Justo Gallego’s Cathedral may be saved!


Justo Gallego's Cathedral may be saved!

Brick by brick, Justo Gallego has been constructing a full-scale cathedral since 1961 in the small city of Mejorada del Campo, located just outside of Madrid, Spain. Building without permits, plans, or permissions, he trusted that his labors would ultimately be rewarded and the cathedral would be finished and used for its intended purpose, despite literally decades of threats from municipal and ecclesiastic authorities that it would be demolished immediately following his death. In February 2018, however, all of the political parties of Mejorada del Campo unanimously approved a resolution to designate the cathedral as a Bien de Interés Cultural - a cultural heritage site – and to begin the process of “legalizing” it and bringing it up to code.

SPACES’s Director Jo Farb Hernández has been working with Don Justo since 2008, and a chapter about his work appears in her book Singular Spaces: From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments. For further information about the Cathedral and images of the work in process, see http://spacesarchives.org/explore/collection/environment/justo-gallego-martinezs-cathedral/


Le gazouillis des éléphants by Bruno Montpied arrives at SPACES Archives

Posted in Resources


In this monumental 900-page book, artist and writer Bruno Montpied explores the art environments of France. Le gazouillis des éléphants (the Chirping of Elephants) digs deeply into over 300 sites scattered across the country in great detail, with photographs and information on each site. Arranged geographically, each section focuses on a different area of France and the beginning of each chapter includes a map of the region with indications of where the sites are located. 


“It seemed to me that it was necessary to gather together all of the sites in a kind of general inventory, as a whole and as completely as possible, including all of the environments or little outdoor museums created by self-taught artists as well as the inventive artwork of non-professionals…” said Montpied of the project. 


A perfect tool for researchers, Le gazouillis des éléphants features statistical information in an index that offers insights not typically examined on such a scale. Sociological statistics like the number of sites per region, the number of female creators, reasons that triggered a site’s creation, and sites newly discovered by the author, among others, empower researchers to gain valuable information for analyzing the phenomenon of artist-built environments across France. 


The publisher’s website sheds some light on the title of the book: Le gazouillis des éléphants is borrowed from an inscription found in the listed site of Alexis Le Breton in Brittany. It refers to a curious aspect of this inventory: the unusual recurrence of representations of elephants, which become a motif throughout the book, as if these animals played the role of mascots for these outstanding creators. 


This book, written in French, is available at the SPACES Archive at the Kohler Foundation, Inc., for researchers and interested parties to review, by appointment. 

Laura Pope Forester home sees bright future ahead!

Posted in Gardens, Preservation News


fullsizeoutput128May 1990

The current owners of the Laura Pope Forester home, also known as Mrs. Pope’s Museum and Garden or Pope Store Museum, have been hard at work with the goal of refurbishing the site’s gardens, sculptures, murals, and other works of art. Laura Pope (1900-1953) had built an extraordinary garden around her antebellum rural residence in Ochlocknee, GA, which included over 200 figurative sculptures. Most were three-dimensional, but others were bas-reliefs or busts set into or topping the walls and the elaborate arched gateway on the periphery of her property. She built her works up on a metal infrastructure composed of found objects such as scrap iron and tin cans, later covering them with concrete. 


Her subjects, mostly “outstanding individuals of fact and fancy” and mostly female, focused on a diverse and wide-ranging group of significant or iconic women, but there were also figures from tales and legend. Other works included a series of seven faces representing the world’s major religions; thought to have been taken from plaster casts, it has been suggested that they were molded from her friends.


fullsizeoutput126May 1990

After Laura Pope’s death, the family maintained the property without making significant changes, and for some time it remained a local tourist attraction and roadside curiosity that was supported, in part, by a civic club and Pelham’s Chamber of Commerce. However, in 1974, her only surviving son sold the site to a mill owner from the nearby town of Meigs. He thought that the sculptures had “passed their days of being useful,” so he dismantled and destroyed most of the freestanding works, leaving only some dozen that had been built into the walls. Most of the rest were destroyed in 1981, yet by 1990 several still remained within the garden walls.


