began transforming the premises of a church into his second art environment.

He is a faithful Christian, who is proud of his country, who loves music and has composed songs for a choir. The last couple of years his health has deteriorated and currently he lives in a social care center. In 2017, together with members of the church, he celebrated his 90th birthday. 

The art environment in Jürmala

this picture and the next five (2011): 
screen prints from the first video in the documentation
the apartment building in Jürmala with a blue decorated wall on the right side

Mikelsons and his wife lived in Jürmala in an apartment building on Rigas Iela nr 4. They hired a small apartment on the ground floor and first floor in the left corner of the building seen from the street. On its backside the building faces the river Lielupe.

ground floor of Mikelsons' apartment 

A characteristic of Mikelsons' first art environment is the use of pebbles as decorative material. One finds these pebbles in the entrance party of the apartment at the left side of the building. It includes a richly decorated staircase that leads to the first floor, as well as a decorated entrance at the ground floor with yellow doors (as pictured above).

pebble decorated structure, part of the mooring

Another structure decorated with pebbles is a mooring with a lantern pole in the river at the backside of the apartment building (picture above).

sculpture decorated with pebble

Mikelsons also made sculptures decorated with pebbles, such as the one in the picture above, which is inlaid with mosaics and portrays a lizard or salamander. Other pebble or mosaic decorated sculptures include portrayals of seagulls, a mermaid and a human couple.

blue decorations and pebbles
the inscriptions read RA SPUTNIKS and  JÜRMALA RIGA

Another characteristic of Mikelsons' art environment in Jürmala is the use of the color blue, as can be seen in the picture that shows the blue decorated outer wall along the street or in the pictures above and below which show a combination of pebbles and blue mosaic elements.

floor of pebbles with mosaic inlays

The house has served as a backdrop for a Russian detective film recorded in 1979. An article (December 2010) in Live Journal provides more information and also has a series of images of the decorations as far as present at that time.

The art environment in Čiekurkalna (Riga)

Early 1983 Mikelsons separated from his wife (a factor may have been that she was very outspoken in her dislike of his creative activities) and he moved to the Čiekurkalna quarter of Riga.

End May he remarried with a diacones of the local Evangelic Lutheran Church, a religious community Mikelsons had joined already in the 1970's and where he had met his new partner.

The church, which doesn't have the usual appearance of a Lutheran church, was built in 1928 and also included dwellings for disabled people and members of the congregation. 

Once settled in Čiekurkalna, Mikelsons soon became available as a volunteer to help with the maintenance of the building and the garden, which led him -in line with his creative activities in Jürmala- to start making creations too.

There are no reports about the sequence of his operations. Perhaps the access party of the church (as in the picture above) with its towery pebble decorated structure on top of the stairs and its mosaic decorated front facade, belongs to one of the first works, 

Mikelsons' predilection for pebble decorated items is also clearly visible in this second art environment, as demonstrated in the decorated wall depicted above and the sculpture below, part of the base of the bell tower, which also features a variety of inscriptions and green-tinted mosaics.

The decorative elements in the garden of the church include a large variety of multicolored mosaic, both on different parts of the ground floor, included a mosaic at the entrance of the site, and the also a variety of mosaics applied to structures and sculptures.

This art environment now also has smaller sculptures of animals, such as a cock and a cat with a mouse.

The most important structure, also seen from an ecclesiastical perspective, is the bell tower, as in the pictures below. This about seven meters high tower, decorated with a lot of green tinted mosaic and equipped with various inscriptions, was constructed in the 1990's.

Its base rests on a foundation that initially was part of a swimming pool which meanwhile has fallen into disuse.

Mikelsons seated in front of the tower

In april 2017 the ensemble of decorations got a protected status when it was included in the national list of protected cultural monuments as an art monument of local importance.

the bell tower seen from the backside

Rīgas Evaņģēliski luteriskā Misiones baznīca on Facebook
* On Live Journal (November 2010) an introductory article by Renate with pictures of the Jürmala decorations, followed by another article with more information and more pictures
* Also on Live Journal (November 2010) two articles by Renate with a description and a series of pictures of the decorations on the Čiekurkalna site, first article and second article
* And then on Live Journal (November 2011) a summary article by Renate about the two art environments, also with a lot of pictures
* Article (June 2016) on Latvian website IINUU about the Čiekurkalna art environment, with a series of pictures
* Video about Jürmala (You Tube, 2013) by Kravstudio, with scenes of the sculptures and decorations (starts at 1'25", ends at 3'00")

* Video Schreyenbusch Gaudi (You Tube, 2014, 8'31"), produced in the context of the Riga Summer School 2014, introducing Mikelsons and his creations at the site of the church

Oļģerts Miķelsons
Creations around house in Jürmala
Rigas Iela 4
Jürmala, Latvia
can be seen from the street
Creations around church in Čiekurkalna (Riga)
Čiekurkalna straat 1. līnija 78
Riga, Latvia
can be seen from the street