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  • Suzanne Radford

Studio Bongard Opens Its Doors to Nature

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

By Suzanne Radford

Published in Tomorrow magazine in the October 2020 edition.

Sylvain and Tara Bongard open their new gallery space and sculpture garden at their Quinta do Pomar Velho, Monchique. It’s a place where mountain terraces meet an orchard of trees creating a perfect backdrop for their work. They bought an old carriage house and renovated it into a gallery and shop where upon entering you follow steps up and outside into a wonderland of art, sculpture, nature and creativity.

The relocation and landscaping were a positive outcome of lockdown propelling Sylvain and Tara’s plans to move from their beloved Ferrugudo gallery and open next to their home in Monchique. Here they have been busy creating ponds and water features (look out for the turtle), planting trees and creating areas to sit whilst a menagerie of animal sculptures (elephant, toads, fish, a bull to name a few) stand within the hillside integrating nature with art.

The gallery may be a recent addition to the mountain town, but Sylvain and Tara are firmly established in the Algarve art scene.

Sylvain, originally from Switzerland came to the Algarve in 1980 where he gained recognition and a fine reputation for tile painting. Tara with an Anglo/Portuguese background was working in wood and drawing when they met 12 years ago and set upon what they describe as, “a great adventure”, developing a craft in large, medium and small stoneware clay sculptures that sit beautifully in gardens, courtyards, patios and inside the home. With this, It has brought commissions to exhibit their work at the National Tile Museum in Lisbon, produce an installation, Treasures of Nature at Silves Castle and last year, "Century of the Seas at the Fort Ponte da Bandeira, Lagos.

Sylvain explains, “We are constantly looking for new subjects to express ourselves and new locations to exhibit, we aim for positive feelings, with a hint of humour and always love”.

They work onsite from their studio that houses two large high fire kilns including their ‘big baby’ that carries up to 750 kilos of clay and instead of gas or electricity they use wood to fire it up to 1,300 degrees centigrade. They chose the most challenging method because it brings the best results and they use different glazing techniques and sometimes texture. This is a labour-intensive process, a labour of love, one could say. Sylvain creates the large animal works and Tara bowls, ceramic art and figures like her ladies sitting on blocks. They don’t have a sketched-out plan or project but let the clay speak to them as they work with it, whether its small or large pieces, everything is hand sculptured. The sculpting might take a day and a half, whilst it dries and there are touch-ups and repairs to do as the clay protracts. It can take on average two weeks to dry, then it is glazed and goes in the oven and because it’s fired by wood, it’s a 15-hour process. Sylvain stays throughout, building a personal connection to the end product.

Tara and Sylvain are prolific in their work and output, and without formal training the firings, they say, have been their teacher with plenty of trials and error. They have produced thousands of pieces over the years which includes moulding up to 6000 kilos of clay a year and firing up the kilns 2 -3 times a week. Because of this, they are masters of the process and it means there is always something new to see when visiting the space.

There are more plans for Studio Bongard and the Sculpture Garden, a glasshouse with flowing water to make for beautiful transition and areas for the public to relax with events and classes in the pipeline to bring people together. It’s a place to capture the imagination through nature and art, it may also, as with Sylvain and Tara, capture your spirit of adventure.

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