July 24, 2016

Alexander Markelovich Ladogina, церковь/church

Above pictured singular architecture is located in Mulyanka, a small community near the city of Perm in the Russian Federation.

Life and works

Alexander Marelovich Ladogina (b 1951) in 2001 at age 50 began the construction of a building that might serve as a church for the community. He was a functionary at the Russian department of agriculture and it is unlikely that he had a professional architectural background.

The construction, which resembles a large barn, stands out as an art environment because of the specific decorations added to its roof. These spherical aluminum domes are composed of kind of lampshades wich were used in agriculture in order to protect seedlings and promote their growth.

These domes are easy to associate with the onion-shaped domes featuring Russian Orthodox churches and cathedrals, and the crosses on top of the domes mark the religious character of the building.

 picture from Berlogos website 

The church is located in a marshy area and although it was consecrated by a local priest and may have been used as a church indeed, currently it is more like a storage. As far as I understand nowadays a new church, built on a more elevated location, is available.

Ladogina is meanwhile in his sixties and retired.

In 2013 he was interviewed by telephone by the journalist Ivan Kozlov, who published his report on the russian website Snob. And recently (may 2016) this art environment got some publicity in an article by art historian Alexandra Kushnarev on the russian website Berlogos, which reports on worldwide developments in modern architecture and design.

Ivan Kozlov, "Алюминиевый храм на краю болота" (Aluminum temple on the edge of the swamp), on: website Snob, november 14 2013

Alexander Markelovich Ladogina
Self-built church
Mulyanka, Perm Krai, Russian Federation
extant, but specific location unknown

July 13, 2016

Bogdan Ziętek, Interior with sculptures

this picture and the next two 
courtesy of  Andrzej Kwasiborski

Most self-taught artists who create an art environment made up of life-sized sculptures, will put these creations in their garden. But not so the artist presented in this post, whose creations stay indoors and appear to be part of the household.

Life and works 

Bogdan Ziętek (b. 1932) was born in Tlukienka, a small village in the south of Poland, near Krakow. After World War II the family moved to the more westerly area of Lower Silezia. They settled in the community of Brzeźnica, where Ziętek currently still lives.

As a young boy Ziętek only attended primary school. His parents couldn't afford further study and he had various jobs such as decorator and illustrator. The longest, some sixteen years, he worked at a mining company in Grochowski. He retired in 1991 at age 59.

A man of various artistic talents, Ziętek was not only a self-taught sculptor, he also liked making music, writing poetic, mystic and philosophic texts, working as a photographer on weddings and other festivities and designing and sewing women's clothing.....

Already as a young man his artistic disposition went along with a sensitivity to beauty, which in his case involved in particular the appeal of beautiful women.

He made his first sculpture in 1960, a depiction of a woman he named Eva. It took him several months to complete the creation. In the ensuing years Ziętek would make many more sculptures, mainly of women.

Ziętek has a specific emotional relationship with his wooden women, which he serves well in terms of clothing, make up and hairstyle. In an interview (2005) he said: Piękne kobiety są jak rwący potok - zaszumią, rozkochują i odchodzą (Beautiful women are like a rushing stream - they rustle, surprise and go).

Partly due to the positive interest from museums and the press, his wife Agnes became accustomed to her husband's passion and accepts it. The wooden ladies are kind of members of the family and part of the household indeed.

Currently (2016) Ziętek has sculpted some fourteen large sized women (around 1.80 m, 5.9 ft high) and over 170 smaller ones (30-40 cm, 0.98-1.3 ft high). Only a few of his sculptures depict a man.

The sculptures are made of wood, usually a suitable part of a lime tree, which he roughly shapes with a chainsaw, details with chisel and knife, processes by prolonged sanding and finishes by painting it in natural, realistic colors. The sculpted women are dressed with self-designed and self-made garments.

Besides sculptures Ziętek also makes paintings and drawings


Ziętek's work has been featured in various solo and group exhibitions in Poland, such as the the Mazovian Museum in Plock and the Ethnographic Museum in Wroclaw (summer 2015)

Recently (january, february 2016) a selection of his creations was exposed in the Pomeranian Gallery of Folk and Amateur Art KPCK in Bydgoszcz. A short video (see documentation) gives an impression of this presentation.

