September 28, 2023

Henri Lhotellery, Le jardin du mécanicien / The mechanic's garden

all pictures (by Hubert Bouvet) published here in agreement
with the Inventaire Hautes-de-France

The cannon above is set up in the front yard of a house in Wallers, a small community in northern France. There is not just a canon, if you look closely at the image, you will also see a rocket on the left, a creation inspired by Hergé's comic strip Objective Moon.

So the canon has nothing warlike, because in the same front garden there is also a peaceful mill, while in front of the farm next to the house, there is a locomotive, unaware of any harm.

All these handmade, technically skilled creations are part of an art environment, which is not without reason called Jardin du Mécanicien, the mechanic's garden.

Life and works

These creations were made by Henri Lhotellery, who was born on January 14, 1931 and grew up in the farm with the locomotive, next to he house where he now lives.

After primary school, Lhotellery had a technical education and then he worked forty years as a dealer and repairer of agricultural machinery.

From an early age he was interested in making scale models.

The gate on the side of Lhotellery's house, simple but charmingly decorated with donkeys or small horses, provides access to the colorful backyard, which is decorated in various ways. The door handle is in the shape of a running dog.

Decorating the backyard, which is partly depicted in the image above, was a project Lhotellery started in the early 1980s, when he was in his early fifties.

Here too there are creations that indicate Lhotellery's great technical skills. In the background there is a scaffolding with a windmill at the top, but many people's eyes will first fall on the colorful steam engine that is positioned in the center.

The image above shows this device from a closer view

Lhotellery himself manufactured most of the parts of this machine, such as the wheels, but also the pistons and cylinders. He only purchased parts that were difficult to make himself, such as pressure gauges.

The machine stands on a mobile wooden base, making it possible to move the creation and situate it in the nearby wooden shed.

In the image above, Lhotellery is climbing the windmill. It is stated that this windmill drives a water pump located elsewhere, which may be assumed to be done via a generator in the top of the windmill, which generates the necessary electricity for the water pump.

The site also includes an installation with two shooting discs, of which no image is available. One of those discs works automatically. If one hits a certain item, it falls over and disappears, to return to the previous position via a mechanism.

Lhotellert's art environment also includes a number of frescoes and other items that are attached to the wall that closes off the art environment of the company located to the right of the garden.

The images above show, on the left, a young deer and a small dog looking in surprise at a round object,, and on the right a coal-powered locomotive approaching at full speed.

On the elongated wall, below on the left, an airplane is depicted. This was made in memory of a flight during World War II, made by a plane in February 1945. It flew from England to Germany, where it crashed near Dresden. 

The mark of honour includes a replica of the plane, drawn by Lhotellery, some parts of the recovered plane and a plaque with the names of the dead soldiers.

Henri Lhotellery, who is now (2023) in his early 90s, can look back on a life in which he created an art environment characterized by both his technical and artistic skills.

* Article by Nathalie van Bost, with photos by Hubert Bouvet, on the website of the Inventaire Général Hauts-de-France
* review of the site in the book D'Étonnants jardins en Nord-Pas De Calais (Amazing gardens in Nord-Pas de Calais), Lyon (Ed. Lieux-Dits), 2015.

Henri Lhotellery 
The mechanic's garden
37 rue Paul-Lafargue (D13)
Wallers, dept Nord. region Hautes-de-France, France
some creations can be seen from the street

September 23, 2023

Christian Fournier, Studio troglodyte décoré / Decorated troglodyte studio

this image (July 2023) from Google Streetview

Passing from the west the location sign of the French municipality of La Roche-Guyon along the departmental road D913, one will see at the right the valley where the Seine River flows and on the left a large rock formation with several troglodyte houses. 

One of these is the troglodyte studio of Christian Fournier, as depicted above. Behind the front there is a carved out space of 80 m².

this picture and the next ones courtesy
of  Jean-Pierre Simonin

Life and works

Fournier, who was born in 1953, at age 43 experienced a very special personal transformation in the mid 1990s. In brief: the personality he had until then disappeared and a new one emerged. 

On the facade of his troglodyte studio this transformation is described as ma MORT ma deuxième Naissance (my death my second birth).

