March 31, 2020

Denise and Maurice Chalvet, La ferme aux épouvantails/The Scarecrow Farm

pictures (2017): screenprints from
the France TV video (see documentation)

The small hamlet Rimeizenc, part of the commune of Peyre en Aubrac in the Lozère area in the south of France, houses a special art environment in the capacity of hundreds of dressed scarecrows, both situated in the landscape and indoors as in a museum.

Life and works

This site is a creation of the couple Denise and Maurice Chalvet, They married in the 1970s and went to live in a farm house that was built by Denise's father. For many years, working in the old traditions of the region, they ran a small-scale agricultural business, which in the late 1990s was expanded with a new form of activities.

This new form started when they produced a scarecrow to chase away a hawk that was after the chickens. As so often happens in the field of art environments, once started they could not stop. Making scarecrows in all kinds of clothes and looks, would determine their further daily life.

Currently (2020) the collection includes more than 500 items.

Maurice is mainly involved in collecting and assembling pieces of wood that are suitable to serve as a frame, and Denise focuses on making the heads and dressing the creations. Denise shares her creativity with her father, who (like Denise) played an accordion, and carved sculptures from wood which depicted scenes of rural life in the area.

Simple materials are used for the heads, such as packaging of items used in the daily household (like yoghurt pots) , bottle capsules (for the eyes), rope (for hair and beards) ....... 

By painting and adding small details and of course by the manner of clothing, the specific appearance of each scarecrow is reflected.  With regard to clothing, residents of the village lend a hand and make discarded items available.

Initially, the scarecrows were set up on the hilly grassland behind the house. 

In 2001, some two years after the start, when the collection just comprised some 38 items, regional French TV came by to make a report. That was a sign for Denise and Maurice that their creative activity apparently attracted wider interest and they decided to open the site to tourists. 

Tourists did indeed start visiting the site, experiencing perhaps -as stated in a French weblog- that those scarecrows regard the visitors with a mocking air, while the visitors naively thought they came to view the scarecrows .....

After several years -Denise and Maurice meanwhile had retired- they decided to also display scarecrows in the garage and a stable of the farm house, where they are less vulnerable. 

So, in addition to the exposition on the surrounding hill, a Museum of Scarecrows was established. The picture above shows how closely packed the various characters are arranged and also how intensely they regard the visitors.

Parts of the site, such as the entrance and interior rooms, have been decorated with colorful garlands or other decorations, like rows of painted yoghurt post. There are also decorations formed by used pots of candles, donated by the local chapel.

* Article (2013) on website Un regard different sur la nature, with pictures and a map
* Fabien Ribery, Le petit peuple des épouvantails, in weblog Intervalle (May 2016), with pictures
* Article (May 2016) on weblog Intervalle by Fabien Ribery
* Article (2016) in newspaper Le Monde
* Facebook page about Rimeizenc, with photos of the site (July 2019) by Nicolas Eon
 * The filmmaker Remy Ricordeau, well known in the field of art environments for his film Bricoleurs de Paradis (2010), has made a film about the site of the scarecrows. entitled Denise et Maurice, Dresseurs d'épouvantails (2016, 55 min), which in a special presentation has been shown to the inhabitants of Rimeizenc. The film is available on DVD attached to the booklet by Ricordeau, with the same title as the film, published in 2016 (Paris, Ed l'Insomniaque -80 p. collection La Petite Brute, preface by Bruno Montpied)
* Video (2017) by Amta (YouTube, 4'34") with Denise Chalvet playing the accordion amidst the scarecrows

* Video (2017) by France 3 TV (YouTube, 2'33")

* Video (2'19"2017,Vimeo) by Jean-Christophe Onno, extracts of Remy Ricordeau's film

Denise and Maurice Chalvet  
La ferme aux épouvantails
48130 Lieu-dit Rimeizenc, municipality of Peyre en Aubrac, 
dept. Lozère, region Occitanie, France
visitors welcome

March 18, 2020

Raoul Vendôme, La maison de l'aigle/The house of the eagle

pictures courtesy of Sophie Lepetit,
from her weblog

The house in the picture above is located along the coastal road in St Efflam, a small village, part of the community of Plestin des Grèves, in the Côtes d'Armor region, Brittany, 14 km south-west of Lannion.