By the time the current owners purchased the property and moved on-site in July 2017, the entire property had been severely neglected. Since then, considerable effort and progress has been made to rebrand both the property and Laura Pope Forester’s work, as well as to restore the structure of the building. A new nonprofit corporation – Pope’s Museum Preservation, Inc.- has been set up, and they are going through the process of preparing an application to add the home and grounds to the National and Georgia Registers of Historic Places under the categories of art, recreation and leisure, and women’s history. 


fullsizeoutput124Image from Popes Museum Preservation

You can follow along with the progress of the restoration through their newly launched website, which includes a blog with behind-the-scenes images of daily discoveries made while working on the site. You can learn more about Laura Pope Forester at SPACES here and see the Pope Store Museum website here.

Update on The Last Resort Lagunitas

Posted in Threatened Environments


The Last Resort Lagunitas, located in Marin County, California, is an art environment and model of ecological sustainability whose mission is “to discover and perfect sustainable environmental solutions for waste management, water reuse, and food security.” Built by David Hoffman over the last 40 years, there are dozens of buildings and sculptures on this site, most created from recycled materials or harvested from his own property. Many of the hand-crafted structures were inspired by Japanese, Chinese, and Tibetan art and architecture utilizing masonry, stone, and wood. As a young man in his twenties, Hoffman was inspired as he backpacked throughout Asia and beyond, ultimately visiting over 100 countries. In 1973, after settling in Marin County and developing an innovative sonic cleaning method for fragile and ancient textiles, Hoffman moved on to importing artisanal tea culture to the mainstream United States. His work was so innovative that it was chronicled in the 2007 documentary All in This Tea by noted filmmaker Les Blank.  It was during this time that Hoffman began to construct The Last Resort, in order to demonstrate that one could live on the land sustainably and without pollution. 

last resort exterior david briggs 2012The exterior of the Last Resort Lagunitas. David Briggs, 2012.

The site, with its meandering paths and contemplative corners, features over 30 buildings— some functional, others more spiritual—and also boasts a unique “integrated bio-management system” designed for disposing and recycling waste through vermicomposting: utilizing worms, micro-organisms, and carbon-rich leaves to break down grey water and food scraps, prior to being reutilized in Hoffman’s gardens. This is, however, of primary concern of the Board of Supervisors of Marin County, as is Hoffman’s treatment of human waste, which is also broken down with worm composting (compost toilets are prohibited in Marin County). The County has reprimanded Hoffman about his flouting of county codes, and has levied over $200,000 in fines and penalties for his waste treatment systems, for building without permits, and for running his current tea business, the Phoenix Collection, on the site. The County has also called for demolition of the architectural structures within the compound. “I understand their concerns,” Hoffman has stated, “but my concern for the planet is far greater than my fear of breaking the law.” 

last-resort-boat-jfh-nov-2016Full size Monterey fishing boat over cistern and well. Jo Farb Hernandez, November 2016.

On November 17, 2017, a hearing was held to determine whether the site (or how much of it) should be demolished or sold, and whether access restrictions should be imposed. The judge, who had never adjudicated a case of this nature, was impressed by the number of supporters in attendance, as well as the evidence of long-term community support evidenced by petitions and letters to the County in support of David Hoffman and his unique compound. The judge suspended the demolition of any structures or restriction of access until March 2018, when another meeting will be held and the issues at hand will undergo further review. Hoffman and his supporters feel this is a step in the right direction. In the meantime, he has continued to live—and, despite a court mandate, build—on the property. However, as reported by Point Reyes Light, a local news source for Marin County, his fines have continued to mount: he has roughly $350,000 pending on his property tax bill, reflecting the court’s administrative penalties, as well as a $93,000 bank lien on the property to cover the costs of the work of the County-appointed receiver. Mr. Hoffman, who is battling Lyme disease, said the timeline ahead—rearranging his life and work— is daunting. “I always believed that I was working on solutions, not creating a bigger problem. We can’t rely on government and big business to fix the problems in our world; we need people who understand the problem to do our part to make the planet a better place. The laws of nature just conflict with those that politicians make.”

faces at last resort lagunitasJo Farb Hernandez, November 2016.

