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Roger Mercier, Chateau de Bresse-Castille

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About the Artist/Site

Roger Mercier was born to a family with many children in Épervans, a community in the Burgundy area in eastern France. His father was a mason, but instead of following in his footsteps, Roger became an officer with the French merchant navy. He liked travelling and he visited many countries all over the world. Mercier retired in 1984 and acquired a former farm dating from 1670, which was located along the main street in the small community of Damerey, some fifteen kilometers north of Épervans.

Over the years he developed a special relationship with a woman named Manuela Alonso, who was originally from Spanish Castile. He had met her in Lyon but she lived not far from Damerey, in the area of Chalon. As a tribute to Manuela, Mercier decided to embellish his newly acquired property. It would become a project that he worked on for some sixteen years.

He decorated the side of the house facing the main street with a variety of sculptures of animals, including a stork, a deer, a sea lion, a peacock, an eagle, and cats. While this was a significant project, it pales in comparison to how he changed the courtyard located at the rear of the house, an area of some 1100 m² faced by two other buildings and fenced on the side street. He reshaped this inner courtyard, visible to visitors through the fence along the side street, both by creating and installing many sculptures but also by changing and expanding the existing buildings themselves.

The mostly life-sized sculptures, typically arranged into ensembles, often focus on tributes to Manuela Alonso’s Spanish homeland, with representations of Spanish characters such as dancers, a torero, and bulls, all painted in bright and vivid colors. In a change of subject, there is also a Neptune figure accompanied by mermaids, and a bath with a bathing bear. A 17-meter (55.75-feet)-high tower, which features stairs on the outside and balconies and numerous architectural details painted in a variety of vibrant colors, is a striking example of singular architecture. Notably, Mercier built the tower without access to a concrete mixer or a construction crane: he did all the work by hand and his construction scaffolding was a nothing more than a simple assembly of stakes. Enhancing these works, by constructing a variety of arcades and decorating the walls of the courtyard, Mercier managed to evoke the atmosphere of a colorful Spanish hacienda in the midst of the Burgundian landscape.

Mercier built his constructions without a preconceived plan and he often did not file for building permits in a timely fashion. Over the years the municipality provided him with a total of twenty building permits, many issued retroactively.

After Mercier had labored some sixteen years to ornament the site, he decided his creation was complete and, beginning in the early years of the 21st century, he limited himself to maintenance and welcoming visitors. Then, his beloved “Lady from Spain” having passed away, in December 2013 Mercier left Damerey to join his family in Épervans. By this time he was in his late eighties and he wanted to close this chapter of his life history. He left the house as it was, without attempting to sell it. Roger Mercier died in March 2018 at age 92.

The year before his death the site was classified as a Monument Historique. Nevertheless, the future of this art environment is uncertain, for while the municipality is positive about the site, it is too small to provide the necessary resources to buy and maintain the property.

~Henk van Es

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Map and site information

33 Route de Dole
Damerey, Bourgogne Franche-Comté, France
Latitude/Longitude: 46.834313 / 4.991414

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