Life and works

This singular architecture was conceived by Raoul Vendôme (1871-1955), who studied to become an engineer. He was involved in the automotive industry and became known in particular as belonging to the first generation of aircraft manufacturers in France. In 1908, for example, he designed and built his first aircraft, a one-person single-decker.

Vendôme also made some inventions in the technical field, such as the perfume atomizer

The house presented in this post was built in 1928, when Vendôme was in his late fifties and had probably completed most of his career.

It is certain that he was the one who provided the ideas for its layout, the design and the way of decorating the exterior, but it is unclear whether Vendôme himself was involved in the construction work.

The house was built with reinforced concrete, which was quite new at the time, and it includes a basement, a ground floor with four rooms and above a roof terrace with railings.

Seen from the street on the left there is a tower, which serves as a viewpoint, in French a belvedère. When the house was built, there probably was an unobstructed view of the sea; meanwhile the strip of land along the sea has been partly built up.

The decorations on the outside include mosaic work, in which -as well as in the front door- the influence of Art Deco can be recognized, while the ironwork shows the influence of Art Nouveau

There are also influences from the Middle East, an area where Vendôme made several trips.

The cast iron eagle on top of the building was previously gilded, and is from a pavilion of the 1931 colonial exhibition in Paris.

After Vendôme passed away in 1955, the house went on sale. The current owner, the architect Gilbert Petibon, bought the house in 1996.

In 1999 an exhibition of some regional artists took place in the house, which then was open to visitors, but currently has no facilities for public visits.

* Entry  (based upon a report from 2004) on the website of the Inventaire du  patrimoine culturel en Bretagne (Inventory of cultural heritage in Brittany)
* Article (January 2019) on the website LesgrigrisdeSophie by Sophie Lepetit
* Article (August 1999) in regional journal Le Télégramme
*  Video by Enocq Daniel (2'39", YouTube, July 2012)

Raoul Vendôme 
Maison de l’aigle
36 avenue de la Lieue de Grève.
St Efflam
22310 Plestin-les-Grèves, dept Côtes-d'Armor, region Brittany, France
can be seen from the road

March 03, 2020

Joël Bast, Présences/Presences

this picture and the next two: screenprints from a video (2017) by Lilian Bathelot 
(see documentation) published here in agreement with the maker

The group of people in the photo above is not just a collection of people. On closer inspection this turns out to be a collection of sculptures assembled together as a group of spectators at some event.

These sculptures are the work of the French self-taught artist Joël Bast, who -since he began creating them- lives and works in the midst of his creations.

Life and works

Joël Bast is the artist name of Joël Bastard, who was born in April 1951.  On the internet almost nothing can be found about the first decades of his life. In the 1990s he was a self-taught sculptor who worked in wood and stone.

The story begins in 2000 when Bast decided to stop working in wood and stone, and to start creating life-size personalities made from hexagonal chicken mesh and papier-mâché.

Around the same time a new art festival started in the community of Banne, a small characteristic village in the southern Ardèche area. The yearly festival was entitled Bann'Art, festival d'art singulier, art d'aujourd'hui (Bann'Art, festival of singular and contemporary art).

Bast participated in this Festival with his sculptures, which he referred to as Présences. In July 2016 he was interviewed at the Festival site by Jeanine Rivais, a well known French author about singular art.

Bast owned a small, colorfully painted caravan, with which he - full of sculptures - could travel to art festivals. There is a report about a trip he made in 2007 to Montmartre, Paris, where he placed his sculptures on sidewalks, benches and other places in the public space, just in the midst of the passing public.

In 2009 Bast settled in the city of Séte, a port and a seaside resort on the Mediterranean in the Hérault department, where he (and his sculptures) got room in a building belonging to the municipality. 

Here he continued to work on expanding his collective of sculptures, took part in local art events and put his présences not only on his balcony along the street, but in all kinds of public places in the city.

picture via IDHeraultTV (around 2016) of a mermaid in Séte's harbour

In 2016, when Bast had completed some 140 sculptures of personalities, the city informed him that the building where he stayed, was needed for other purposes and he was asked to look for another place.

