With the kind authorization of Jeremy Josephs "... Ferdinand who? You might well ask. "I was not a builder, I had never handled a mason’s trowel, I was not a sculptor. The chisel was unknown to me; not to mention architecture, a field in which I remained totally ignorant." So who was he? Why, a humble postman, of course, in the village of Hauterives in the picturesque Drôme department of Southern France. An ill-educated, little-travelled postman who would single-handedly construct a magnificent temple to nature now classified as an historical monument in France, his 33 years of blood, sweat and tears now feted by artists and intellectuals alike. Not bad for someone who the locals liked to classify as the village idiot.
Ferdinand Cheval’s round consisted of 32 kilometers a day, often covering broken ground with poor access, steep climbs and a difficult, rocky terrain. For ten years he would walk the same route. During this time he would sleep in barns, warm himself by the fire of a friendly farmhouse, before setting off again on his long and lonely rambles in all weathers. Deep in his solitude, Ferdinand would make his way - a mystic, a visionary, wandering off towards the unknown. Although he never quite understood the meaning of his strange visions experienced in what he would refer to as "trance-like state" - he was for a long time haunted by images of a dazzling palace. Then one day in 1879 le facteur Cheval, as he was known, tripped on a stone...(which) reactivated his secret dream of building a palace - a fantastic castle. Returning to the same spot the following day, he gathered a series of even more attractive examples. He began to collect them, filling at first his pockets, then baskets - and finally a wheelbarrow.
"There is a long way to dream from reality", as the legendary postman himself put it. Indeed. 10,000 days, 93,000 hours and 33 years of toil - to be precise - the first two decades being spent on the outer walls alone. "Should there exist a more determined man than myself, then let him set to work"...Gathering together 40 kilos in small heaps, he would return to fetch them at night with his wheelbarrow, thereby adding between 8 and 20 kilometers to his round each day, quite apart from the incredible work he would perform on the construction itself...
...And then the intellectuals stepped in to herald him as a genius. Some before, but mostly after his death. Andre Breton...Others have seen in the Palais the temple of Angkor, a cave, the art of Gaudi, modern sculpture, the decor of Melies, Neuschwanstein castle, candy sugar creations and the underwater seascape. In fact well before Dali, Cheval cajoled unwilling matter into soft or fluid form, such as the petrified jets of water above a fountain. Inspired by his own vision, this simple, uneducated man reinvented the canvasses of Gustave Moreau, the drawings of mediums, the graphical work of Victor Hugo... But do not be lulled into the belief that Cheval downed his tools upon completion of his palace. Nothing so simple. Although it had been his intention to be buried inside his creation ... the local authorities refused to grant him the necessary permissions... at the age of 78 he embarked upon the building of his own vault in the parish cemetery - another magnificent creation - only finishing the job eight years later. Finally, on August 19th 1924, twenty months after his work was complete, the remarkable Facteur Cheval died in Hauterives at 88 years of age..."
Jeremy Josephs' entire text