February 26, 2009

Arthur Vanabelle. La ferme aux avions/The farm with the airplanes


picture (2004) courtesy of A. van de Weerd

The northern part of France that borders on Flanders in Belgium, historically has many links with that Flemish area: cultural traditions, food and drinks, linguistic influences.....

So the name Vanabelle and the name of the community where the site is located, Steenwerck, have a flemish ring.

Life and works

Born on a farm near Steenwerck, Arthur Vanabelle (1922-2014) all his life has been living there. He became a farmer, never married, and after his parents had died he lived together with his brother on the family farm.

After WWII Vanabelle collected all kinds of (military) objects he traced in the fields around the farm and along the roads in the neighbourhood. Having a pile of these materials, at some moment in the nineteen-sixties he made a weather-vane.

This inspired him to go on and to construct a model of an airplane, one, another one, and more. He also has made tanks and big guns. He displayed all these creations around the farm and on the roofs of the farm's buildings
.
 picture (2010) courtesy of Alain Cadet

Arthur Vanabelle has been making these constructions for many years, untill age 80.

The result is a fantastic collection of military-like objects, displayed on top of and around the farm-houses. The ensemble can be seen when driving the autoroute E42/A25 from Lille to Dunkerque, a road, constructed in the 1970's which runs right past the farm.

picture (2004) courtesy of A. van de Weerd

Warfare in the region

Although Vanabelle himself said that he wouldn't know why he made these warlike creations. it can be noted that he himself also liked to talk about what happened around the farm in an early phase of the war in northern France.

In the spring of 1940, when Arthur Vanabelle was 18, in the area where he lived, the german, british and french troops were heavily at war (resulting in the narrow escape of the british from Dunkerque).

The farm was in the midst of the movements of all the troops, and the Vanabelle family housed a lot of people on refuge.

It is quite possible that this events made a big impression on young Vanabelle, resulting in his later fascination with military-like material. 

picture (2004) courtesy A. van de Weerd

In this context it is interesting to note that Vanabelle's farm is located near a bunker of the Maginot Line, named the Base de la Ménégate. Vanabelle referred to this by adding a placard with this name to the collection.

So it is quite possible that this art environment should be referred to as Base de la Ménégate.

I first learned about this through Alain Cadet's interview (sept 2010), mentioned below. When I wrote the original version of this post (feb 2009), I referred to the site with the name which at that time was used in most french publications, i.e. farm with the airplanes.

Interview with Alain Cadet

In september 2010 Vanabelle was interviewed by french freelance journalist Alain Cadet. The interview is special, because it introduces him talking about his life and works (translation published in OEE texts). Asked why he made these creations, Vanabelle said: "Do not ask me why! I do not know! I did it: that's it!".

He also talks about what happened in the area around the farm in the early phases of WWII, warfare activities that, as said, may have influenced him as a young man.

The Lille Art Museum

Another aspect of the interview is that Vanabelle says that he was contacted by a museum.

Indeed, the Lille Art Museum in 2010 commissioned a cabinet of architects in Mons-en-Baroeul (Lille region) to make a 1:100 maquette of the site.

picture Voix du Nord/Alain Cadet
Franck Ghesqière, Gabriel Levieuge and Sébastien Loutreau working at the scale model 

During the summer of 2010 the architects stayed for some days on the farm, measuring, photographing and talking with Vanabelle. They characterise him in this way: "C’est un personnage fantastique qui vit dans la plus totale liberté" (He is a fantastic character, who lives in most complete freedom).

Here is a picture of the completed maquette, currently in the collection of the museum: 


Arthur Vanabelle died in 2014

In janary 2014 Arthur Vanabelle, together with his brother, moved to a home for the elderly.

A public discussion arose about the future of Vanabelle's art environment. An association was formed to save the site which organized a petition (jan 2014) and a subscription to collectively buy the farm.

After Arthur Vanabelle passed away early september 2014,  it became known in december 2014 that the farm had been bought by a private party that aims to transform the property into a private dwelling. Early 2017 a regional journal interviewed the new owner, who wants to remain anonymus. The journal reports that this new owner will try to save the creations as much as possible and that he already is repainting various items in the appropriate colors. The purchase contract provides that the mayor of Steenwerck may remove some creations in favor of the local museum.

In agreement with Arthur Vanabelle's brother, the mayor meanwhile in the course of 2015 has removed some twenty items. These will be added to the collection of the local Musée de la vie rurale (Museum of rural life) as soon as a planned expansion is ready (probably in 2017).

Meanwhile the association to save the farm has cancelled it's activities.

memorial stone offered by the association to save the site

Documentation
* Series of pictures on Photobucket (story by Gricha Rosov)
* Pictures (april 2010) on the website les grisgris de Sophie 
* In OEE texts an interview (sept 2010) with ArthurVanabelle by Alain Cadet.
* The site has been presented in the Rémy Ricordeau/Bruno Montpied movie (2011) Bricoleurs de Paradis
* Article on SPACES website
* Vidéo (1981, 5'26"), french regional TV


* Video (1997, 9'26") by BTS Audio Rostand Roubaix



first published feb 2009, revised jun 2009, may, sept 2010, oct 2012, jan, march, dec  2014, feb 2015, march 2017

Arthur Vanabelle
La ferme aux avions
rue de l'Hollebecque
59181 Steenwerck, France
no public visits 
streetview 

4 comments:

  1. What a delightful looking place ! Would love to climb into the cockpit of the one on top of the roof, and make a rolling take-off going down the slope, and sail off into the clouds. Only a rare and demented mind can create such wonders. Am adding Steenwerck to the list of places to visit soon !

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  2. Pour découvrir l'état actuel, vous pouvez vous rendre sur mon propre blog Le Poignard Subtil, où j'ai récemment fait une note sur le site, avec des photos datant de juin 2009...:http://lepoignardsubtil.hautetfort.com

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  3. Over the years I have often driven by this place. The first time I wasn't sure what I had glimpsed, but with each subsequent trip I tried to see it as I went by. Now I have found it on the web, but now it appears to be under threat as the chap has gone into a home. I hope the museum can save it. In this PR filled , politically correct consumer ridden society its good to see something done just for the fun of it.

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