A petition to find a solution for Bast so he could stay in Séte, signed by some 700 inhabitants of the city, did not change the local authorities' mind and he had to look for another place for himself and his extensive collection of 140 Présences.

After some wanderings, Bast was welcomed by the mayor of the municipality of Grabels, 35 km north-east of Séte, who, in consultation with the city council, offered him living space and a workshop in the Chateau de Grabels, which was bought by the municipality in 2015.

Currently (2020) Bast is still living and working there.

this picture and the next two courtesy of Sophie Lepetit,
from her weblog

The castle is surrounded by a park, where Bast finds space to set up his sculptures, as the photo above shows. At the same time, the sculptures form such a part of everyday life that they are also present in the kitchen, as can be seen in the picture below.

More about "Présences"

The French word précense reads in English presence, and refers to the situation that something or someone is in a certain place. The plural therefore relates to a number of people, or in this case sculptures, who are in a certain place or situation. With regard to Bast's creations that situation best can be indicated by "normality" or "everydayness".

Just as the material that Bast uses to manufacture his sculptures is rather simple -chicken wire and papier-mâché from old newspapers- the sculptures are a collective of ordinary people engaged with their daily activities. Including young and old, male and female, all with a variety of cultural backgrounds, the collective is a model of mutual tolerance in daily practice.

Some sculptures have been part of the collective for over fifteen years and have become trusted company for Bast. Some of them stay indoors, as if they belong to the family, a situation that can be found more often in the field of art environments, such as with Bogdan Ziętek from Poland, or Valery Ermakov from Ukraine. Some stay in the park, or have been scattered around in the community. 

Bast will not sell sculptures that are part of the collective. By exception he may be willing to make a sculpture on order, but preferably the collective comes first.

* Website Les Présences (with a large variety of photos)
* Interview (2006) by Jeanine Rivais, pulbished on her website
* Sylvie Veyrunes and Joel Bast, Présences, 2010 (a photo book)
* Article (2016) by Jeanine Rivais, published on her website
* Article (2017) by Fabienne Durand, published on her weblog
* Article (2017) by Virginie Moreau in Hérault Juridique et Economique
* Entries (2017)  on the weblog of Sophie Lepetit (with a series of pictures), here and here
* Video Présence des Présences  (2'33", Vimeo, 2017) by Lilian Bathelot

* Video by Ophelia Film  (9'43", November 2013, YouTube)

Joël Bast
Les présences
Chateau de Grabels
Grabels, dept Hérault, region Occitanie, France
the park around the castle can be visited by the public
visits of the interior only on appointment

February 21, 2020

Domenico Mengozzi, Sculture intorno al mulino/Sculptures around the mill

all pictures courtesy of Francesco Galli

The building pictured above is located near the hamlet of Fiumicello, part of the municipality of Premilcuore, a small community some 65 km south-east of Bologna, Italy.

This building, amidst the wooded and rocky environment of the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, is a mill which runs on a stream that on the spot has a lot of decline.

The centuries old mill for a long time has been managed by the Mengozzi family, most recently by the brothers Sesto and Domenico Mengozzi. It was well known for its flour of grains, but especially that of chestnuts.

However, due to the declining population in the area, the mill had to close in 1963. But the brothers, who were aware of the historical and cultural value of the mill, succeeded in 1993 getting it back up and running, now as a museum and tourist attraction.

the text above reads "Dea del parco, regina della foresta, 
vigila su mulino, proteggi il turismo diffida chi protesta"
(Goddess of the park, queen of the forest, watch over the mill, 
protect tourism, beware of those who protest)

Domenico Mengozzi: hobby sculptor

Domenico Mengozzi, the oldest of the two brothers, was probably born in the mid 1930s and passed away in 2006. Besides being a miller, he has become known as a self-taught artist, who made sculptures as a hobby. activities he started  in the early 1960s.