 See more about The Last Resort Lagunitas on SPACES and visit The Last Resort Lagunitas website here.



fullsizeoutput103Gugger Petter, 2012.fullsizeoutput100Jo Farb Hernandez, November 2016.

Association des Amis de Chomo unveils new website


The Association des Amis de Chomo has unveiled their new website! Filled with amazing pictures, videos, and more of the Village d’art préludien by Roger Chomeaux, known as Chomo (1907-1999), the website is a wonderful resource for those interested in the documentation of and advocacy for art environments.


chomo website screenshotThe homepage for the new website

Since his first meeting with Chomo in 1975, Laurent Danchin, a beloved SPACES board member who passed away in 2017, was instrumental in the preservation of and advocacy for Chomo’s Village d’art préludien environment in France, organizing conservation efforts and thoroughly documenting the various stages of the artist’s transformation of his property. 


Chomo was an artist, painter, sculptor, musician, poet, filmmaker, and environment builder who lived for forty years as a hermit tucked away in the woods of Fontainebleau, France, on land purchased by his wife during the Second World War.

may-2014-hh9Jo Farb Hernandez, May 2014.

Even as a young man Roger Chomeaux had a passion for art. He attended art school in Valenciennes and the École des Beaux Arts in Paris (1926-1928), but, to earn his living, worked in the Paris area as a carpet decorator. During World War II, he was taken prisoner and deported to Poland. After the war, back in France, he continued to actively create art work in such media as gouache and ceramics, and he even experimented with film. It was at this time that he began using the name Chomo.


Eventually, Chomo and his family moved to a country house located in Achères-la-Forêt, in a forested region south of Paris. In the following years he began transforming this site into an art environment, creating a variety of constructions and buildings with the use of recycled materials. Among the works were l´Église des Pauvres (The Church of the Poor), le Sanctuaire des Bois Brûlés (The Shrine of the Burned Woods) and le Refuge (the Shelter).

le-ruge-the-shelter-at-night-2009le Ruge (the shelter) at night. Laurent Danchin, 2009.

In the mid-sixties Chomo moved permanently to this wooded site, expanding the art environment while at the same time continuing with a variety of other artistic projects as well, including painting, sculpting, weaving carpets, writing poetry, playing music, and making films. He preferred the solitude and simple life in the woods, as he felt it helped him to preserve his artistic freedom. His work, however, was becoming known, and beginning in the 1970s visitors would come to see what he had begun to call his Village d’art préludien [Village of Preludian Art]. He taught them his conception of art and his critical vision of contemporary society. At his death, he left his children (now in their 80s and without heirs of their own) a series of buildings constructed from plaster, grills, bottles, and recycled lumber or branches. He lived in a small prefab house without heating or water. 

may-2014-jfhl´Église des Pauvres (the Church of the Poor) Jo Farb Hernandez, May 2014.

Laurent Danchin met Chomo while living near Achères-la-Forêt in 1975, and he became president of the Chomo Friends Association and one of Chomo’s closest friends and collaborators. He wrote extensively on Chomo and his creations, and worked tirelessly to promote the site through visits, conferences, and presentations. The Association, while focusing on Chomo’s work, intends to broaden their reach in the defense of all art environments and the memory of their authors.


