June 20, 2023

Alain Lefranc, Jardin et maison decorées / Decorated garden and house

this image from Google Streetview

Someone who is driving on the road named after Célestin-Dubois in Waziers, northern France, looking for Alain Lefranc's art environment, will probably pass the house pictured above, because from the road there is not much to see of the site, except for the rooster on the roof and a fenced area behind the house.

this photo and the next ones (2011) by Hubert Bouvet published here with \
permission of the Inventaire Général du patrimoine des Hauts-de-France

But once arrived in in the elongated, shielded space -with the part near the house converted into an art environment and the part at the back serving as a vegetable garden- one can see the creations, albeit less flourishing than in the photo above, which was made some twelve years ago.

Life and works

Alain Lefranc (1951-2022), who created this art environment, started working in a mirror factory at the age of 14. During that job he trained as a house painter, which enabled him at the age of 18 to start working at a factory that produced zinc and other metals. He first worked there as a painter, and later held various positions, until he retired in 2005.

In 1975 he started to refurbish and shape the garden, laying tiles and locating and constructing ponds. The first decorations, such as decorated tiles, came in the 1980s.  

In the years when he had a day job, he probably worked on the garden mainly on weekends. Once he was retired, he was able to work every day, which he described in the following way: When I got up in the morning I had my coffee, my newspaper, my cap, my keys, I opened the doors and let my cats out and then I went to work, my cement mixer was running, come on and that was my passion.

The three photos above all show a man carrying a car. He is seated, or so it seems, on a truncated pyramid and is dressed in a neat suit and tie. This dominating sculpture, which determines the image that this art environment evokes, was added around 1990, when Lefranc had already been working on his project for many years.

Making this sculpture did not go so smoothly, because when the creation was just finished and was still drying, a violent storm came along, causing the man, who was still standing on both legs on the pedestal, to fall apart.  Lefranc, who had already foreseen this misfortune, then placed the sculpture without feet and legs, so from the waist down, on the pedestal.

The person portrayed in the sculpture is not just anyone. In the area he was referred to as Arthur Bils with a truck, a reference to the owner of Bils Deroo, a transport company located near Lefranc's house. The truck that is being towed is the first type purchased by Bils Deroo.

Currently, the sculpture is still standing proudly, although the colors have faded somewhat.

Another striking decorative manifestation is the ensemble of lions arranged along pools with fountains, as if acting as guardians. Jets of water could come from the mouths of these lions, which, together with the working fountains, must have been a beautiful sight. However, this spraying event is a thing of the past.

Along the edge of one of the basins is an arrangement of small sculptures, most notably gnomes. Currently that setup is no longer there.

A little further in the garden there used to be two ponds with fish, separated by a path with two sculptures of lions. One of those ponds has now become a large flower bed.

At the entrance to the garden, near the house, there used to be a replica of a metal tower as was often used in the mining industry in the 1950s.

It is almost impossible to see in the photo above, but this replica was made from all kinds of recycled materials, such as two bicycle wheels for the wheels in the top and parts of iron bed frames for the construction of the scaffolding as such. 

Flanked by two unrecognizable sculptures, we see a purchased sculpture of a Madonna in the pointed-arched niche above. The niche has now deteriorated, but the Madonna is still lying somewhere in a pile of rubbish.

To end this post a few more pictures of creations that decorated or still decorate the roof of the house

a paddle wheel
a weather vane

Its seems that the paddle wheel and the weathervane above no longer exist. 
Below is a rooster, which, as can be seen in the very first image, still adorns the roof.

Alain Lefranc died on December 3, 2022 at the age of 75.

It remains to be seen whether Lefranc's art environment will stand the test of time. A comment below says that by May 2023, the garden has become overgrown, with only large elements still visible, such as the metal tower and the man holding a truck.

* Article by Sonia Terhzaz on her website Cartographie des rocamberlus, with a report of a visit she paid to the site in march 2021
* Article with a variety of photos on the website of the Inventaire Général du patrimoine des Hauts-de-France

Alain Lefranc
Decorated garden and house
169 rue Celestin-Dubois, Waziers, dept Pas-de-Calais, region Hauts-de-France, France
visits only on appointment

1 comment:

  1. Helas, on May 2023, there was very little left from Alain Lefranc's garden: the roster, the metal tower, and the man holding a truck, emerging from a dense invasive vegetation.