His oeuvre includes stand alone artworks, but also high reliefs in the rocks that surround the mill or are located along the road that leads to Fiumicello. All the creations he has made are located in or around the mill.

the text says "sculture in pietra serena eseguite dall'artista (scultore per hobby)
(Serena stone sculptures made by the artist (hobby sculptor))

As the text on above plaque says, Mengozzi worked mainly in pietra serena, sandstone that is common in the area surrounding the mill and is typical of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines.

In the living area on the third floor of the building there are notably smaller creations, such as busts of religious and political figures, a group of small-scale sculptures depicting a nativity scene, chains of different sizes, but also a carved fireplace.

Outside, in the rocky area that surrounds the mill, Domenico Mengozzi has created a variety of sculptures. 

Apart from creations such as a fountain or the head of an older gentleman (Domenico's father Ferdinando Mengozzi?), these sculptures are mostly representations of individuals or animals, standing alone and often executed in high relief.

a sniffing pig

A number of examples can be seen in the photos, such as the lady with the clock (all the way up), a bearded man, an animal head and a sniffing pig (above), a deer with antlers and a sitting lady (below).

a deer with antlers
a text higher on the rocks says (translated into english): "You who wander 
in the forest are happy with that weight on your head"

After the death of Domenico Mengozzi, the mill and its surroundings are maintained by his brother Sesto, who is now in his early eighties, so for him and the next generation the moment might come to consider how the site will continue to be managed in the future.

a sitting lady

* entry on the website of Francesco Galli
* a booklet Fiumicello - Sulle tracce dell'uomo (Fiumicello - On the trail of man) can be bought via the website of the Parco Nazionale del Foreste Casentinesi
* article on the website Inspirock website with travel- and contact details
* article on Facebook (Romagna da Scoprire) with a variety of pictures both about the mill and the sculptures
* Instagram #mulinomengozzi
* a video on Cico's Channel (4'41", YouTube, August 2017), views of the site with a drone

Domenico Mengozzi
Sculptures around the mill
Fiumicello, Premilcuore, Province of Forlì-Cesena, region Emilia-Romagna, Italy
can be visited on Sundays in summer, or on appointment

February 12, 2020

Alfonso Rinaldi, Casa delle conchiglie/ Shell decorated house

all pictures courtesy of Francesco Galli

Snow White and the seven dwarfs have found a place at the foot of a wall decorated with shells, part of a house  that is completely covered with shells in San Giuliano a Mare, a hamlet of the municipality of Rimini on the northwest coast of Italy, facing the Adriatic sea.

Life and works

Alfonso Rinaldi (1901-1983), who was a taxi driver, in the 1960s, when he himself was in his early sixties, decided to realize an artistic dream of decorating his house.

His house is a few minutes' walk from the nearest beach and the availability of shells there makes his choice of shells as the most important decoration material obvious. 

It became a major project that would eventually include all the walls of the house and various smaller objects around it. Rinaldi mainly used shells of mussels and clams, but also a large quantity of scallops. 

As the project progressed, it became more and more sympathetic to people from the area, who started helping with collecting shells. Also owners of restaurants in the tourist town that is Rimini contributed shells, presumably mainly the scallops, which are largely part of the decoration.

It has been said in newspapers that Rinaldi has processed around 14.000 shells and that he has worked on the project for about six years.

The detailed photos around give a good impression of the pattern Rinaldi used to locate the shells on the substrate. On large surfaces he made long lines, horizontally, vertically, obliquely. depending on the status of the respective wall.

On small objects, such as garden pots (right above), this linearity has apparently disappeared, but looking closely a mixture of horizontal and oblique lines appears.

Also striking is the color scheme of the cement that Rinaldi used to attach the shells, with pink, yellow and light blue shades, for which he made special mortar blends.

The line patterns on the walls are broken by windows, and to a very limited extent by small decorations, such as the shrine (?) left above and the fish in the image below.

Considering that the decorations were made in the years 1960/70, it is remarkable how good they look even after some fifty years.

After Rinaldi died in 1983, his daughter inherited the property. In consultation with local authorities it was decided to leave the house in the state as created by Rinaldi.

As the documentation shows, in recent years various news media have paid attention to this art environment, often with similar content. 

