December 22, 2023

Michel Nivon, Jardin aux alignements de pierres expressives / Garden with alignments of expressive stones

images courtesy of Sonia Terhzaz, from her website

Montchenu is a small community with about 450 inhabitants (1999) in southern France.

The village is located some ten kilometers south of Hauterives, where the well-known Palais Idéal of facteur Cheval is located. Montchenu also has an art environment, but this one is hardly known.

Life and works

The site was created by Michel Nivon (1944-2022), who was a farmer. He was not married and lived with his sister, who was also unmarried, on the family farm where they had both grown up. The farm was located on a dead end road in Montchenu.

Probably partly due to the strict upbringing he had, Nivon was a modest man, who had no worldly desires and generally stayed near the farm. As a result, it is not clear whether he ever visited Cheval's Ideal Palace. He must have heard of it, because references to this creation can be found in the space around the farm that he was going to decorate in his own way.

Nivon started his creative project in September 1989 when he was 45 years old. 

As the images show, he placed on the plot of land rows of interconnected wooden posts, which marked the lines along which expressive stones were situated, on the ground, on the posts or on the beams connecting the posts.

In terms of design, this is a way of arranging the stone decorations that, as far as I know, has not previously been used in the field of art environments.

It may be assumed that the set of alignments has gradually increased in size over the years, as Nivon succeeded in finding  in the fields in the vicinity of Montchenu what he considered to be characteristic stones. The available documentation states that the exhibited stones depict shapes such as a seated figure, a smiling head or a minaret.

The concept of stone must be taken broadly, because flower pots were also eligible to be included in the alignments, sometimes provided with pieces of glass or inscriptions.

In recent years, Nivon has no longer been involved in expanding the site, but only carried out maintenance. He died in April 2022, his sister died the following month of May.

Since they have no children, inheritance is problematic, because it must be determined whether any members of the family are still alive. It is not known whether the local government wants to focus on preserving the site. For now, it must be assumed that Nivon's creation will be lost along the way.

* Article (2022) by Sonia Terhzaz on her website Cartographie des Rocamberlus
* Article (2008)  by Bruno Montpied on his weblog Le Poignard Subtil (Nivon's art environment also has a review in Bruno Montpied's inventory Le gazouillis des éléphants, 2017)

Michel Nivon
Garden with alignments of expressive stones
Montchenu, dept Drôme, region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France
can be seen from the street


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