Manfredo’s stoneart from Dreamwoods (Selva di Sogno) in our online Art Gallery.
One day, after one of those sumptuous lunches at Osho Miasto in Tuscany, someone took me by the hand and said, “Come, Punya, I have to show you something special.” She dragged me past the coffee shop down a gentle slope deep into the woods. The sun was shining through the oak trees turning their leaves into bright green lights; the soft wind playing with them gently. Suddenly we stood in front of…. something I had never seen before, so words did not form in my mind. Leaning onto a trunk stood a fortress, a castle, a construction entirely made from smooth river stones. No mortar in sight – or was there some invisible glue? – as if in magical balance, so delicate it looked as if with the flick of a finger I could bring down a whole turret. The castle was not made from stone alone, it felt as if it was lived in. Were there fairy creatures hiding in there?
The same day after dinner – maybe it was full moon – everybody was invited to visit the forest, in silence. It was already dark. I remember holding onto the shoulder of the person in front of me, stumbling down the winding path. Now there were tea candles in the windows of the castle. The creatures must be having a party! Behind a few trees there was another castle, and then another. I do not remember how many there were. All I do remember is that when we came back all we could do was stand still for a while, speechless, outside the coffee shop bathed under its light beam. We were still holding onto each other as if we had just paid a visit to a wondrous land of which we had never heard of before.
The next day I came to know that these nature installations were made by that stocky, laconic German who was running about with heavy cameras taking pictures during the festival. They called him “il Manfredo.”
This was 25 years ago, but the impression is so deeply engraved in my mind that when I recently found Manfredo on Facebook I immediately asked him about his rocks. I was pleased to hear that after 35 years he was still at it – and even stronger. In the meantime he has left Miasto commune so that he could dedicate himself totally to his stoneart. The land (10 hectares) is now rented long-term from the commune and the sculpture garden with its 200 artworks is open to the public, with a little gift shop at its entrance.
The pathways through the woods are now less random; there is a specific parkour with 40 plaques inviting the visitor to stop for a moment and do a little meditation (text is in Italian, English and German) – a project Manfredo did together with Maneesha. He says that if people do not follow the instructions on the plaques, they almost always keep the silence throughout, as suggested. “It is amazing to see how these creations fascinate everybody, from little children up to grandmas. I’m touched to see how people who have never meditated before, after 2 or 3 hours in my forest, come out totally transformed, with a different energy, smiling faces, open, saying ‘It was so beautiful!’ When I see people’s joy I feel that my attempts to convey beauty and peace have been received. Untouched nature, art and meditation are truly therapeutical!
“One of my aspirations is to show people how we can become more sensitive to our surroundings, to get out of our perceptions and definitions of what nature is and to see how we have used and abused our surroundings. In a way, to get out of this human-centred thinking.
“For many artists art is often an end in itself. Not so for me; art is one of the many instruments we have available to widen our views and our beings. I want my artwork to promote silence. For instance, I feel it’s better when people do not talk while walking through the forest. I notice that it distracts them; because it is silence that makes us more receptive. So my methods are a means to help visitors move inwards, from words into silence, so that they can experience themselves and the surroundings more deeply. The woods are also very elemental, archaic. It reminds people of old cultures, very ancient, pagan, way before Christianity.”
In the meantime Manfredo has extended his collection with anthropomorphic figures. From the photos I have the impression that they do not seem to have been ‘put’ there, rather as if the stones had decided one early morning to arrange themselves into these forms. Also mandalas have been added to the forest garden, stones laid to form coloured twisted carpets, and many trees have become ‘sculptures’ with a few touches by Manfredo.
Over the years he has been invited to show his artwork in various places: of course in Italy, but also in his native Germany, then France, USA, South America. So far he has participated in about 60-70 exhibitions. One of his favourites was, for many years, the 10-day annual event in Grosseto, FestAmbiente, which promotes culture and ecology. At one exhibition, featuring 300 artists, he won a price because his sculptures were deemed “so original.”
In winter Manfredo spends months at a time collecting stones; this year he travelled to Corsica, the French island in the Mediterranean Sea. Other times he is bent over in the Alps. Basically, he collects stones from all over Europe; from beaches, woods, rivers, from reject mounds at quarries and aggregate factories. “Since I was a child I was fascinated by the beauty and form of stones,” he says, “particularly the ones which have been polished to perfection by the to and fro of the ocean waves.” What he likes about this material is its immobility, timelessness and eternity. “Compared to stones, our life lasts just a second,” he adds.
“Stones have very individual and unique forms and colours. There is such an incredible variety that always astonishes me. Sometimes I am in total ecstasy when I find a particular piece, as if it was a Koh-i-noor. At least it is one for me!”
In March Manfredo travels back to Tuscany with a fully loaded car. First he has to address the changes that wind, winter and wild boars have done to his stone garden. Time for repairs… but spiders, ants, emerald lizards and serpents who have made their home in ‘his’ constructions are welcome to stay. Some sculptures last for a few days only and need repeated repair during a season, some last for 30 years without being touched. So the stone park looks different at each visit. “Sometimes I find old sculptures again after years being hidden in the grass.”
“At times I put stones in a tree or on a particular curve of a branch. I had often passed by that tree without noticing it, but when I added a little turret, it became an individual – which, in truth, it had always been but was previously not perceived by me as such. Some stone sculptures blend into the surrounding so well, it takes a while to see them.”
So when looking at the images in the photo slide shows, imagine that you are actually standing there in the woods, hear the cuckoos in the trees and frogs in the pond, feel the soft wind around your cheeks. It’s the only way to do justice to Manfredo’s stoneart.
Text by Punya, based on her own experience and interviews by Shobana (Marlies Moser), Francesca Dondoglio and Maneesha
Dreamwood is located in Colle Val d’Elsa, Tuscany, Italy
Google Earth: 43°15’11.02″ N 11°07’35.77 E
open Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays, 10:30 am – 7 pm
and Tuesdays and Fridays 2 pm – 7 pm
devamanfredo-stoneart.com – facebook.com/manfred.flucke – facebook.com/Dreamwoods-Sculpture-Park-Selva-di-Sogno
Deva Manfredo was born in Lower Saxony, Germany into an old brickmaker family. He studied Urban Studies, Sociology, History and German language, and painted and drew for many years. In 1977 he heard of Osho and started to meditate; he took sannyas in 1981. As a resident at Osho Miasto in Tuscany for 25 years, he worked as a graphic designer, photographer, barkeeper and breakfast cook Nowadays he spends summers in Tuscany, and in winter travels to collect material for new artwork. He accepts commissions to create stoneart in other locations. devamanfredo-stoneart.com