Before his transformation Fournier was a designer in an urban planning workshop, living in the municipality of Rueil-Malmaison, a suburb of Paris, located like La Roche-Guyon along the Seine River.

Being reborn, he had a studio in Rueil-Malmaison and when this studio in 2005 was no longer available, he found a new one, the troglodyte studio, in La Roche-Guyon, some 60 kilometers west. In 2019 the community had 479 inhabitants.

For Christian Fournier creating has become an existential element  of life. In an interview he has said that he always feared falling into madness, that he constantly had to try to stay on his feet and that creating helps him in this regard.

His troglodyte studio should be a place dedicated to creation in the broadest sense, a refuge open to all arts, a place where visiting artists gets inspired to shape what he or she has in mind. In short, an art environment that helps Fournier to create and also inspires others to do so.

Whether what is created should be something that is generally regarded as art is probably irrelevant to Fournier. His creative work always introduces a shift in reality and in this regard, he has the same attitude as the French painter and sculptor Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968).  

Duchamp from 1913 turned the art world upside down with his bicycle wheel on a stool and later ready-mades, such as his well-known urinal. His name appears on the left side of the entrance to his studio, where an inscription says; Duchamp a tué sa mort  (Duchamp has killed his death), a remarkable text, which could figuratively mean that Duchamp's death did not imply that he became unknown.            

Apart from the many textual inscriptions that characterize this art environment and are mentioned in this article where appropriate, the main feature that distinguishes this art environment from others, is a large collection of books, many of which are used to decorate the walls of the studio and others are stored, sometimes in a specific manner. 

Books as a decorative element

Fournier has understood that there are cultures where surplus books are not destroyed but buried. 

The latter appeals to him very much and he has given the walls of his cave the status of a literary cemetery. Most books he collects by regularly going to a recycling center are hung there.

The arrangement of the books on the walls is based upon the author's nationality and faith. Symbols are used: a cross for Christianity, a Star of David for the Jewish faith and a crescent for Islam.

However, the books are not only preserved by attaching them to the walls, there are also other forms, such as the large box on the floor in a specific part of the studio that will be transformed into a chapel.

Iron objects

In addition to the books that are used as decoration, there are various iron creations that decorate the studio.

Collecting iron objects started when Fournier in his mid-40s picked up a piece of old iron from the street. With this gesture a new period in his life began: he started to collect all kinds of iron items, which he used as such as a decorative element, like the iron bench in the photo above, or transformed into something decorative as the same photo also shows.

The balustrade outside, above the entrance, has a variety of iron creations. One of these items is a radiant sun with a fan of gold-colored rays. Above the balustrade on the right there is a brown sign with the text: Maudits soient ceux qui s'assoient au banc des Rieurs (Cursed are those who sit among the laughers).

On the left side of the balustrade, on the white outer wall, difficult to distinguish in the image, there are two brown metal houses, which may have been intended as birdhouses.

Fournier also has acquired a second-hand fence decorated with Stars of David, which has been placed in his troglodyte studio, in addition to a variety of other iron items that decorate it's interior..


The chapel project 

This project, which is under construction, started when Fournier managed to acquire a quantity of stones that were part of a former abbey. One of these stone elements has an inscription that reads Nous allons même quand mouvant vers la vie (We go even when moving towards life)

The stone elements are connected by a decorated iron fence, and behind the fence there is a large wooden box on the ground, which functions as a cemetery for a large number of books. On the short side of the box, farthest from the fence, there is behind a display of candles and similar attributes that are used in daily life to adorn a gravestone,  the inscription La Littérature tue La Mort  (Literature kills Death).

There is a space of a psychiatric nature with works by Freud, Jung and the like, and the intention is to arrange an installation in the form of a spiral staircase populated with persons such as Kafka and Nietzsche, who proclaim the Last Judgment.

It's the intention to illuminate the whole arrangement by a large sun, which can be compared with the sun that decorates the balustrade at the outside of the house.