* Article Wiejski Harem by Katarzyna Hermanwicz in Wedrowiec (spring 2005)
* Video Rozmowy z Bogdanem Ziętkiem made in 2009 by the Mazoviab Museum in Plock (9'41", Youtube, uploaded march 2012)

* Documentary video by Bartosz Blaschke Ziętek (Poland, 2008, subtitled in english, 16'32", Youtube, uploaded oct 2015)

* Video made of the opening of the exposition in the Gallery of Folk and Amateur Art KPCK in Bydgoszcz (2'47", Youtube, uploaded january 2016)

Bogdan Ziętek
Interior with sculptures
Brzeźnica, Poland
visits only on appointment

June 22, 2016

Jean Cathelain, Le jardin du mineur/The miner's garden

 view from the street of
the garden in front of the house (2008)

In december 2015 this weblog announced the publication of a book about art environments in the former mining area in the north of France: d'Étonnants jardins en Nord-Pas de Calais. Lyon (Ed. Lieux-dits), 2015.  The following post is about one of the sites presented in this book.

Life and works

Jean Cathelain (1932-2011) spent his early years in the Meuse area in north-east France but  came to live with his parents in the community of Billy-Montigny at age 11. He began his work at the mines as an underground miner, later he became a dispatcher, entrusted with regulating the underground coal transport. He had to stop working because of silicose in 1974 at age 42.

Fond of tinkering in his spare time, in the early 1970's he began to decorate the front garden of the house he rented from the mining company since 1959.  To house the workers mining companies in northern France owned many blocks of houses, formed by rows of uniform dwellings usually with a garden, in front, at the backside, or both. 

Cathelain's art environment is relatively simple in design. It's main elements include a couple sitting on a bench under a tree with a nest of storks, a miner and a windmill. These elements are complemented by a variety of other, mainly smaller items, of which some were bought or received as gifts.

detail: the miner (2008)

The sculptures of people and of various animals have been made of a mixture of newspaper clippings, cement and water. After hardening they would be painted in appropriate colors.

Above miner expresses Cathelain's love of the coal mining profession. The miner, 1.64 m high,  is equiped with his usual attributes: helmet, pickaxe and cased torch, items that occasionally were stolen.....

Near the house's outside wall a neatly dressed couple sits on a bench. The sculptures measure around 1.60 m. Although the male figure has some similarity with Cathelain, this sculpture is not a portrayal of mrs and mr Cathelain, but rather a representation of Cathelain's love for his wife.

detail: the mill (2008)

On par with the miner stands a single-handedly constructed mill, which has a platform with two persons on the outlook. Besides the mill is a small rectangular pool with a bridge and a gnome. Once fishes swam in this pool, but later these were replaced by toy ducks.

Compared with other art environments with a much more exuberant lay out, Cathelain's garden indeed has a simple design. However the obvious affection Cathelain shows in creating his sculptures gives the site an engaging look.

A replica of a mine gallery

In addition to the sculptures and decorations in his yard, Cathelain has also made a model of a mine gallery, which represents a timbering site of a coal mine as it was before 1950. This maquette, of which no pictures are available, was donated to the Musée de la Mine in Oignies, where it currently is exposed.

Actual situation of Cathelain's art environment

The review of Cathelain's art environment in the book d'Étonnants jardins en Nord-Pas de Calais is based upon a meeting the author had with Cathelain, shortly before the creator of the site in august 2011 passed away. Editing this post in 2016, I couldn't find information whether ór not the site has continued to exist after its author died.

Le Service du Patrimoine Culturel de la région Nord-Pas de Calais, D'Étonnants Jardins en Nord-Pas de Calais. Inventaire général du patrimoine culturel (Images du Patrimoine, 293). Lyon (Ed. Lieux-Dits), 2015, pp 74-77

Jean Cathelain
Le jardin du mineur
39 rue de Chateauroux
Billy-Montigny, Nord-Pas de Calais, France
actual situation unknown

June 15, 2016

Jeanne Devidal, La maison de la folle/The house of the silly lady

this picture and the next one © Louis Motrot, 1988.

