February 17, 2023

Joseph Méray, Jardin decoré / Decorated garden


this photo and the next one courtesy of Francis David
from the website Habitants-Paysagistes 
© Lille Art Museum © Francis David

Very impressive, the elephant sculpture of 2000 kilos shown above. It is a 1960s creation made by Joseph Méray (1922-2019) to embellish the surroundings of his home in Merlimont in the Pas-de-Calais department in northwestern France.

Life and works

Born in the early 1920s, young Joseph Méray, due to family circumstances. was soon placed in an orphanage. 

The director of the house was impressed by the boy's slumbering artistic talent when there was a sand figure competition and he created a beautiful elephant. At that time there was no possibility for the director to arrange an art education and Meray would get a profession as a tailor.

sculpture of a bull in the front yard

Once grown up, Joseph Méray married Marie Ternaux. The couple initially lived in the town of Arras and would get five children. In the 1950s, the family moved to Merlimont, where they settled in an unfinished house. meaning Méray had to work hard to complete it.

The house was located in a dune-like area along the road to Merlimont Plage, a beach resort along the English Channel (between France and England).

Creating an art environment 

Once Méray had completed the work on the house in the early 1960s, he began to brighten up the house and its surroundings with decorations and creations. He made sculptures of animals, which got a place in the garden along the street, but it also happened that on a dune near the house he created the large elephant as depicted in the photo that opens this post.

In the early 1980s, Francis David visited the site and took photographs that would be published in his book Guide de l'art insolite: Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardie (1984) and later were added to the website Habitants-paysagistes started in March 2018 by the Lille Art Museum.

The decorated garden, as it stood in the 1980s, probably continued in this size in the following decades, both because of the limited size of the front garden and because of Méray's choice to focus on making small, wooden sculptures intended for indoor use.

what's left of the front garden in 2019
picture from Google Streetview

Joseph Méray passed away on December 27, 2019 at age 97. 

The picture above (2019) gives an idea of what, visible from the street, was left of the front garden: an arrangement of small items, flanked by a small elephant and a small bull.

In 2020 Sonia Terhzaz, a researcher from Paris of French art environments, visited the widow Marie Méray-Ternaux, who told her that the path along the side of the house included several sculptures, but that after creations were stolen or vandalized, the remaining ones were moved to a walled backyard or housed with relatives, as also was done with a part of Méray's wooden sculptures.

What happened to the colossal elephant is not clear.

Documentation
* Website Habitants-paysagistes (Lille Art Museum)
* Francis David, Guide de l'art insolite: Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardie (1984)
* Entry on Facebook by Sonia Terhzaz with a report about meetings she had with Joosep Meray's widow in February 2021 and December 2022

Joseph Méray
752 rue Camille Delacroix, 
62155 Merlimont,  dept Pas-de-Calais, region Hauts-de-France
can be seen from the road 

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