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 settled 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 silicosis in 1974 at age 42.

Fond of tinkering in his spare time, in the early 1970s 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 equipped with his usual attributes: helmet, pickax 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 or 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
* l'Inventaire général du patrimoine culturel. Région Hauts-de-France, pictures and description

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

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