Ferdinand Cheval was a postman in Hauterives, France. He was in his early forties, on his second marriage and his second profession (he’d originally been a baker). He was walking more than 30 kilometers daily to deliver letters and postcards. And he had dreams.
Most notably, he’d had a dream where he was constructing buildings from rocks and he’d remembered it long after waking. He fancied himself an architect or mason, but kept the notion to himself. In April, 1879, that changed when he tripped on something. Going back to the place where he’d stumbled he discovered a large, unusually shaped rock. After finishing his postal route he returned, unearthed the rock, and brought it to a plot of land received as a dowry during the second marriage.
From that day, he had a new hobby. When he would see what he felt were appropriate stones during his travels, he would gather them – a possibility because he’d taken to carrying a wheelbarrow with him every day. The rocks would be placed at the site in a way he felt aesthetically pleasing. After a little while, he started attempting to carve the rocks, join stones together, and more.
He worked on his project for thirty-three years. He learned how to shave smooth steps, how to make articulated doors, how to carve faces and creatures and words. When postcard images would particularly impress him he would incorporate elements of those pictures into his work… all without any training.
The result was the Palais Ideal, the Ideal Palace, and it is a majesty to behold. Six stories high, twenty-six meters long, intricately detailed and all crafted by a single pair of hands, it drew the attention of world-famous artists starting in the early 1900s and remains a popular attraction to this day.
It was also meant to be his tomb, but the local authorities made clear that such a use was not allowed. Instead, after receiving the news, he began work on a new project, a much smaller but similarly intricate affair located within the nearby graveyard.
Question of the night: What is your preferred creative/artistic outlet?