In these article some foreign examples of creations with shells were often cited, but strangely not the shell decorated property of Marsilio Raggini in Bellaria, some 13 km north of the city of Rimini,

Articles (undated) by Giada Carraro on the websites of Costruttori di Babele and SPACES
* Article (February 2018) in local newspaper Rimini 2.0 with a variety of pictures
Article  (april 2018)  on website Daily Best
* Article (June 2016) newspaper La Stampa
Article (undated) on website Zingarate
* Article (undated) on website Atlas Obscura
* Video by Teleromagna (1'34", undated, YouTube)

Alfonso Rinaldi
Casa del Conchiglie
via del Fante 40.
47921 San Giuliano a Mare, Rimini, region Emilia-Romagna, Italy
no visits, can be seen from the street

January 29, 2020

Ron Gittins, Roman Villa, decorated interior

murals and painted ceiling
all pictures courtesy of  "The Caravan Gallery"

Oxton Village, in earlier years a rural hamlet in England, currently is a suburb of the town of Birkenhead, which is located on the left bank of the mouth of the river Mersey, opposite Liverpool. 

In January 2020, a Liverpool newspaper reported on the discovery of a rented Victorian ground floor in this community with an interior fully decorated with paintings on walls and ceilings, and fireplaces surrounded by life-size sculptural creations, all this without the neighbors or even the artist's family knowing anything about it. 

Life and works

This art environment is the life's work of Ron Gittins (1939-2019).

As a young boy he was rather creative, which became clear when he for example made plasticine toy soldiers executed with astonishing details. So it was obvious that after his primary education he went to the Laird School of Art in Birkenhead, the first public school of art outside of London, opened in 1871.

He also studied drama at a local college where he developed his ability to deliver speeches -very loudly- and he taught others to do the same.

After this schooling Ron had a variety of jobs, such as cutting rubber letters at a printing firm, working in soft furnishings in a department store, inspecting goods in a factory, but he wasn't the person to like being told what to do and usually his jobs ended up leaving because of disagreements.

Ron also tried to work as a self employed artist, painting murals and portraits, and for that he set up Minstrel Enterprises, a project that in professional sense had only limited success. However, in 1975 he did receive recognition in the Liverpool Echo and on television for turning his bedroom in his parents' (rented) house into a Roman villa !

A very flamboyant personality, seeking attention when out on the street, Ron often dressed in extraordinary outfits of his own creation. He would tell people that he was working for the Secret Service.

In the eyes of the residents in the area where he lived, he was somewhat eccentric. They saw him walking around in these self-made outfits, sometimes with a cart with a life-sized papier-mache model he had made of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, or transporting a large bag filled with cement he needed to make sculptures.

Ron's social-political views were rather conservative, unlike those of his sister Pat Williams, a few years older, who had joined the Liberal Democrats and was a councilor (1987-2016) and mayor (in 2002) of the Metropolitan Borough Council of Wirral, in which Birkenhead is located

murals in the bathroom

This difference of opinion and Ron's dramatic personality, and frequently outlandish and inappropriate behaviour, wouldn't facilitate the exchange of ideas between Ron and his family, nor encourage relatives to regularly visit Ron at home. In addition, Ron himself was very protective of his private domain. 

But the relationship between Ron and the family as such remained good, and the family also knew about Ron's activities with regard to the decorations in his house, albeit that they had no idea of the nature and certainly not of the size thereof. 

In particular when Ron's decorations started to cover almost all walls and ceilings, he became  extremely reluctant to welcome visitors, except maybe some special friends, afraid as he was that his landlord would hear of his wall decorations and that he would be expelled from his house.

But this reluctance to receive visitors also meant that his broken gas heater could not be repaired. 

In the last years of his life he lived alone, without heating, preparing food on a camping gas appliance, living amidst his decorations and the more than ordinary number of  things he had collected in the course of the years.

Gittins' art environment

It is not clear when Ron started working on his art environment. He may have been making paintings or working with art in a different way all the years he lived in the house. However, creating the decorations that currently form the art environment, must have been a project of many years.

The images above give an impression of the paintings that have been applied to the walls and the ceilings of almost all rooms in the house, including the bathroom.