Above singular architecture, a structure surrounded with enigmas which existed untill 1991 in Saint-Lunaire, Britanny, France, was photographed in 1988 by Louis Motrot, a historian living in neighbouring Saint-Malo*.

Life and works

Born in 1908 in the Breton town of Brest as daughter of a couple with five children that run a pub and traded in wine, Jeanne Devidal in 1926 moved to Paris where she went to work with the french national postal and telephone company.

In 1941, during world war II, she was reassigned to Boucé, a community some 200 km west of Paris in territory occupied by the Germans. She lived there with her older sister Leonie Devidal. It might be that she was part of a network of resistance fighters and that she intercepted messages. Just before the liberation of France most members of the cell were arrested and executed (the massacre of Riaux).

It is rather certain that both have acquired here war trauma, but Jeanne Devidal would never talk about this period in her life.

In 1947 together with her mother and sister (her father and two brothers had died) Jeanne settled in the community of Saint-Lunaire, where they opened a shop in haberdashery named Chez Jeannette.

She acquired a piece of land near the part of the beach known as Longchamp where she had a house built in the pavillion style as usual along this coast.

In 1953, from mid april untill mid november, Jeanne's sister Léonie was included in the psychiatric hospital in Rennes. She would never return to Saint-Lunaire. Then Jeanne's mother died, whereupon Jeanne herself in 1956 from mid january untill end april was hospitalized in the same psychiatric hospital.

this picture © Pierre Quero, 1990.

Jeanne Devidal now would live alone in the house in Saint-Lunaire..

It is unknown why, but in 1957 she began to transform the house into an art environment. It has been reported that she made decorations in a rather artistic way, creating bas reliefs with inlaid shells, making paintings and sculptures. However, to my knowledge, no pictures of the house's interior are available on the internet.

Apart from making decorations, Jeanne Devidal also began enlarging the house by adding new walls and annexes, whereby she not only used cement, but also a variety of unusual materials, such as shoes, crates, driftwood from the beach and boxes of sardines, producing a tangle of constructive elements, fenced windows, overhangs and motives, combined with miscellaneous stones, wooden elements, found objects and vegetation. The interior is a maze of galleries and rooms.

Inhabitants of Saint-Lunaire nicknamed Jeanne Devidal la folle de Saint-Lunaire (the silly lady of Saint-.Lunaire), but Agathe Oléron, who made a documentary film about her (first presented spring 2016) assesses this as unjustified: ".....(she) was an artist. She did not just build a strange house. She painted, drew, sculpted and wrote on the walls. She lived in her art".

 © Pierre Quero, 1990
(Pierre Quero, engineer and expert for the Court of Appeal 
in Rennes in 1990 reported the municipality 
of Saint-Lunaire about the status of the house)

Jeanne Devidal has been active in constructing and decorating exterior and interior of this singular architecture for some 35 years, often starting at 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning, always covered with a scarf, a hat or a hood.

As an explanation for her activitities it has been suggested that she, haunted by delusions, sought protection behind the walls she built, but Agathe Oléron, who in preparing her film talked with many people who somehow have known Jeanne Devidal, thinks there is no single univocal statement available.

In the 1980's the site was visited by many tourists, often via busses of tour operators and local residents who considered this annoying, did not understand that the local authorities tolerated the unlicensed structure. The story went that Jeanne Devidal enjoyed protection by highranking persons.

drawing 50 x 65 cm, paper, pencil, graphite 
© Agathe Oléron, 2013 (click to enlarge)

In 1987 the building withstood a severe storm, but during Christmas 1990 an observation tower collapsed, whereby Jeanne Devidal was hit. Firefighters found her among the rubble, fortunately only slightly injured. She was hospitalised and thereafter she went to live in a sheltered accomodation in Saint Briac. There she lived for seventeen years untill she passed away in july 2008, almost a hundred years old.

Following a decision of the mayor, supported by a report on the status of the building in terms of security to the public, Jeanne Devidal's singular architecture was demolished in 1991. It was replaced by a conventional coastal pavillion.

Documentary film by Agathe Oléron (2016)

In her first full length documentary film Agathe Oléron seeks to portray Jeanne Devidal and her singular architecture. In an interview she relates her experiences when as a young child she for the first time saw the house. She felt as if Jeanne Devidal had made a giant sand castle to protect herself and that the next wave would swallow up everything:"For me it was impossible to live in such a house, it was scary".

