Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The 'Little Italy' Garden/Folly
of Corris, Wales

     When planning a trip to a new area, beside looking up, as much as one is able, where the second-hand bookshops might be, I consult that bible of all things 'folly' Headley & Muelenkamps  'Follies, Grottoes and Garden Buildings' (Aurum 1999). This wonderful book lists virtually every strange and weird quirk of architecture covered by these terms which, as you can see by the title alone, can stretch to cover many things.

    Last year holiday took us to the Gower peninsular of Wales and as part of that trip we decided to visit its best known Italianate architectural fantasy, Portmerion, and its more secret twin lying thirty or so miles further south on the edge of Corris.

    Of  Sir Clough William Ellis' Portmeirion we have nothing historical to add that has not been said
here. On the day we visited it was particularly warm and the place was packed with visitors. Too many. Despite the quieter area of the dogs graveyard (in fact this aspect of the 'village' had been begun before Ellis took over) we were glad to leave it and point the car down the coast again.

Dogs Graveyard Port Merion

    The beauty of follies is that one can never be certain as to whether they are known, or if known cared about, by the locals. It would seem as if this one both known and loved, as we given precise directions by a woman working at one of Corris
other attractions   and actually escorted part of the way there by an Irish visitor to the youth hostel about 1/4 from it. It was lucky we were, as it lies (un-signposted) up a track just outside the village. It is a nice walk, further than you might imagine even if you know where you are going, but persevere,  it is worth it.

    The Garden is tiered back from the path overlooking the valley, and walled in part by a large collection of brick laid side on to show the differing manufacturers names. After (ahem) 'negotiating' the locked gate (the house appeared to be undergoing renovations and no-one was around) we wandered at will down tiny paths that twisted up and down and round about. 

    Construction of the thirty or so buildings that are spread over the large site was begun in the late '70s by Mark Bourne, a retired chicken farmer and caravan park owner, and based upon photos taken while on holiday in Italy. 

      Each project  (which appeared to be built of concrete over a steel structure) took from four to six weeks depending on the size  which ranged large (2.5m +) Pisa Tower and Siennas Bell Tower to a more modest scale perhaps 1-1.5m . 

    This is in addition to many metres of  pathways, crenellated walls, the sheds of Welsh railway ephemera and the horticultural aspects of the garden itself. Any size  discrepancies were absorbed by the rakes in perspective created by the landscaping, and everything formed a crazy homogeneous whole. It is a wonderful place and obviously a labour of love.

    Sadly Mr. Bourne died in 2009 and local rumour told us that the current owners are hoping to open a b & b with the garden as a bonus. I have to say that in my opinion this not bode well for Little Italy. Many of the pathways are a single paving slab wide and the walls are often only one brick wide. 

    Maintaining these, let alone the buildings, some of which look quite delicate and already flaking paint, would seem to be a full time job that only the truly committed  (i.e. a Mr. Bourne) could sustain. Thus with the best will in the world a large increase in visitor 'traffic' could well cause irreparable damage. That said, it takes some commitment to visit until this place; so before arrives on the tourist map, if it ever does, visit it soon. I fear that in a decade it will be a shadow of its glorious self.



Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Stereoscopic 'Diableries'
of 19th Century France

     Some of you may be aware of my love of things stereoscopic and in particular the set(s) of images that are known as 'Diableries' (the Diabolical).

     These amusing cards which feature Satan and his skeletal cohorts riding bikes, at the concert hall, in the library and  performing many other jolly japes were created over a forty year period in France and were mainly published by Adolph Block. The exact number of images is unknown but it is thought to be around 140. The cards also have a
strong satirical edge, primarily at the expense of the Napoleonic excesses of the day, though some images still elude attempts to decipher them.

     The scenes themselves were made from clay and plaster, the stereoscopic photos of which became the cards. The French had  developed a technique now generally known as 'tissue view' in which each card was printed on thin paper and backed with tissue and coloured varnishes. Sometimes images where also pierced to allow white light through. Viewed from the front the image was in b/w but when  backlit it changed to colour. This was a delicate and expensive process and sets of images were thus luxury items.

     To date, only one (now rare) book exists on them; Jac Remises 'Diableries: La vie Quotidienne Chez Satan',  Balland, 1978). However, the
London Stereoscopic Company   has announced that they are to issue a new book on the subject at some point this year which will include the fruits of the considerable research that has taken place over the last twenty five years.

     Their website has a section devoted to the Diableries including
this link to an amazing page showing 73 of the Diableries in which the viewer can observe (at high resolution) the image in its front and backlit states.

     To get you in the mood here are a few single frames in b/w but do visit that link above to see them in their full colour glory.