Marked for Life: An artist leaves his legacy in stone
At the end of life Vahan Ghazumyan was looking at the world through the eyes of his stone creations.
In a secluded alcove above the Zangu Gorge an artist has left 30 years of his life in stone.
Near the well-known building of the Yerevan Wine Factory, the unadvertised work of artist Vahan Ghazumyan is his legacy, and a commentary of his nation.
The master sculptor began carving his stone garden in 1971. When he died at age 80 earlier this year some 100 pieces were left as his eternal memorial, named by the poet Shiraz as «Garden of Stone».
His memoirs tell of his and his garden’s intention . . .
«Using my own forces I wished to create a bright evidence of the Armenian people’s world-building nature,» he wrote. «For bringing my aim into life I chose a wild rocky spot of Zangu Gorge. For its unsightly look this spot filled people living in the neighboring areas with displeasure and they turned it into a trash dump. I cleaned up the whole territory myself without any technical equipment and founded there a rocky garden made in folk style.»
And where there was once garbage, there are now such sculptures as horses, a lion, the crucifixion of Christ, an eagle, Mt. Ararat, carved into the side of the hill and standing independently under every tree branch.
Ghazumyan’s son, Samvel, leads guests through his father’s work, explaining how each piece represents a moment of history or of national symbolism.
The master sculpted the dictator hoping that he will save him Andranik
A lion sculpted in the inner part of the rock represents the Armenian nation who shoulders a huge burden, tragedy of Armenian nation, and growls at the injustice of the world. A doe and its calf symbolize the idea of generations’ immortality; horses are the Armenian wishes etc. Samvel puts water on the stones so that images may be better seen. «When they are dried it looks like the meat of the stone is opening,» he says.
«He had been working the day before he died,» remembers the master’s widow Maro. «Rubbish from the wine factory filled the garden. He cleaned it but he got intestinal clogging and he died. When we slept he used to go (collecting firewood) I used to tell him, ‘enough working’ but he always said that the work is his rest.»
The master also built six rooms in the rocks and each of them has symbolic meaning. «Mher’s room» (Mher is a character from Sasuntsi Davit epos) and another has the name of the sculptor where again one can find Ararat Mountain, a lion as well as small and big vestries that symbolize Western and Eastern Armenia, around which is wrapped a snake, representing the enemy. There are about 50 wooden statues of Armenian fidais, victims of the genocide and animals made by the master in one of the rooms.
«He had made all of that by his hands. He used only chisel and hammer. Many chisels had been used for these rocks,» says Samvel.
One of the rooms symbolizes an Armenian patriarchal home with tonir (ancient Armenian stove) and Russian stove.
«When a Russian general Melnikov visited this place he said, ‘It would be great if there was a Russian stove next to the tonir’,» so he made a Russian stove next to the tonir as a symbol of two country’s friendship,» says Samvel.
.Samvel Ghazumyan is happy to share with everyone the heritage left by his father.
Many of his statues reflect the way of thinking of the intelligentsia of Soviet Armenia, for instance, memorable stones dedicated to the friendship of Armenian and Russian nations.
The self-taught sculptor used to say «You must do whatever your soul tells you to do».
Listening to his soul he had made the most unique works, such as statues made in primitive style of antiquity. One such piece, a bust of a Karabakh woman, was seen by the chief architect of Kiev, who couldn’t believe that the sculpture was not of ancient origin.
There are memorial stones placed under the hillside and dedicated to the victims World War II, victims of the persecutions of 1937 and victims of the 1988 earthquake. A memorial dedicated to the Armenia genocide has an inscription placed at the request of the poet Shiraz on it: «the one who forgets the Armenian genocide will become an enemy of new Armenia.»
In this section one can find the most important work of the master. It is a plaster model of national hero General Andranik’s statue, which differs from others with its light and white color. It was the only piece for which Ghazumyan first made a plaster model. Soviet authorities prohibited public exhibition of the piece.
«He had been sculpting Andranik’s statue for one year covered with a slipcover so that nobody could know what he was doing,» remembers Maro.
In 1978 after finishing the work, the master placed the bust of the commander on the highest place of the hillside. It had been there 40 days when policemen came and threw it from the rock.
For a whole year no one could guess that the sculpture he was working on was Andranik
«When we came we saw the door was sealed and there were numerous people standing. Vahan was told to throw the statue himself. He said that it is the same if you asked me to cut my child’s throat. Finally, they threw the statue down. But nothing happened to the statue,» says Maro.
The plaster model of the commander replaces its original version in the stone garden. The original is in a private garden somewhere in Ashtarak, and its owner, according to the master’s relatives, agrees to sell it only for $1000.
There is also a statue of Vladimir I. Lenin in the garden. Probably it is the only place in Yerevan where the dictator’s statue is on display. Relatives of the master say that he had sculpted Lenin’s statue for protecting the one of Andranik. By having one of Lenin, Ghazumyan thought maybe the soviet authorities would let him keep the one of Andranik.
Master Vahan’s official work was head of the Yerevan Wine Factory’s committee on landscape. In 1987 he was conferred with the Order of Honor, a medal for civilian service to the State.
Not on any list of official parks or monuments, Ghazumyan’s stone garden nonetheless became popular by word-of-mouth. The names and impressions of visitors to the garden fill 17 guest books.
Samvel says that if he can find a business partner, he wants to make his father’s place into a tourist attraction, including a traditional-styled tavern serving wine from the family garden.