Vist www.amisdechomo.com and learn more about Chomo on SPACES here

The Sculpture Park and Garden of Veijo Rönkkönen

Posted in Gardens


veijo-1Used with the permission of the photographer, Minna Haveri

Nestled in remote Eastern Finland in Parikkala, near the Russian border, is a delight that spans history and culture. As you make your way down the driveway, you are greeted by figures flanking the road, an array of statues that have been likened to the cover of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” record, a frozen carnival that flourishes in the greenery of summer and stands tall in the cold, Finnish winters. Like many outdoor sculptures constructed in cold, seasonal climates, these are largely painted concrete, occasionally decked with embellishments. Painting the concrete helps to protect it from the elements. 



veijo-driveway-1Used with the permission of the photographer, Minna Haveri

Veijo Rönkkönen (1944- 2010) was 16 years old when he began a job as a press worker in a paper mill in Parikkala, a job he held for 41 years. With his first pay check, he purchased ten apple tree seedlings and a bag of concrete—the beginnings of an extensive sculpture park and garden he would build around his family home. He was known to be guarded in his younger years as he began his sculptural endeavor. After he completed his first statue in 1961 and the years wore on, his reputation as a hermit persisted even as his reserve dropped away to reveal and warm and humorous personality. This friendly demeanor is reflected in most, if not all, of his statues. As visual and performance artist and art critic Erkki Pirtola noted in Itse Tehty Elamam “Each figure has the same supernatural smile, enhanced by real false teeth, which also make the smile all the more biting.” This smile is seen in the parade of children led by a proud drummer boy, in the choir of Greek youths, and in the figures that inhabit the garden, reflecting archetypes of ethnic characteristics and exotic cultures. 


In a move right out of Dorian Grey, Rönkkönen is perhaps known best for what he calls his “monument for the memory of is young body.” In the park of nearly 500 works, 255 are self-portrait-like characters in different yoga positions— each on the quest for unity and correct form. Some now gather moss in an act of ultimate meditation and dedication amidst torturing asanas. Far from Nek Chand’s yoga-familiar Rock Garden of Chandigarh in India, this ode from a self-taught yogi in Finland is surprising and unexpected. Considered to be the spiritual center of Rönkkönen’s endeavor, it certainly is a stunning climax. 


veijo-yoga-1Used with the permission of the photographer, Minna Haveri


On the occasions when he had been asked to show his work beyond the park, Veijo Rönkkönen always insisted to ask the statues first; however, they apparently never wanted to travel. The plan he shared before his death was to bury the park in sand and leave it in silence for one thousand years, like the terra-cotta armies of China. After he passed in 2010, his family, in an unusually amiable and constructive move, realized the importance of securing and saving the park’s work and future. Rather than covering it all in sand, the park was purchased by Finnish businessman and art lover Reijo Uusitalo in collaboration with Finland’s ITE Art Association, and is being protected and preserved for future generations.


 See more here: Veijo Rönkkönen

Gabriel Albert Sculpture Garden Undergoes Restoration

Posted in Gardens, Preservation News, Self-Taught Arts in the News



Gabriel Albert’s garden in Nantillé  (Charente-Maritime), after 25 years of being largely unoccupied, has experienced a swell of visitors since the recent launch of a regional restoration project. It had been unoccupied, that is, with the exception of over 400 resident statues!  


free-entry-manThis statue, recently cleaned, greets visitors at the entrance of the garden.

As a youngster, Gabriel Albert dreamt of becoming a sculptor, but became a carpenter to earn a regular livelihood. It was not until he retired in 1969 at age 65 that he was finally able to give way to his passion.

Albert began making figurative sculptures and busts, applying cement to iron frame infrastructures. Most of the 420 sculptures he eventually created, which he placed in the garden surrounding his hand-built house, represented anonymous people going about everyday tasks. However, some depicted political personalities, celebrities, and characters from fairy tales, which he based on photographs he saw in magazines.


1Concrete is porous, which makes it an ideal place for moss and lichen to grow. Conservators often use biocide to combat this common ailment of art environments.




Around 1989 Albert became ill and decided to reserve his energy to maintain the site rather than to create new works. Before his death, he sold all of his work for a symbolic amount to the community of Nantillé. In spring 2011, an association of friends actively promoted protected status for the garden, so that it could be opened for visits by the general public. Now, in 2017, preservationists, using brushes and other small tools, are carefully scraping lichen and moss from the sculptures in the first phase of conservation. Sculptures with more extensive damage have been fitted with frames to protect their fragile limbs until the conservationists can explore options and decide on long term solutions to strengthen the concrete forms. As of this writing, fifty-nine figures have been taken to an offsite workshop for conservation. 


biocide-half-n-halfHalf of the statue has undergone biocide treatment, which shows the effectiveness of removing microorganisms that have nestled in the concrete.


