We were plodding up the hill to a slate quarry (See my last post) when a neat cottage came into view. Painted white and very cleanly turned out, it was obviously much loved. But it was the garden that grabbed and held our attention. Incredibly, it contained a miniature Italian landscape, with a flavour of Portmeirion- only more intense, more concentrated. In contrast to the house, the garden was slightly down at heel. The structures were weathering and crumbling, although the grounds around them were kept neat, the grass trimmed.
The garden that the locals call "Little Italy" was originally the creation of the late Mark Bourne, a retired holiday camp owner. He'd visited Italy and had fallen in love with the architecture, trying to re-create the ambience in his garden. Using his holiday snaps, he achieved something far beyond a folly- an artwork that incorporates bits of Welsh history and evocations of Italianate fancy, sitting alongside collections of bricks and industrial artefacts. Somehow it works, wonderfully.
Each of the structures appears to be built from concrete, over a wire armature. According to one local, when the buildings were made in the seventies, they would take between four and six weeks to construct. I imagined that there must have been moulds and shuttering to make, as the details are too fine to sculpt out repetitively. Mr Bourne was obviously a master of concrete art.
There are also plaques, possibly carved in slate by him, dedicating some of the displays to folk who had presented bits of rock, or tile. It seems that collections of bricks were donated too; just finding all those would be a life's work. The whole site feels like a labour of love, a votive offering to somewhere Mr Bourne loved deeply.
I quote Tim Dunn's description in his Flickr album, for I couldn't put it better:
"Here was a setting so beautiful, so idyllic, and so lovingly crafted, that it goes beyond a museum of random artefacts; beyond a modelmaker's skilful recreation of full-size prototypes. Little Italy was created to share the beauty of art with other people and to enhance the lives of everyone."
Tim is a connoiseur and expert on the subject of miniature villages- his Flickr collection of images of "Little Italy" (here) is fascinating, especially since the shots were taken in 2007.
The place has changed hands a couple of times since the original builder died, but it's still doing what he intended. The present owner runs it as a succesful AirB&B but has sensitively left the garden alone. I imagine that curating and conserving it would be beyond the ability of most folk, even if they had the time. But I feel that as it weathers, the garden will change, become more intriguing, a little wonder along an unremarkable Corris back lane.
We returned to the place after our first visit, hoping to get better light. There were some other folk wandering about, clearly fascinated, trying to get a handle on what it was all about. Mr Bourne would be delighted to know that people were still enjoying his little slice of italy in Wales.