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Gay Village Mosan - Expo Liege 1939

Gay Village Mosan at the Exhibition Expo Liege 1939
© Sentroul
Architect(s) : Duesberg, Hallen, Jeanne, Marchot, Minguet, Thirion et Toussaint

Situated at the northern end of the right bank, below the road along the Meuse, the Mosan Village had its small houses in a very old orchard. Cleverly laid out, it offered amusing perspectives, charming corners and delightful squares. The artificial stream meandered deftly through the village. Small bridges, full of poetry, jumped over it here and there.

The designers had carried out their studies in such a way as to show the different characters of the rural architecture of the Hesbaye, the banks of the Meuse, the Hervé plateau and the Ardennes. While there were many examples of old buildings, including Louis XVI buildings from Liège, there were also a number of modern buildings of perfect taste. The whole of the Place Communale, with the traditional perron in the centre, was particularly well done. The façades of the cabarets and commercial houses, decorated with wrought iron lanterns and very amusing signs, had an original character. The church square, dominated by a charming little bridge, was delightful. The church, of modern composition, with its small square tower and its lampshades anchored at each corner, demonstrated the obligation for rural architecture to adapt to the needs imposed by current construction.

The demonstrative farmhouse was a perfect example of this, - built with local materials, it showed us a study that met the laws of comfort and hygiene. It was very good modern agricultural architecture.

The Gay Village Mosan was directed by a committee composed as follows: Mr. François Capelle, president, Messrs. George Laport, André Leplat, Edouard Libotte, Henri Reners, members and Mr. Georges Fivé, secretary. The chief architect was Mr. Albert Duesberg.

1. - Design

The Gay Village Mosan of the 1939 Liège International Exhibition was designed in a new form and on a new plan. It had nothing in common with the Old Liege, Old Brussels or Old Antwerp of previous exhibitions. These reconstructions in canvas and pasteboard gave the effect of a theatre set, which was carefully avoided in the Mosan Village. The visitor was left with the impression that he was in a real village, like so many others, with its purple roofs reflected in the calm waters of the Meuse. And to maintain this illusion, the Mosan Village was built in an old orchard with century-old trees. They were left standing, so that the hamlet appeared in an island of greenery.

On the other hand, it was important that this part of the exhibition was not a reproduction of a particular place, but a synthesis of all the settlements in the Meuse basin. And the houses from each region of Wallonia were reproduced: brick and limestone houses from the Pays de Hervé, stone houses from the Condroz, slate-covered facades from Malmédy, adobe houses from the Ardennes, gunmakers' forges from the Vesdre, aristocratic hotels from Ardennes towns such as Theux and Spa, and monotonous retreats of day labourers from the Hesbaye. The types were chosen with care, each one constituting one of the most attractive specimens of the place evoked.

2. - Description

The Gay Village Mosan was located on the right bank of the Meuse, a little upstream from the Monsin dam. It covered an area of almost 3 hectares.

The buildings were given the appearance of real houses. Some were built in brick, others had a rubble base, and some were covered with a stone mould, which helped to bring the village to life. As all eras had to be represented, a concrete house, discreet in its layout, was not shy of being included, which in no way broke the archaic charm of the whole. The picturesque was not neglected: reproductions of niches and wall chapels adorned the gables that would otherwise have seemed monotonous.

The town hall, an imposing building in the Mosan style, was reminiscent of the old town hall of Visé. The building was topped by a crushing slate roof, dominated by a bulbous bell tower of the most pleasing effect. It had three rooms furnished, free of charge, by the Chambre syndicale de l'Ameublement de Liège.

The council chamber was designed in the beautiful Louis XIV style of Liège. On the walls are various paintings by the painter Robert Cromme-lynck. One of them, a vast composition entitled "La Ducasse du Village", was perfectly suited to the setting and purpose of the room. The other paintings included landscapes of the Fagnes region, reproductions of 16th century portraits and a delightfully romantic image of a 19th century girl, a copy of a painting by Nyssens by Miss Kips.

The burgomaster's room was more solemn with its sober and elegant marquetry furniture.

Finally, a third room, with rustic furniture, was intended for the administrators of the Mosan Village. Dedicated and unselfish exhibitors were willing to lend drapes, doilies and various decorative objects.

In front of the town hall stood a perxon, a symbol of the freedoms and liberties of the principality. It was a cast of the perron of Theux.

The church was designed in a modern style, perhaps even too modern for a building of this importance, in such an archaic setting. The architect, Duesberg, wanted to recall a monument from the Malmedy region and drew his inspiration from the Rhineland churches. This goal was achieved: the building clearly reflects the trends of Germanic architecture. The square tower, with its bell-castings at the corners, accentuated the appearance.

Tombstone mouldings lined one of the outer walls. The interior was very simple. The ambo, connected to one of the sacristies by an interior staircase, was a little massive and lacked character.
The ceiling, decorated with wooden logs, was a happy find and gave the building a rustic look.
The choir was lit by three large windows with stained glass windows. The subjects were chosen by the author of these lines and related to the theme of water. They were :
1° The boat carrying the corpse of St. Lambert to Maastricht, is assaulted by a storm. The sail of the boat, torn off, hovers for a few moments, then lands on a mound indicating that the martyr wanted to be honoured at this place. The church of Herstal was built there;
2° Fleeing from the castle of Chèvremont besieged by her adopted son Goduin, Saint Begge is guided by a deer which shows her the ford of the Vesdre;
3° Saint Materne, after having evangelised the inhabitants of Namêche, baptizes them in the river and orders the god Nam to rush into the waters of the Meuse.
The cartoons were painted by Mr. Joseph de Falloise, the stained glass windows were made by the Osterrath Company of Liege.
The Ateliers d'Art de l'Abbaye de Maredsous graciously decorated the church by sending an altar in grey marble from the Ardennes and black marble from Golzinne, as well as a baptismal font covered with a very elegant bell in repoussé metal. In addition, they decorated the altar with a Christ and copper lights. The director of the workshops, Dom Sébastien Braun, had insisted on adding three statues of saints with a very simple curve.

