May 16, 2012

Jacques Vandewattyne, Jardin des pierres / Garden of stones

this picture and the next two (2008) courtesy of Francis Verpoorte
"Dolores", an accessible sculpted structure of 
a mourning woman in the Garden of Stones

The small community of Ellezelles in Walloon Picardy in Belgium is well known from the folklore and traditions it upholds. Since the 1970s this reputation has been highly promoted by a very colorful inhabitant of the region: Jacques Vandewattyne (1932-1994), who is also known as Watkyne.

Life and works

Born in Ellezelles, Vandewattyne attended primary school in his hometown, then trained to become a teacher, a profession he practiced from 1952.

Interested in visual arts, but autodidact, he made paintings, sculptures and ceramics. At he same time he continued his career in teaching, becoming a teacher at a high school in 1968.

In 1958 he had his first local exposition. From that year on he would regularly exhibit his visual art throughout various places in Belgium, using Watkyne as his artist name.

invitation for an exposition in Tournai,
January 14 - February 12, 2012

As an autodidact artist Watkyne felt strongly connected to folk art. 

Reflecting on this he published in 1974 a manifesto in which he praised the value of popular traditions and described the folk artist's role as ".... a privileged witness, who feels better than others the heartbeat of his region and its inhabitants. It's back to basics, back to the simple things of life" and also: "One should guard one's roots, know where one comes from. Enhancing the region, making it known, being available to come to its defense, participating in the rescue of witnesses of the past: this is a fine field for an artist"

In his paintings he depicted landscapes of the region, often embedded in moonlight and with a mysterious atmosphere. He also dealt with themes from folk legends.

Vandewattyne has been initiator of a festival called Witches Sabbath, based on a burning of witches in the 17th century, currently a crowded happening in June, when Ellezelles is flowing full with people dressed as witches and devils.

He has also been active in promoting a market of old crafts, planting a maypole and saving traditional architecture.

The rail of strangeness

A rather specific project, inaugurated in 1984, is the Sentier de l'étrange (the trail of strangeness), also called the Witch Walk.

It is a walking tour of some 6 km around Ellezelles along dozens of sculptures crafted by Vandewattyne which portray characters, like witches, and events from folklore. In the documentation below there is a video (2022) that gives an impression of the trail.

The garden of stones

In 1984 Jacques Vandewattyne could buy a property adjacent to his own house in Wodecq (Ellezelles).

It has a small house he used as a studio, and a large garden, which he transformed into an art environment.

An admirer of Facteur Cheval and Picassiette, Vandewattyne felt inspired to decorate the garden with a variety of structures and sculptures, like the Dolores (as in the first picture), a monument to humanity, an animal with seven heads, a devil and many more items.

this picture and the next one (2015)
courtesy of Rob van Eeden

The exterior walls of the studio have been decorated with mosaics. Various fossils, rocks and stones, collected by Vandewattyne throughout his life, have been used to decorate the structures and sculptures which are displayed in the garden.

The garden itself has a jungle-like nature. All in all, the place is a large size assembly of creative eruption and expression.

Actual situation

Already during Vandewattyne's life, this art environment has been a private affair. After he died his son and daughter-in-law would take care of the site. 

Since spring 2015 Vandewattyne's house could be rented as a holiday home. It generally has been left as it was when the artist lived there and one could stay in the gite amidst some of Vandewattyne's artworks.

However, currently (2023) the house is not mentioned in the brochure of the tourist office that lists gites that are rented in Ellezelles. The situation of house and garden currently is unclear.

picture from website l'Avenir which reported how the house 
became a gite (with a series of pictures)

* Pictures (2008) of the garden of stones
* Lauren Klarfeld, "Outsider environments: a walk into the strange garden of Mr Watkyne in Ellezelles" (September 2018), on Itinari website

* Video (2022, YouTube, 1'51") with scenes of the Trail of Strangeness

first published May 2012, last revised August 2023

Jacques Vandewattyne
Jardin des pierres
Wodecq (Ellezelles), Belgium
situation of the site unclear

1 comment:

  1. Verslag van overnachting in het huis van Watkyne, bezoek aan zijn tuin en wandeling van het Pad der Geheimzinnigheid: