In São João dos Mellos, a rural district of Júlio de Castilhos in the central region of Rio Grande do Sul state, southern Brazil, the natural landscape draws attention to its rustic beauty. In this place, settled among mountains and fields, lies an uncommon collection of more than 200 stone statues and a few wooden sculptures, not to mention a giant stone Buddah: the place called Jardim das Esculturas (Sculpture Garden). Since 2004 the place has been making its way through beauty and originality. Rogério Bertoldo, the man behind the statues, explains what is this project and how it has emerged as a touristic destination, gathering visitors from all over the world.
Interview personally done and translated by jonasscherer at Jardim das Esculturas’ facilities on September 30th in the district of São João dos Mellos, the city of Júlio de Castilhos – Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
Jonas Scherer: How have you become a sculptor?
Rogério: It started all of a sudden, when I was practicing martial arts. I started to make a little Buddha, in stone, at that time I was just starting to make some intaglios. Then I decided – after that Buddha – to start the Jardim (Garden). So I asked my family for permission, got a hatchet, some old chisels and even table knives. And then I started.
Jonas Scherer: Did you have any type of apprenticeship?
Rogério: No. Around 2004 I started to make intaglios and, in 2005 or 2006, approximately, I started to make monuments. When I started, it was with monuments: I began the first sculpture, which was a lion, and the monuments came afterwards. It has funded my work all the way.
Jonas Scherer: What kind of monuments?
Rogério: I sent a Sepé Tiaraju in 2005, a 5.91-foot-tall Sepé Tiaraju, made of sandstone. The guy took three days to drive his small truck to an ecological reservation. The guy has worked at Esplanada dos Ministérios.
Jonas Scherer: Then you started to finance the Jardim das Esculturas with this kind of job?
Rogério: Yes. At that time we had no Jardim. Only one sculpture, a lion. Then I started the sales. It was amazing because I started making monuments before the Jardim. In a short term, less than one year, I had three, four, five monuments. I extracted the stones myself. It was a difficult time, an odd task to extract stones using only leverage methods. But it all generated funds to generate the Jardim itself.
Jonas Scherer: Why do you sculpt?
Rogério: I sculpt, first of all, because I have gone, let’s say, beyond enjoying. I have transcended the fact of enjoying practicing sculpture. It is a very strong thing. It is bigger than simply making a sculpture.
Jonas Scherer: The themes of the Jardim are spirituality and the relationship between men and nature. Can you say more on this?
Rogério: I have always been interested on orientalism, the Yoga, the spiritual retreats I did since I was a teenager, around 16 years old. Through literature I have met meditation methods, even Zen Buddhism, an then, later on, Yoga philosophy. And then I started to practice it without knowing any master or whatever; only using my intuition and doing some reading. Then I started to make tributes to those practices and so the themes have a very strong link with the internal part and with a part that is behind, a background that I bring now. With that we make an atmosphere called of consciousness, a form of transmitting to people that they are not just that – matter – they are a continuity, a conscience, an intelligent vehicle moving on.
Jonas Scherer: There is a lot of sculpted animals. Why?
Rogério: I wanted to make homage to the existing and extinct animals of here. With the deforestation – the processes of soy farming and all those things – the forest was taken down, the rivers were silted. I have made small memories of those animals. I do not know whether they will vanish or not, but it is meant for people to study it. One who wants to study an animal, like it was in the past and that has existed here. Among them we will have the lobo-guará; we have the siriema (bird); a variety of lizard species; the bugio (monkey), that existed here; the famous gavião (similar to a hawk), the carancho (like gavião), that we do not see here anymore, and many more. A way of leaving something local.
But my interest, besides this, is in this process of consciousness which is very strong. Through this process things would be very different, even to animals.
Jonas Scherer: And how about the thousand faces Project, what is it?
Rogério: This Project has been on my mind for a long time. It is going to have six acres or more. The first meaning it brings is that we are different. A thousand faces carved in stone, differing from each other and depicting the differences we all have, and it is trhough the difference we exchange experience: one knows something and transmits it to you; I know something and I transmit it to you. But this is only the primary meaning.
It has a lot to do with a process of bringing development and life quality improvement. Transform this place, a hamlet, into a village, also attracting investors.
Jonas Scherer: How many sculptures are there in the Jardim?
Rogério: We are beyond 200.
Jonas Scherer: Is there any other funding source besides the commerce of monuments? Rogério: None. Only the commerce of my works, monuments and busts.
Jonas Scherer: Have anyone ever proposed benefits or advantages to keep developing this project?
Rogério: Nothing until now. There is an idea being developed, a mockup I am making. But if no one invests in it I shall do it by myself.
Jonas Scherer: You received invitations to take this Project to other regions but you did not accept it, willing to maintain the whole thing local. Why is that?
Rogério: It is an existential reason. It is a process in which you are Born in some place and you have to flourish there. Of course you need to use your wits to see if the environment is not suited for you. But this environment is the place where I was born and raised, and I have to do this right here. A lot of good things is going to raise from these actions. Things are going to change and also other things in a consciousness level, I always tell the visitors. It is a proposal I am going to leave for posterity. There will be a strong imprint of those things here, a centennial imprint, I am sure.
Jonas Scherer: How do you create the sculptures?
Rogério: It is an inner thing. So, when I look at a stone I can see the figure inside of it. The creativity shows off at that moment. It manifests itself at that moment. The hatchet I used was to cut off everything that did not suit as fast as I could. All those unnecessary bits fled off through hatchet hits. I used 25 hatchets each year. I could strike the stone more than ten thousand times a day with strong, average and soft strokes.
Everything is spontaneous, a bit fast. Everything unplanned. I did not make the Jardim taking a map. I have made no projects. With the arrival of the pneumatic pick the hatchet was put aside, The pneumatic pick came in because of the soapstone, a very hard stone that comes from Minas Gerais. I tried to use the hatchet on the soapstone: of every three strikes I hit two were counterblows from the stone. There was no way I could do it.
So I ordered the pieces because I had only 30 days to deliver the monument. Then the pneumatic pick came, which is a material used in buildings to destroy, to open holes in walls, for instance. So I transformed it into a tool I used on the sandstone. It is being a success, speeding up the task.
Jonas Scherer: What brings people to the Jardim?
Rogério: In a region like this, practically unknown, a small place, a place for agriculturists, for humble people, among Catholicism and its ancient customs that are primitive at certain point, I appeared and established a vegetarian restaurant. People here cultivate the Italian culture e also the gaúcho traditions. It inspires curiosity.
Only one person working, starting it very rustically and so fast, I believe this is the reason they come here and also the process of making this place upon my own understanding, with no dependency and without listening to the previously established patterns. I did not listen to that. I just believed in myself. The belief – I do not know if this is the correct word –, a strong will and confidence, this is also transmitted to people: he who really wants things, believing in it internally, he does extraordinary things. I think that’s why people come here more than once. There are people that have been here more than ten times.
Jonas Scherer: What is available in the Jardim for visitors?
Rogério: People come to visit the Jardim, a place of contemplation, and they start to enjoy our services: ecological trails passing by and through waterfalls with well prepared guides; a vegetarian restaurant, inside the Jardim, and also a regular restaurant that is inside the village, about 330 yards. There are parties made in an association created for tourism; cultural parties with foreign artists, Italian singers, percussion ensembles, local artists. We also offer handicrafts and local culture products. It is still a simple thing, small, but it is getting rather good.
Jonas Scherer: What have you done before sculpting?
Rogério: I was an agriculturalist Who used to plant tobacco and I practiced martial arts. I was in school, in fact, but I could only stand until the last years of school. Then I went to martial arts. I have practiced several styles. I have got the black belt in some of those styles. I was involved with martial arts for 17 years as a professor whilst practicing agriculture as well. But it was not self sustainable.
In the meanwhile I was doing other things too. A very interesting issue. I was already working with this process at that time and I did not know what was going to happen next. I was a person that had prepared the body with martial arts to use it for sculpting, to hand the hatchet. That was my instruction. Those are the things I did.
Jonas Scherer: How do you maintain the sculptures conserved, since they are exposed outdoors?
Rogério: We have applied a waterproofing composite for stones. It is working, for now. And I say: I am going to maintain it as long as I am, lets’ say, embodied here. In the future somebody will have to work to maintain it. I am going to give them a lot of work, to maintain all of this.
Jonas Scherer: What is missing to boost the Jardim das esculturas?
Rogério: Publicity. Maybe better ways to get to this place, like asphalt roads linking São João to Júlio de Castilhos and Nova Palma. It would be a leap. Before that we need infrastructure. We have no hotels here. There is a lot Fo people Who thinks we have it. We are on the edge o four capacity, receiving the exact ammount of visitors we can handle. People come from far places: Italians, the polish, Chineses, Mexicans, lots of Americans, people from Paraguay and Argentina – I am even learning English to explain things my way. Fabriciano Gomes, the sculptor, has also been here.
It is getting far. Imagine when this thing gets thicker. I believe that people around here do not have enough resources to support this, but there will be entrepreneurs form outside this place.
Jonas Scherer: Is there anything else you would like to say?
Rogério: I want to thank your goodwill to come here and listen to me. What is being done here is something that is going to echo very far.It will transform this entire place perhaps in medium term. It will bring benefits. This is my true salary: to bring benefits to people; to give different opportunities. Today we have people using our services, like the trails and all those things. It is the beginning of the great eruption.