The future of the site

To conclude this article, quoted below is the answer Fournier gave in the interview mentioned in the documentation when asked what will happen to the site when his project is completed. Referring to Paleolithic French cave paintings, he says: After me, I would like this house to become a place dedicated to creation of any kind. A refuge open to all arts, so that the guest artist can shape whatever he has in mind.


* Article (undated) by Jean-Pierre Simonin, with a series of photos

* Article (May 2020) by Ariane Asaé on her weblog, with an interview with Christian Fournier

* Article (August 2020) about living and working in caves, including Fournier's, in Reporterre magazine


* Video (2021, YouTube, 8'59") with Nanette, Odette and Valentina visiting the studio

Christian Fournier
Decorated troglodyte studio  
rue de Gasny
La Roche-Guyon, dept Val-d’Oise, region ÎIe-de-France, France
visitors welcome

September 15, 2023

François Llopis, Décorations autour de la maison et le long de l'allée / Decorations around the house and along the driveway

pictures courtesy of Sophie Lepetit, from her weblog

The image above shows a house with a variety of decorations, located in Céret, a municipality with about 7,700 inhabitants in the far south-east of France, bordering Spain.

Life and works

This house and all decorations were handmade by Francois Llopis (1928-2013), who was born in Céret in a poor family.

In 1942, 14-year-old, he traveled to a farm in Corréze, where he worked to replace the usual manpower that was called up for military service because of the Second World War that raged in those years.

His later passion for making sculptures took shape here, when he started carving pieces of wood with a pocket knife.

At the age of 17, having become a quite confident personality, he returned to Céret, where he would live for the rest of his life. 

He became a bricklayer, working from his own company. He married and had three daughters. 

In 1962, when he was in his early thirties, he single-handedly built his house, like he also designed a sloping driveway surrounded by walls, with which one could reach the front and side yard of the house.

As the image above and the two below show, these walls were colorfully decorated with floral motifs and human faces, among other elements. In the image above, what stands out is the elongated, connected series of colorful landscape-like images.
The very first image shows that the part of the wall closest to the house has a special decoration, consisting of semi-circular arches between structures of stacked stones.

The following series of images gives some impression of the decorations in the garden in front of and aside from his house, a collection of creations on which Llopis spent all his free time for many years. 

Although he made many sculptures, the appearance of the front yard is not that of a sculpture garden, because the sculptures are often situated in specific built structures.

Llopis collected the various materials, such as stones, pieces of wood, blocks of marble or granite, in the rich nature that surrounds his hometown.

His sculptures quite often show a human figure, usually in a stylized pose, as can be clearly seen in the images below.

It has been said that Llopis's work seems inspired by the statues on Easter Island, but it is much more likely that he was guided by his own feeling about what lay hidden in the material he collected on a mountain or near a river.

This is also evident from the image below, in which the sculptures are positioned or connected to a structure that in itself has great expressive power. 

This means that Llopis' art environment is not a collection of a number of isolated, specific creations, but a whole of creations of all kinds characterized by mutual coherence. based upon an imagination stemming from a form of collective unconscious, finding gestures and forms common to the primitive arts of multiple cultures, as remarked in the text accompanying Jielka's photo series (see documentation).

This publication also shows some drawings that Llopis started making when he didn't have enough energy anymore to construct creations for his art environment.

François Llopis died on August 17, 2013. 

As Google Streetview shows (July 2022), a large part of the decorations is still present and the house and its surroundings look well maintained.

* Entry (October 2018) on the weblog of Sophie Lepetit, with a variety of photos
Article (2018) by Jo Farb Hernández on the website Spaces Archives
* Entry on the weblog Les photos de Jielka with photos of a number of Llopis' smaller sculptures presented on an exposition in the Museum of Céret (December 2013) 
* Article (October 2013) in newspaper l'Independant announcing the upcoming publication of a book about Llopis entitled: François Llopis - Aux sources de l'art, written by Yves Duchâteau and Nello Stevanin

François Llopis

65 Avenue du Ventous Céret, dept Pyrénées-Orientales, region Occitanie, France

can be seen from the street

September 08, 2023

André Coudert, Les rintintins du forgeron / The rintintins of the blacksmith

this image and the next four by Marie Michélle, from her weblog

Montferrand du Périgord is an authentic old village with about 170 inhabitants, located in the south of the Dordogne region in France. There is a centuries-old castle and along the main street there are striking buildings, such as the town hall and a covered market hall.