The timeline for this project is November 2017 to June 2018. The most urgent task was to pack, transport and shelter those fifty-nine statues at risk, but emergency measures will also include filling cracks in the statues and the restoration of Gabriel Albert’s studio. The first stage of restoration, estimated to cost 252,602€, is 100% financed by the Region of New Aquitaine under the scientific and technical control of the Regional Conservation of Historical Monuments (Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs [DRAC] New Aquitaine - Ministry of Culture). They have done a truly fantastic job of documenting the history of the site and will surely continue the good work through conservation. 


4Splints, polyurethane foam, and plastic film help keep damaged limbs in check.


supported bustsAfter supporting the ground beneath and creating a protective structure, these busts that were formerly leaning are safe.


Learn more about the Gabriel Albert Sculpture Garden on SPACES here


All images: © Région Nouvelle-Aquitaine, General Inventory of Cultural Heritage. Christian Rome, 2017. 

Kohler Foundation + SPACES Archives Transfer Update

Posted in SPACES News


books-for-kfi-spaces-updateMany of the archive materials are only available in person - the archive boasts many books, publications, and other resources about sites around the world.


Kohler Foundation archivist Ann Gappmayer has been hard at work, plugging away to inventory and rehouse recently received documents and other SPACES archival materials so that they will be easily searchable. The SPACES archive, currently located in a secure warehouse in Sheboygan, Wis, is now open for researchers by appointment. While the SPACES website is growing and becoming more robust every day, thanks to our legions of supporters, many of the resources included within the archive, like library books and journals, are only available in person. Ann shared that one of the goals is to add all the books in the archive to WorldCAT, the world’s largest library catalog, so that researchers and interested parties can discover the assets in the archive more easily.  


fullsizeoutputa5-g43Ann double checks all files to remove staples and paperclips, which can rust. She then transfers everything into archival folders.


Ann has been delving into the vast amount of materials that lie within the “Art” Harold Beal collection. Art Beal created Nit Witt Ridge in Cambria Pines, California and SPACES Founder Seymour Rosen and includes an incredible depth of resources: extensive letters, photographs, and even Beal’s birth certificate.


manila archiveThe effects of newsprint and other non-archival materials are seen here in this manila folder.nat-geoVolume 122, Number 4 Issue of National Geographic from October 1962 that features an article with the Watts Towers.

SPACES Archives welcomes new Social Media and Communications Coordinator

Posted in SPACES News
spark-paintings-imageJen Balge leads a SPARK! Group at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center

SPACES Archives is pleased to announce the hiring of Jen Balge as our New Media and Communications Coordinator. Jen is taking over from Jennifer Joy Jameson, who has transitioned to the Alliance for California Traditional Arts as Programs and Media Director. She will focus on SPACES’ ongoing mission and goals as we continue to work to engage those familiar with our work as well as attract new audiences. 


Jen has worked at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center as Education Specialist since 2013, planning public programs and education components around works featured in their exhibitions and collections, many of which include art environments. With access to the JMKAC collection as well as SPACES’ physical archives – as it continues to transfer to the Kohler Foundation, Inc. – she is looking forward to exploring a range of topics to broaden our reach and impact. Among her short-term goals are to feature contemporary artists whose work has been influenced by art environments and to offer resources for educators. She also hopes to continue to build partnerships with other academic and general organizations who work in this field.


Jen holds degrees in art and education from Cardinal Stritch University (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), and strives to use points of universal accessibility of artist-built environments to engage people of all ages and abilities. In addition to her position at JMKAC, she serves as the museum representative on the Wisconsin Art Education Association board and is currently president-elect for the Dementia Care Network of Sheboygan County.