© graphic design Agathe Oléron, 2016   
© picture Pascal Pignol, 1981 

She relates that Jeanne Devidal was highly respected by the adults of the community: "Everyone has appropriated the character and each time it evoked in the people a happy memory, a mystery, something pleasant".

First presented on June 3, 2016 to the inhabitants of Saint-Lunaire, the film will circulate in France.

There is no trailer available to show here.


Article in regional journal Le pays malouin 30-12-2015
* Another article in Le pays malouin, on the occasion of Agathe Oléron's film, 1-6-2016
* Article in regional journal Ouest France 31-12-2015
* Interview (early 2016) with Agathe Oléron who made the documentary film about Jeanne Devidal
* Article (dec 2015) in weblog FreeCasaBabylon

* I want to thank Agathe Oléron for the additional information she sent me

Jeanne Devidal
La maison de la "folle de Saint-Lunaire"
boulevard des Tilleuls
Saint-Lunaire, Britanny, France
no longer extant

June 09, 2016

Josep Sala i Prat, Granja La Rivera/The river farm

Replica of a Catalan farmhouse (El Pa Volado in Vilatenim)
all pictures are stills from Serflac's video,
published here in agreement with the author

Located close to the Algama river in the small neighbourhood Creixell in the outskirts of the Catalonian community Borassá, this art environment with its extensive collection of replicas, has received virtually no publicity from Spanish authors.

There is small article in Catalan on the website of the Festa de l'Allioli de Creixell and Sergio Flaquer Carraras (Serflac) documented the site in a video (2014). But it was Jo Farb Hernández* who actually reviewed this art environment in her book Singular Spaces (2013).

Life and works

Josep Sala Prat was born around 1926 in a modest rural family. His father was a farmer breeding and trading pigs. The young boy didn't enjoy much schooling, since he had to assist his father on the farm. He liked to make drawings, this to the dismay of his father who felt that the young boy could better spend his time at farm work.

Around 1936 Josep, at that time some ten years old, helped his father in constructing a new family home, a building he later would show in a replica in his art environment.

Sant Pere de Rodes monastery 

Sala fullfilled his military service in Morocco and once returned he married a girl from Borassá. The couple got two daughters. 

At a given moment Sala succeeded his father as manager of the farm. Around 1970 he bought a piece of land where he built an oblong stone barn. Later he also built a wooden doghouse for his dog.

These building activities must have satisfied him, since he felt encouraged to continue making constructions, and around the end of the 1970's, in his late fifties, he started making replicas, an activity that ultimately resulted in a sizeable collection of some fifty buildings and some thirty other creative elements.

 the church in Borassá, 
with a two meters high bell tower

Sala made replicas of buildings from his region, depicting the local church of Borrassá (picture above) and simple farm houses, such as his own house and El Pa Volado (the one in the first picture).

And then, because of their educational value for his children and eventual visitors, he constructed replicas of Spain's cultural heritage, such as the Església de Sant Andreu in Borrassá (picture above), the Sant Pere de Rodes monastery, a former Benedictine monastery, some 17 km east of Borrassá (picture higher above) and the Castell de Peralada, which currently has a casino, some 15 km north of Borrassá (picture below).

Castell de Peralada

Sala's art environment indeed has a wide variety of replicas of (Spanish) castles. The largest one, located just at the entrance of the site, depicts the Castell de Requesens

Like the original castle its levels climb a hill (picture below)

Other replicas depict famous buildings in other countries. The most impressive one is the replica of the famous Saint Basil's Cathedral on the Red Square in Moscow (pictures below), made by Sala on the basis of pictures.

Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

As in the original the replica has colorful onion-shaped domes. Sala used various materials to create these domes, like buttons, shells and parts of tiles.

detail of the domes of the cathedral

Sala used cement to construct the replicas. This was the only material to which he spent money, all other materials he used in his creations were discarded objects, such as broken tiles, shells, buttons, pieces of iron and so on.

Barraca de l'avi (1985) 

Sala liked to meet and have a drink or a meal with his friends, so the site has several places which are suitable for picnics.

And in 1985 Sala builded a cabin (3x8 meters, pictured above) named Barraca de l'avi (grandpa's house), also very suitable to gather with friends. The video in the documentation shows a a hood above the fireplace inside that has been decorated with shells.

The picture above shows an outside wall of the cabin with a painting of a Catalan landscape, made in 1988 by Sala's friend Ramon Bretx, a painter who lives in Borrassá.

Can del Fi

The family house Can del Fi, meaning "house at the end (of the road)". is also inhabited by Sala's daughter and her husband. It is situated somewhat away from the location of the Granja La Rivera art environment. Around this house Sala also has installed creations: some replicas but mainly decorative items.

Actual situation

When Jo Farb Hernández visited the site around 2010, Sala was already in his eighties and he was not as well able to take care of the daily maintenance of the site.

Meanwhile Sala's health has detoriated. Serflac's video, made in 2014, shows that grass and bushes advance. It looks like this art environment is gradually falling into decay.

The site got a scholarly review in: Jo Farb Hernandez, Singular Spaces. From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments, Seatlle (Raw Vision, SPACES, San José State University), 2013. pp. 92-195 (abridged version on SPACES website)
* Video by Serflac (5'44", Youtube, uploaded may 2014)


* Since Jo Farb Hernández review of the site is the most informative documentation available, I like to acknowledge that the factual data in this post are based upon Jo's research

Josep Sala i Prat
Granja La Rivera
Creixell (Borassá), Catalunya, Spain

May 14, 2016

Esteban Martín Martín, Castillo Monumento de Colomares/Colomares' Castle-Monument

(17" Youtube uploaded feb 2016)

Above short video, shot from a drone, gives an impression from above of the Castillo de Colomares, a singular architecture in Benalmádena, Spain, single-handedly constructed by a medical doctor with the help of two masons from the local area.

Life and works

Esteban Martín Martín (??-2001), the author of this creation, was born, spent his youth and studied medicine in Spain. He became a surgeon and at some moment he continued his medical career in the United States, where he also met his wife.

Many states in the USA celebrate Columbus' discovery of America in 1492 as Columbus Day, an official holiday on the second monday in october. Martin observed that the festivities in particular spend attention to Columbus' Italian ancestry and neglect Spain's role in facilitating Columbus' voyage.

This went against his nationalist Spanish pride and he decided to take action to clarify Spain's role. In the early 1980's he began to study books on Columbus and the preparation of his discovery tour. The idea grew to create a monument in honor of the explorer and seafarer.

From 1970 on Martín already owned a piece of land in the hills above the community of Benalmádena where he wanted to build a house to live in after retirement.

What if the monument he had in mind would arise on this piece of land? Martín followed his passion, resigned from his job, remigrated to Spain and in 1987 on that piece of land he began building a monument for Columbus.

He probably went to work with a general idea of what the building would look like. And in the absence of detailed plans, it is not likely he applied for a building permit.

Anyhow, after a number of years an enormeous edifice had emerged. A set of castle-like decorated facades and a variety of towers, some 33 meters (108 feet) high, on a floorplan of 1500 square meters (16146 square feet). And this was realised by just three men and in an incredible short time (1987-1994).

Martin at work

In 1994 Martín ended the further development of the project. His money was running out, the years of hard phyiscal work took their toll and he probably also was disappointed by the low level of support he received for the bringing about of a monument for Columbus. He had, for example, unsuccesfully written a letter to the king of Spain with a request to support the project and the Monument wasn't included either in the festivities related with the 500th anniversary in 1992 of Columbus' expedition.

His son later said that his father, passionated as he was, could not understand that others would shrug their shoulders for a tribute to a great man in Spanish history.

Martín continued his study of books about Spanish history untill his death in february 2001.

A book in stone

The Castillo de Colomares has been characterised as a book in stone. 

Some parts are easily readable, such as the representations of  the ships of Columbus' small fleet and the referrals to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who regulated the financing of the expedition, but other parts demand more explanation, such as a Chinese pagode that refers to Columbus' assumption that he had discovered a route to Asia.

At various places sculptures have been arranged, both stand alone ones and works in haut relief.