Life and works

Nearby this market hall, along the main street, André Coudert (1928-2014)  managed his village forge for thirty-three years, from 1956 to December 30,1989. He succeeded his father, Abel Coudert, who had taught him the blacksmith profession.

André Coudert was married and the couple had a daughter.

His forge worked in large part for the farmers in the area, who needed horseshoes for their horses, as well as all kinds of nuts and bolts for the stables. But residents of the village also had their wishes regarding fencing around gardens and similar facilities,

Coudert appears in this weblog because after his retirement he developed a special hobby, aimed at creating metal creations, mostly in the form of small characters, making use of the equipment in the forge that, also due to changed economic conditions, no longer had a business function. 

He processed all kinds of metal elements he still had in stock or collected, such as lids, pans and cutlery, to make these characters, some examples of which are shown above.

All creations got a place in the forge and because Coudert preferred to keep what he created himself, this resulted in a colorful collection of a variety of characters, as can be seen in the very first image.

The collection became known locally as the Rintintins of the blacksmith

In the early 20th century in France Rintintin was a popular name for young children's toy dolls. During the first World War, soldiers from the French army would wear small editions of these dolls as a mascot. Later in the 20th century, Rintintin became the name of a dog that played a role in American feature films.

Coudert considered the locomotive shown below to be the showpiece of the collection,

André Coudert passed away in 2014.

The image below, from Google Streetview, March 2021, gives an impression of the spot along the main street where the blacksmith shop was located. One gets the idea that seven years after Coudert's death, the situation around the forge with regard to the use of space was still the same.

The green fence, with metal decorations above and next to it, gives access to the courtyard where the forge was, and most likely still is located. A variety of metal decorations is also still present. 

It could also be that the former forge still houses Coudert's metal sculptures, but nothing can be found about this on the internet.

* Article (September 2010) Les rintintins du forgeron by Marie Michélle (mmf24) on French weblog Overblog
Entry in the inventory of French art environments by Bruno Montpied, Le Gazouillis des Éléphants, Paris (Eds du Sandre), 2017

André Coudert
The rintintins of the blacksmith
Montferrand-du-Périgord, dept Dordogne, region Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France
it is unclear whether the collection 
still exists, and if so, where it resides

September 01, 2023

Esa Pajuhlahti, Luvattu maa / The promised land

all photos by Juho Haavisto, published here in accordance
with Maaseudun Sivistysliitto (Rural Cultural Association)

In an outlying area with a lot of forest and heathland in the municipality of Padasjoki in southern Finland (about 2700 inhabitants, early 2023), an art environment has emerged in the past decade. The site is known as the Promised Land, a referral to Adam and Eve's Paradise.

Life and works

This art environment is a creation of Esa Pajuhlahti, born in 1949, who became a carpenter by profession.

Remarkable records of his years as a carpenter are  that he twice walked the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and that he is said to have read all of the Old Testament of the Bible, which may indicate a more than usual religious deepening.

This is further emphasized by the fact that the art environment he created, comprises three churches or chapels.

Esa Pajulahti on the veranda of his summer house on the site
in the front of him there is a well 

In 2008, about six years before he retired around 2014, Pajuhlahti started the construction of the promised land, currently a collection of about twenty structures in the landscape area Päijät Häme-metsä outside the center of Padasjoki. 

One of those structures is Pajulahti's summer house, depicted above, which also has a sauna. The site includes a variety of scenes with skillfully executed constructions, depicting biblical items or political situations. This article details some of the site's features, particularly those that are covered in more detail in the available documentation.

The chapel on the hill


Pajulahti's religious feelings are expressed in the three chapels that are situated in this art environment. 

The image above left gives an impression of the chapel on a hill just outside the site. The gabled roof of the chapel is equipped with a small bell tower. 

The unpainted wooden interior is beautiful to look at and has some decorations, including reminders of the two pilgrimages Pajulahti made to Santiago de Compostela.

