February 18, 2011

Joël Barthes, Sculptures à l'écluse/Sculptures at the lock

 pictures in this post from the website 
Joél Barthes, éclusier sculpteur

France has as an extensive network of manmade waterways. The most southern canal is the Canal du Midi, running from Sète to Toulouse, where it meets the Garonne, in this way connecting the Mediterranean with the Atlantic.

The canal has many locks that predominantly are operated by lock keepers, who have their house at the premises of the lock.

Life and works

Joël  Barthes (1955) since 1988 is the lock keeper (éclusier) of the écluse de l'Aiguille, near the small community of Puichéric.

In 1992 he began decorating the site. When making a walk, he happened to stumble upon a piece of wood. He got inspired to transform it into a decorative item, which could be displayed near his house at the lock.

This became a lifetime project. Barthes first made all kind of wooden sculptures, and then he switched to working with iron. 

The over 200 objects he made from 1992 on, currently are scattered all over the place.

People sailing the canal, mostly on holiday, are surprised to see the exposition. If you look around on the internet, you will come along the logbooks where they have the stories of their holidays and their meetings with Joël Barthes.

The locals of Puichéric know they can bring their exces iron to Barthes, who recycles the material into  creative structures.

Barthes' work in general is rather humoristic. For example it shows a dog walking his boss, or a fish catching the fisherman.

He also began making kinetic creations, such as a lady on a bike and various kinds of machinery. Such a movable item for example will automatically start once a ship passes along an electronic device.

Some of the sculptures are on sale. It's not necessary you go by barge to Puichéric to buy one.


Barthes' creations have been exposed in a number of expositions in the region. In 2010 he participated in the Biennale de l'Art Singulier, in Aubagne.

Documentation, more pictures
* The website Joël Barthes, éclusier sculpteur has the story of Barthes' career and a lot of pictures
* More pictures on the Art Insolite website  and on Sophie Lepetit's weblog (april 2014)
* Article with pictures on the weblog De l'art improbable aux jardins insolites (jan 2014)
* Video Curieuze Écluse by Apolline Lepetit (1'35", Youtube, upl july 2015)

first published febr 2011, revised jan apr 2014, jul 2015

Joël Barthes
Sculptures à l'écluse
Ecluse de l'Aiguille, Canal du Midi
Puichéric, Aude, FR
open air exposition during summermonths, 1/4 - 1/11


  1. Looks like another case of someone with a vivid imagination, and sufficient motivation and creative energy to bring his visions to fruition... must be a treat to stumble on this by chance while sailing the canal.

  2. PS ... I Just found some beautiful outside art that was left by troops in WWI at a site north of Paris, sculptures on the walls of a stone quarry site. Will be posting about it later today.

  3. @ Owen, I am quite curious to learn about your discovery. Have a nice weekend.