There are historical figures such as French emperor Napoleon, British admiral Lord Nelson and his mistress lady Emma Hamilton. A warrior with a shield and sword is given a place on a ceiling.

The murals in the bathroom show a variety of fishes. 

The art environment also includes a number of impressive sculptures.

A chimney has been shaped like a giant bull's head (image left above) and there is a fireplace with a lion's head, three meters tall (image top right).

In the kitchen, which hasn't been provided with frescoes, there is a sculpture that looks like a temple.

Taken together, all these decorations exude a classical atmosphere and evoke associations with ancient Rome, Egypt and Greece.

Action to save the site

After Ron Gittins died in September 2019, the family for the very first time got acquainted with the decorations and sculptures in the house. That was a great, very special discovery.

Also because some family members are active in the art world, it was soon established that Gittin's legacy included a special work of art. In the last months of 2019 various experts, who were asked to visit the site and take a look at the decorations, agreed that this was a very interesting ensemble in the field of outsider art.

The social landlord Salisbury Management Services was also approached, and this organization appeared willing to conclude a contract aimed at keeping the house in its current state during the coming period.

In the course of January 2020, the local newspaper Liverpool Echo was approached. This journal published a large article about the discovery of the site, and this news subsequently was taken over by many other British newspapers.

All these activities were mainly undertaken by Jan Williams and her partner Chris Teasdale (Jan is a daughter of Pat Williams, Ron's sister. Jan and Chris together manage their art project The Caravan Gallery)

Meanwhile a crowdfunding campaign, Saving Ron's Place,  has been set up, an action that is still ongoing at the moment. Here is a video promoting the action:

* The official website Ron's Place
* Article (January 25, 2020) about the discovery of the site in newspaper Liverpool Echo
* A series of pictures of the site on Liverpool Echo
* Facebook account Saving Ron's place
* Website Crowdfunder about the action to save the site
* News item (1'00", January 29, 2020) by BBC North-West (video as published on Facebook by Claire Jones)

Ron Gittins
Roman Villa (decorated interior)
Oxton, Birkenhead, Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, Merseyside, North-west England, UK
currently no visits 
if the crowd funding action is successful open days will be arranged
address will not be announced for the time being

January 24, 2020

Marsilio Raginni, Casa delle conchigli/Shell decorated house

unless otherwise indicated
the pictures (2017 and 2018) were published on Facebook 

Located along the coast of north-west Italy, the small community of Bellaria, part of the municipality of Bellaria-Igea Marina with some 17,000 inhabitants, is home to an art environment in the capacity of a shell-decorated garden. Like other places along this part of the coast facing the Adriatic Sea, Bellaria is a seaside resort, so using shells as decorative material is not surprising.

Life and works

The site was created Marsilio Raginni (1928-1996), who was a fruit and vegetable trader. He started the project in the early 1980s, when he was in his fifties. 

On the beach of Bellaria, especially if there had been a strong storm, he collected all kinds of shells, which he in particular used to decorated the exterior of his home. 

Above picture (via streetview) shows that the house is located on the corner of two streets  with a front and a side garden. These gardens are separated from the streets by a low fence, subdivided into numerous compartments, each with an arch full of shells on top. 

The access along the main street has a small building with a gable roof, which is also lavishly decorated with shells.


The garden itself has a variety of self-constructed objects, such as two water draw-wells, large flowerpots, statues of saints and representations of carts, pagodas, planes, coaches,.... all decorated with  shells, of course.

Along the tiled driveway to the garage Raginni has built an elongated covered exhibition space (picture above), where one can see a variety of replicas, in particular of religious buildings (Our Lady from Lourdes, Santa Rita da Cascia, Santuario Papa Giovanni) and houses, including the house where Raginni had spent his childhood.  

After Raginni passed away, his family took care of the site. Currently (2020) still in good condition, it can be viewed from the street.

* Article by Michols Mancini in local magazine Il Nuovo, November 2008, p. 10
* Beautifully illustrated entry about this art environment on website Costruttori di Babele, 

Marsilio Raginni
Casa delle Conchiglie
Via Nicolo Zeno 15
Bellaria, province of Rimini, region Emilia-Romagna  
can be seen from the street