The castle also houses a chapel. With its surface of 1.96 m2 it is the smallest church in the world.

And then, Martín had made provisions to ever host the remains of Columbus.The seafarer died in 1506 and was buried in Valladolid, Spain, but then the bones were relocated by relatives, followed by even more displacements, resulting in a lot of disagreement about the true whereabouts of Columbus' remains.

Actual situation

After Martín had passed away the site for some time was used as a falconry and a reptile center, but later his widow and children decided to open the Castle for visitors. The grounds around the castle were fitted with walkways.

Since the site is situated in a busy touristic area along the spanish coast, it became a popular touristic spot, promoted in various touristic websites.

It is hoped that the revenue will help to cover the costs of the maintenance of the building.

* Official website of the Castillo de Colomares
* Article in website Eldiario (march 2015)
* Article in SPACES website
* Series of pictures (2015) by Françoise Genty on Facebook
* The internet has various videos of this art environment. Here is one from february 2016 by Right Spain (Youtube, 1'50")

Esteban Martin Martin
Castillo Monumento de Colomares
Finca la Carraca
29631 Benalmádena, Málaga, Andalucía, Spain
open for visits (see website for opening hours)

May 05, 2016

František Rint, Kostnice Sedlec/Sedlec Ossuary

In Europe there are several ossuaries, with the catacombs in Paris, France as the largest and the one in Brno, Czech Republic, rediscovered in 2001, in second place in terms of size.

Most ossuaries have no artistic appearance, except those with arrangements made by for example placing a large number of skulls in a single setting.

Sedlec Ossuary

But then the ossuary in Sedlec, Czech Republic. This one distinguishes itself by the creative presentation of the bones as provided in the 19th century by František Rint.

Rint was a woodcarver and carpenter who was commissioned by the aristocratic Schwarzenberg family to orderly arrange the huge amount of bones in and around the small Christian chapel in Sedlec. Rint has realised this project from 1867 to 1870 and he did not hesitate to give expression to his creative fantasy.

the chandelier

The showpiece of the site is an enormeous chandelier (pictured above), that hangs from the center of the ceiling.

Another great piece of work is a copy of the Schwarzenberg family's coat of arms, whose original has stripes in silver and blue and features important happenings in the family's history such as the conquest in 1598 of a Turkish held fortress in Hungary named Raven (in the bottom right quarter one sees a raven picking the head of an opponent)  

Rint also created four life-sized candelabras equiped with skulls, placed just below the large chandelier.

The walls and the ceilings have been adorned with geometrically arranged compositions of bones and skulls, as in the picture below.

The internet has dozens of descriptions of the Sedlec Ossuary, usually with a touristic background or written from a curious places point of view, but there are no data available about the one who created the site, other than that he was a carpenter/woodcarver and was born in České Skalice.

Fortunately Rint left this information in a composition on a wall, made from bones of course. 

The ossuary is located underground, beneath a chapel which was part of a centuries old monastery that became property of the Schwarzenberg family. The cemetery of the monastery became a popular place to be buried when soil from the Holy Land was added to it, but most funerals were related to the thousands of deaths due to the pest epidemic in 1318 and the later Hussite war.

At the end of the 15th century the graveyard was closed and some 40.000 or more excavated bones were stored in and outside the chapel. 

Video by Jan Svankmajer (b. 1934)

On the occasion of the centenary of the ossuary in 1970 film maker Jan Svankmajer made a 10' movie (in B/W). It became a hectic assembled, almost surrealistic composition with images of bones and skulls dubbed with the routinely voice of a tourist guide and jazzy music.

After the Prague Spring in 1968, the country was invaded by Warsaw pact troops and in the fall of 1969 a post-invasion communist regime was installed. The new authorities assumed subversion and forced the film maker to add another soundtrack, so piano music with a female singer was added (more about this here).

* Series of pictures on Flickr
* Article (april 2015) by Jessica Straus in her weblog Quirk
* Youtube has a lot of videos of the site. Here is a recent one (sept. 2014, 6'10"), shot by Glenn Campbell

František Rint
Kostnice Sedlec
Zámecká 127
Sedlec, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic
open to the public, trips by bus from Prague available