— Conegliano Valdobbiadene

The land of the imagination

From Sàrmede to Valdobbiadene discovering the work of Czech artist Štěpán Zavřel
mostra sarmede_1

Once upon a time there was a young Czech artist and illustrator with an exuberant and tumultuous soul. He was living in a splendid city, Prague, filled with intellectual and cultural stimulus but at the time – the 1950s – short on freedom. So, in 1959, fed up with the rules and restrictions, while working for one of the country’s most celebrated animation companies, he decided to run away from his home country. He wandered around Europe from Munich to London to Rome before finding, in 1968, a little-known town in the province of Treviso, right where the prealps begin, between the countryside and the first high mountains, the town of Sàrmede. In a small quarter of this small town, Rugolo, he purchased an old farm house and decided to settle down. As a result of his prodigious energy and fervid imagination he transformed the town into an enchanted land filled with fables and magic, woven with a fabric of dreams that form the basis of our deepest desires, as children and as adults.

To tell the story of the life of Štěpán Zavřel (Prague 1932–Rugolo 1999), today considered to be one of the great masters of illustration for children, is a bit like telling a modern fable. He lived his life constantly outside the realm of normality and convention, sometimes bordering on excess. His was a playful and joyful existence that turned the peaceful life in Sàrmede on its head, making the town a magnet for artists, intellectuals and other exiles from Eastern Europe. A chaotic and multiform world that made Sàrmede what it is today, the internationally recognised capital of illustration for children home to the exhibition held here each year (the next edition, the 35th, runs from October 22nd 2017 to January 28th 2018) as well as to the numerous courses and workshops run by the Štěpán Zavřel Foundation which attract hundreds of illustrators from all over the world each year.

It’s no easy task to frame Zavřel the artist within Zavřel the man. If you study his work, visible at the museum dedicated to him on the top floor of the Municipio di Sàrmede (open to the public throughout the Exhibition on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10am to 12.30 and from 2.30pm to 7pm, at other times by appointment) you get the impression of being catapulted inside an enchanted world. His use of colour in the watercolours – one of his most used mediums alongside acrylics and xylography – the clear Byzantine and Oriental influences, the weird and wonderful architectural forms all curves and asymmetries, come together to transport the observer to a land of dreams filled with strange details and interpretations.

Revisiting the life and legacy of Zavřel today is like going on a wonderful voyage which starts from Sàrmede which is to all intents and purposes a museum en plein aire. Many houses are frescoed, inside and out, by murals created by Zavřel starting in the 1980s and then by the many artists who came to stay in the years that followed. Today there are almost 50 frescoes and paintings made by illustrators, artists and students of the Scuola Internazionale d’illustrazione di Sàrmede (The Sàrmede International School of Illustration).

The first stop on our tour is the Municipio di Sàrmede which houses, as well as the museum dedicated to the work of Zavřel, also one of his frescoes showing a sundial. The atrium of the Municipio and Council Chamber are also worth a visit to admire the frescoes created by the Polish illustrator Józef Wilkoń. Other Zavřel frescoes can been seen in the Casa della Fantasia which is where the International Illustration Exhibition is held as well as in two houses which sit side-by-side on the main square, one dedicated to Venice and the other entitled The Childrens’ Bridge on the façade of the La Fiaba pizzeria. In nearby Rugolo there are two more of Zavřel’s frescoes at the Ristorante da Doro while another can be seen in Montaner di Sàrmede in the house owned by Leo Pizzol, President of the Exhibition Foundation. Still more of his works exist in the surrounding area, one in Vittorio Veneto (in a private home and not open to the public) and two in Valdobbiadene, one at the Primary school and the other at the elementary school in San Pietro di Barbozza.


International Exhibition of Illustration for Children
Casa della Fantasia, Sàrmede
From October 22nd 2017 to January 28th 2018

The 35th edition of “Le immagini della Fantasia” (The images of Fantasy) has opened Saturday 21st October 2017. This edition of the exhibition will be dedicated to the world of Japanese illustration and features Philip Giordano as guest of honour along with over 30 world class illustrators. Among the many novelties that will be presented, two new publications on Japanese culture and traditional tales will be specifically released for the exhibition. A programme of 80 events, including workshops, reading show and performances.

[This article was originally published in the Visit Conegliano Valdobbiadene magazine, issue Autumn Winter 2017. The magazine is available here]