The saloon

The saloon as shown above is based on the concept that exists in the United States of places where people come to have a drink and/or something to eat. 

In the image above we see a musician behind a piano playing some melody and in the back at the bar some visitors are talking to each other. 

The way of depicting the people in the saloon in particular is fairly realistic, such as the posture of the pianist and the depiction of the two ladies with red shoes.

Adam and Eve in the Paradise

The image above depicts sculptures of a man and a woman amidst a very large tree stump, which could represent Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden near the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat the fruit of this tree and when they did, they were expelled from the paradise.

The tree has a luxuriant set of roots through which two snakes wriggle and on top is a very large apple, from which a bite has been taken.

Two bears carrying a stretcher

The image above depicts two bears carrying a stretcher on which lies an apparently injured stork. 

This scene is a paraphrase on a painting made in 1903 by Hugo Simberg (1873-1917), a well-known painter in Finland. In that painting he depicts a wounded angel being carried on a stretcher by two men. A copy of this painting hangs at the rear of the scene with the two bears.

In a 2006 vote organized by a Finnish museum, this painting was chosen as Finland's national painting. In a similar poll organized in 2013 by a Finnish company that sells medals and coins to collectors, the painting was chosen as the second most important.

There is no documentation available that says why Pajulahti depicted the scene in Simberg's painting in his art environment in his own way.

A referral to COVID-19 in 2020

In the last months of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic led to lockdowns in most countries,
Pajulahti made the creation as pictured above.

The curved piece of wood at the bottom reads: Forest opera Covid-19 sisters.This description of what is depicted may mean that this is a chorus of nurses, singing during a lockdown. The members of the choir wear mouth masks above their wide open mouths and it seems that they loudly express their bewilderment at what's going on.

The Square of Heavenly Peace 

The last scene of the art environment Promised Land is the Square of Heavenly Peace, a place in the middle of several structures, that raises some aspects of contemporary international politics.

In the scene above we see the White House in the USA. Former president Trump stands in the middle. On the left is a group of Mexicans behind a wall and on the right there are representatives of the United Nations. 

In the next scene there is a cabin indicated with the abbreviation DPRK, which stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.

In front of the counter is a red and blue colored rocket with the inscription peacemaker, behind the counter is at the right a uniformed person referred to as General Kim-pong-pan, at the left is Mr Universum Kim Jong-un and the clock in the middle is at five to twelve..... 

To conclude

In her article about the site referred to in the documentation, Paula Susitaival very well summarizes what Pajulahti's creations are all about, when she says: they are carnivalised expressions of the absurdities of the modern world, but beneath the surface there is deep concern about the environment and the world's future.

* Article by Paula Susitaival on the website ITE-art of Maaseudun Sivistysliiton (MSL),with a series of photos
* Entry (October 2020) on the Facebook account of ITE Hämeessä

Esa Pajulahti
Promised land
Romontie 25, Padasjoki
Padasjoki, Päijät-Häme, region Southern Finland, Finland
visitors welcome

August 25, 2023

Albert Harkema, Kerk en aanpalende bouwsels in waterrijke enscenering / Church and adjoining constructions in watery staging

photo by Hardscarf licensed  under Wikimedia Commons

The village of Den Ham, with about 140 inhabitants (2021) is located about 15 km north-west of the center of the city of Groningen, the Netherlands.

Outside this village, at Meedener-road 5, is the self-built church pictured above. 

The church is located on an isle that also includes a miniature farm. The area around the church is decorated with sculptures found elsewhere, and the isle is surrounded by a self-excavated small lake and some canals bridged by self-built bridges. And there is also a self-built tea room and a parking

The map below gives an impression of the geography of the site.

publication of this map licensed by © OpenStreetMap
the contour with red dot at the bottom left indicates the tea room,
the contour at the top left concerns the farm with stables

Life and works

With the occasional help of friends, the entire complex was created by Albert Harkema (17-2-1934 / 14-3-2011). 

Around 1960, when he was in his mid-20s, Harkema became the owner of a farm located along the Medenerweg 5 in Den Ham, where he settled with his wife Truida Niehof. The couple would get a son and a daughter.