Be sure to follow SPACES Archives on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay up-to-date on our latest happenings. You can reach Jen with any new media and communications inquiries, suggestions, or comments at communications@spacesarchives.org. 


SPACES and Kohler Foundation Celebrate New Partnership at the Road Less Traveled

Posted in SPACES News


dsc9775L to R: Susan Kelly, Senior Preservation Coordinator, KFI; Bill Swislow, SPACES Board; Ann Gappmayer, JMKAC; Stacy Mueller, SPACES Archivist; Terri Yoho, KFI Executive Director; John Foster, SPACES Board; Christine Taylor, Incoming KFI Executive Director; Jo Farb Hernández, SPACES Executive Director. Missing: Lisa Stone, SPACES Board; Dan Smith, Senior Preservation Coordinator, KFI

The recent Road Less Traveled conference in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, hosted by a consortium that included the Kohler Foundation, Inc., the John Michael Kohler Art Center, and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, was the venue for the “official” announcement and celebration of SPACES archives partnership with, and move to, the Kohler Foundation, Inc.


screen-shot-2017-10-09-at-114503-amScenes from the In Celebration of Ourselves exhibition co-curated by SPACES Archives, including the works of Sanford Darling, from his House of 1,000 Paintings + figure from Calvin and Ruby Black's Possum Trot.

In conjunction with the conference, SPACES Director Jo Farb Hernández worked with JMKAC curator Karen Patterson on two complementary exhibitions that drew from the archive’s resources – one focused on the Watts Towers and one that presented components of the groundbreaking In Celebration of Ourselves exhibition organized by SPACES founder Seymour Rosen for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1978. Hernández, along with all current members of the SPACES Board of Trustees – including John Foster, Lisa Stone, and Bill Swislow – as well as SPACES archivist Stacy Mueller, also participated in a panel discussion describing the work of SPACES archives, its development and evolution, and its plans for the future.


wattstowerexcel20170002rosenwattsMore scenes from the exhibition, including early images from Watts Towers. Photo courtesy JMKAC.

As this partnership with KFI develops and the physical archives are transferred to Sheboygan, SPACES staff and Board will continue to fulfill our mission of identifying, documenting, collecting information about, and advocating for the preservation of art environments all over the world. And as we continue to do so, we encourage all of you to continue to send us your photos, your texts, and any information you can uncover about art environments. This site has truly become a crowd-sourced resource, and we couldn’t do it without you! Thanks to everyone for your support!


img1930-brightenedSPACES Director Jo Farb Hernández with SPACES Board Member Lisa Stone at the celebration honoring the transfer of SPACES to KFI. Photo by John Foster.

Read more about the week’s events + the accomplishments of SPACES in this new piece by Hyperallergic


To see a video tour of the exhibition, view more on our Instagram feed


Browse Blog Archives by Month

Association des Amis de Chomo unveils new website

Gabriel Albert Sculpture Garden Undergoes Restoration
Gardens, Preservation News, Self-Taught Arts in the News

Act Now: Save The Last Resort - A Working Model of Sustainability in Marin County, CA
Take Action, Threatened Environments

Conservator-in-Residence Position, Hartman Rock Garden - Ohio
Preservation News

SPACES Honors Watts Towers Committee Founding Member Jeanne Smith Morgan on her 90th Birthday!
Preservation News, SPACES News

Remembering Josep Pujiula i Vila (1937-2016)
Self-Taught Arts in the News

Dispatch from the Field: Jo Farb Hernández in Spain

Materializing the Bible. by James S. Bielo (Miami University)
Gardens, Religious, Devotional & Spiritual

Call to Action: Preserve Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village in California
Threatened Environments

Mr. Imagination exhibit at Intuit named one of 10 best in the United States
Self-Taught Arts in the News

The SPACES website allows you to save your favorite art environments and share them with your friends or colleagues. Create your own portfolio of your favorites from environments in the online collection.

Send them to your friends, post them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and tag #spacesarchives 

Look for this button on pages that can be saved:

Add Page to my spaces