Monday, April 28, 2008


A few weeks ago, Petra’s uncle John took us to visit an artist’s community called Montsalvat. It’s about 25k (15 miles) outside the Melbourne in the town of Eltham.

Having just celebrated it’s 75th birthday, it’s practically ancient by Australian standards. The sense of antiquity isn’t hurt by the fact that it was all built by unskilled laborers in a style imaginatively imitative of medieval rural France. The buildings are suitably odd and decrepit, made mostly of scavenged timber and daub. Galleries, a lofty dining hall, studios large and small, living quarters even larger and smaller, courtyards and chapels are arbitrarily nestled amongst 12 acres of alternately landscaped and neglected patches of greenery. Peacocks seem to be the kings of the land. A cafe commands the best view of the city across rolling hills, and serves a proper high tea complete with clotted cream.

Current artists in residence include painters; jewelers; makers of violins, guitars, and Japanese flutes; dressmakers; and others. They also have a resident winemaker, whom they seem to greatly appreciate. The best part of the day was watching two middle-aged guys who’d apprenticed to the guitar maker string and strum their hand-made instruments for the first time. Their quiet joy and pride and skill, listening to their hard fingers slide up the steel strings and watch these grown men silently grin, with the wine and sun and geese underfoot and hay smell and old wood to lean against… it was hard to get me to go back to the hard cold city.

Unfortunately most of the visual art produced here, both historically and presently, is rather terrible. That manages to not detract too much from the grounds and their ideal. Today, Monstalvat is mostly used as a location for weddings and other similar events, as a backdrop for films and ads, and as a place for Melbournians to go for tea and a stroll. I’d recommend it any day.

No comments: