The studio of British mountaineer and artist Andy Parkin, who crafts the Piolet d’Or and Kendal Film Festival trophies, was destroyed by a fire on Friday night. The 16th Century former saw and grain mill just outside Chamonix was also the workshop of Rabbit on the Roof skis, and painter Anati Graetz. Sarah Stirling speaks to Andy to find out what happened, what’s next and what you can do to help.
AP: I found the cat today. This black ball curled up in some rags in the ruins. I thought he was dead of asphyxiation, but then Marley looked up at me as if to say, "There you are!" When you’ve lost everything, it’s the little things. Going through the ruins and finding a book or a painting you’d forgotten. When there are only a few things left to remind you of your life, they’re precious.
I had been making trophies for the next Kendal Film Festival and Piolet d’Or, but I’ve got molten sculptures now. I shall recycle them, of course. That’s what I do. Like when I recycled my life, after the accident, when I was blasted into a crevasse by an avalanche back in 1984 and left disabled. After that I started skulking around the bottom of crevasses, and making art out of bits and bobs that had been through the glacier, and been transformed by the mountain, as I had been.
WATCH: Andy Parkin at work in his studio
We don’t know what caused the fire. The inquest is still going on. I’ve got to see the police in half an hour. The insurers will come in this week and take out the dangerous beams and so on. They have a civil obligation to clean up so nothing falls in the road. It’s not forecast to snow, so we have at least a week to stabilise the building.
It was 10:45pm at night when the fire started. We had all gone home after setting up for an event. The Chamonix Guide’s Syndicate were going to celebrate their 70th anniversary at the studios, which we call the Moulin des Artistes, "artist's mill", on the Saturday night.
I’ve been working from that building for 24 years, and Peter has been making Rabbit on the Roof skis there for six or seven. The building has been owned by the Vouillamoz family for generations. It was sculptor Philippe Vouillamoz and myself who converted it into an art workshop.
The ironic thing is, it wasn't just an art studio; we used it as a community and fund-raising centre, and now the community is rallying round to help us. I teach kids to paint there. They don’t get that at school. We open it up for events. It provides things that Chamonix would lack otherwise. Exhibitions, meetings, lectures, charity and community get-togethers.
Chamonix as a valley has changed hugely since I've lived here, but I want to make sure the spirit of the place survives. Peter and myself are carrying on the traditional artisan aspect, and bringing local people together with the foreigners. Even if the place develops and changes around us, there are values we can pass on and carry on.
WATCH: Rabbit on the Roof at work
There’s a lot of good will and intentions to recreate, but it’ll take a while. The idea is to maintain the original character. It’s been gutted, but the walls are like a fortress: they’ve stood for 400 years.
The vaulted roofs date back to at least the 17th Century. Anywhere else it would be a listed building. It’s got a lot of history. In the 1600s the building was owned by the Duc de Savoie. That’s back before Chamonix was even French. In 1860 this region voted to become part of France.
Boutch a boutch, a charitable organisation, are organising the fundraising. We're so grateful for any help. It’s a play on words. "Bouche a bouche" means "mouth to mouth". They are motivated 20-somethings who support projects for the betterment of the valley. They will be the generation that carry on the traditional ideals of Chamonix.
It's good that you're writing this, because it tells people that we are going to rebuild and carry on. Lying there, in the crevasse back in 1984, I thought, "it could be worse". This is a bit like that. It’s only materials, after all. I’ll have some calcinated beams to make things out of now, too.
In a show of solidarity, the Chamonix community has launched a fundraiser for the artists, Peter Steltzner, Anati Graetz and Andy Parkin. A support evening has been organised by the association Boutch a Boutch for Friday 16 December.
The BMC is in touch with Chamonix based friends of Andy and we are speaking to the Alpine Club and Community Action Nepal about a UK-based fundraising initiative to help Andy get back on his feet – so watch this space.
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