Miss Henet exhibited a very beautiful altar cloth as well as various religious embroideries. The Ateliers monastiques d'Ermeton-sur-Biert brought eight baptismal pictures, a handwritten ritual and a liturgical book.

The walls were decorated with grandiose drawings by Servaes for the Way of the Cross in Orval Abbey, paintings by Irène Vanderlinden, two paintings by William Degouve de Nuncques, "Jesus in Joseph's House" and "Jesus in the Garden of Olives", two paintings by Joseph Gérard, "Flight into Egypt" and "Adoration of the Magi", and a very beautiful panel by Julémont. There was also a crucifix, an original work sculpted by the painter J. Gérard.

The Monastery of Chèvetogne-lez-Ciney provided a cast of the miraculous Christ of Tancrémont. The Hammond House had also installed electric organs.

Curiously, while digging the foundations, a Byzantine Christ was found which was the first religious object to enter the temple.
A graceful 18th century house, representing the presbytery, was occupied by the engravers Jean Dois - elected mayor of the village by the concessionaires - and Georges Comhaire. These two young artists from Liège had very different ideas: Dois, tormented, phantasmagorical, whose art is similar to Brueghel; Comhaire, calm and serene, seeking in the contrasts of light and shadow, effects that would enhance his subject. There they worked before the public's eyes and showed how to obtain the different kinds of engravings.

In the patrician house, a puppet theatre was set up, reminiscent of the old establishments that were so popular in Outre-Meuse. The play remained in the Walloon tradition while containing the most savoury spirit of Liège. It was a great success.

The forge of the cannoneers on the banks of the Vesdre was given to the "La Lumière" charity, as the Mosan Village was unable, due to a lack of funds, to reconstitute the small trades. Blind war veterans worked there in front of the visitors.

In addition to the sculptures already mentioned, a beautiful group magnifying the "Botteresses liégeoises", by the sculptor Jacques Lalou, can be seen at the entrance to the village.

In front of the church stood a fountain topped by a nymph by R. Massart.

The other houses in the village were home to restaurants, brasseries, dance halls, shops and taverns.

The Gay Village Mosan also had its own stream, which was spanned by three culverts.

A commission, composed of Mr. G. Laport, chairman, and Messrs. Duesberg and Libotte, named the streets of the village. It insisted on keeping the Walloon essence.

The square in front of the town hall was called "Le Batty"; the main street, "Le Grand Vinâve"; a path running alongside a meadow, "Le Chemin du Pahy" (pasture path); the square bordered by the stream, "La Place des Neveux" (in memory of the bold sailors of the Meuse, Ourthe, Amblève and Vesdre rivers). Vaulted passages can be found in all the towns in the region. One of them was not forgotten, it was "L'Arvô de la Fontaine". There was also "Le Passage du Prunier", "Le Ruisseau" and "Derrière l'Hôtel de Ville", and finally "L'Avenue du Téléphérique". This last name appeared to be a neologism, but the progress to which the most remote villages are subjected should not be overlooked...

The bridge giving access to the Demonstration Farm was the "Pont du Taureau". The central bridge, "Pont Saint-Christophe": one of the ramps was decorated with a statue by the sculptor Louis Dupont representing Saint Christopher carrying Christ. The third bridge was the "Arch Bridge".

3. - Village life

The Administration hired a brass band which every day (except Friday) spread streams of harmony along the alleys of the village. The musicians wore the archaic Walloon costume: silk cap, smock, checked trousers. And late at night, the cramignons (Walloon farandoles) unfolded their sinuous arabesques, justifying the hamlet's qualification as a "gay village".

The village also had its casino, a theatre that could hold eight hundred people. During the entire duration of the Exhibition, the Théâtre de l'A.B.C. de Paris came to give weekly performances which ensured the success of the enterprise.

Mr. Crescent, General Commissioner of the French Section, organised two galas and the Association for the Extension and Culture of the French Language and the Amitiés françaises organised four recitals with the help of Mrs. Mila Cirul, Mrs. de Valmalète, Mrs. Lucie Vautrin, Mr. José Germain and Mr. Pierre Bernac.

There were also numerous conferences, concerts conducted by the Belgian composer Simar, and the parade of the French Provinces: all events that kept the public on its toes.

The administration of the Gay Village Mosan planned four major galas. These were to take place in the Grand Palais des Fêtes. Only two of them were held: the ballets of Loie Fuller and the performance of Maurice Chevalier. The premature closure of the Exhibition prevented the complete realisation of this programme.

At night, the village was illuminated in a new and original way. On a 56-metre high tower, a disc with a diameter of 7 metres was placed, projecting the light of a million electric candles. This achievement represented the lighting produced by the moon.

The Mosan Village was also animated by several festivals: the parade of flags, the re-enactment of a wedding in Trois-Ponts under the old regime, the Dagenham girls-pipers' music, the ham day, the races on the plateau and many others.

Open-air crochets were organised and each time attracted many participants.

The village received various official visits: the King of the Belgians, the Queen of Holland, the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, Prince Félix of Bourbon-Parme, Queen Elisabeth, the Duchess of Vendôme, Prince Charles of Sweden, and many other distinguished personalities.

© General Report - International Water Technology Exhibition - Liège 1939