The farm was located on consecrated ground where in 1200 the St Bernardus monastery was established, a location that still radiated a certain consecration in the eyes of the inhabitants of the region.

Harkema became a cattle rancher by profession, but because of his creative mind he also became a self-taught architect and master builder.

in the lake there is a miniature lighthouse
photo by Hardscarf licensed  under Wikimedia Commons

Soon after settling as a farmer, he began to excavate and enlarge the strip of water near the farm. 

It became a project of many years. 

Not only that he -in addition to his daily work as a farmer- had to realize the construction of the lake and the canals, the project also had both functional and decorative aspects, such as the bridges, two miniature towers standing in the water and a a miniature version of a head-and-neck-torso farm, intended as a home for the ducks that populated the lake.

photo by Hardscarf licensed
under Wikimedia Commons
a drawbridge
photo by Hardscarf licensed 
under Wikimedia Commons
 head-and-neck-torso farm

The church on the island

Initially, Harkema only wanted to build a tower on the island, intended for housing pigeons, but eventually it became a complete church building. 

Built between about 1985 and 1998, this singular architecture became the defining element of this art environment. Harkema had the approximately 12,000 bricks needed for the construction come over from Belgium.

The building is 15 meters long, 5.4 meters wide and 7 meters high.

The church has an organ from a village elsewhere in the Netherlands, there is a pulpit and there are chairs with seating for about fifty people.

interior church seen towards the pulpit
photo by Hardscarf licensed  under Wikimedia Commons

When the church was completed, it was time to open it to interested visitors. This turned out to be so successful after some time, that Harkema added a parking space and a tearoom with a terrace (with a view of the church) to the complex.

This tearoom was built in 2000 in the style of the Abbey Church in the neighboring village of Aduard.

Harkema hadn't bothered to apply for a building permit for all structures that had been added to his farm grounds over the years.

Partly because the church had become a major tourist attraction with several tens of thousands of visitors per year, the municipality decided to do this retroactively and also to change the zoning plan for the area in such a way that the area around the farm was assigned a recreational function. 

The access road to the art environment was also widened.

interior church seen towards organ
photo by Hardscarf licensed  under Wikimedia Commons

Further developments of the site

After the church was completed in 1998 and the tearoom some time later, Harkema and his wife were able to focus on the reception of the many visitors and the operation of the tearoom.

However, on July 18, 2009, Harkema's wife died and he himself was around that time admitted to a nursing home, where he died on March 14, 2011.

The farm and all appurtenances were sold to the Elizabeth and Durk Ykema family, who operated the site until 2019, when they put it up for sale.

After a 3-year closure in 2019, new owners arrived in 2022, and the church and tea house will reopen to the public in the course of 2023.

The website of the site is still under (re)construction. The single page, pictured below, welcomes visitors and says one is working hard to get things in order so it can open in 2023.

screenprint of the Harkema Hoeve website (2023)

Other self-built churches and chapels in Europe

Harkema's church has been built in a modest style, that is familiar to the Netherlands. 

The field of art environments in Europe features buildings of a religious nature in various capacities, such as the exuberant basilica of Ger Leegwater in the Netherlands, or the cathedral-like creation of Émile Damidot in France.

Europe also has all kinds of chapels, often smaller in size than the church of Harkema, such as those of Josef Haas and Timofey Prokhorov in Germany, the one of Samúel Jónsson in Iceland or the one of 

The no more extant small churches of Aleksander Kiryanov in Russia were richly decorated inside with his sculptures, just as Frére Deodat's  chapel at Guernsey was decorated inside and outside, and the chapel of Jacques Pascal in France was decorated with sculptures in niches.

* Website of the Harkema Hoeve (in 2023 under reconstruction)
* Article (in Dutch) on Wikipedia
* Article on the website of the Donderberggroep (about follies)
* Article on the website of Visit Groningen

* Video (July 2020, 1'54") on Facebook Watch

Albert Harkema, 
Church and adjoining constructions in watery staging
Meedenerweg 5, 
9842 TB Den Ham, province of Groningen,, Netherlands
visitors welcome
Google Streetview with some photos