Student Voices

Travel Report: Lucien Durey, Contemporary Arts, Czech Republic

December 09, 2014

Lucien Dureya Masters student in Contemporary Arts, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award to further research in the Czech Republic.

Visiting the Hásek Villa in Jablonec nad Nisou, Czech Republic, was an unforgettable experience that has provided a rich narrative for artwork adding my 2015 graduating exhibition. Designed by architect Heinrich Lauterbach for the Hásek family and built in 1931, the reinforced concrete structure was one of the the first flat-roofed dwellings to be constructed in what was then Czechoslovakia. Through a chance meeting of Zdenka Hásek, who lived in Campbell River, BC, I was able to gain access to the story of the Háseks and this incredible building, confiscated first by Nazi troops, and then by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia until 1989.

When I arrived at the villa I was greeted by the Svoboda family, the current owners, who gave me a tour of the villa property while explaining details of the restoration process. At first glance, the home now looks as it did in old photographs, but this is due to Peter Svobodas desire to honour its original design. In reality many components have been replaced since the Svobodas took ownership. The exterior balcony, for example, was demolished and entirely reconstructed. Some original pieces remained intact in the building, such as the dining room’s iconic curved glass window and radiator pipes, while others were rebuilt from retained fragments. The new fireplace was made to look like the old photographs, but only the apron stone is original.

Lucien Durey

I stayed in a bedroom in the north wing of the home, with a view overlooking the Mšeno Reservoir near the centre of Jeblonec nad Nisou. Famed Picasso collector Victor Ganz was a guest in the same room many years ago while visiting the Háseks and their art collection. When the Hásek’s fled Czechoslovakia with nothing to start a new life in Canada in 1950, Ganz loaned them the money to buy a wooden farmhouse in Ontario.

The usage and layout of a number of areas of the home has changed from its original design to suit a more contemporary living style. The kitchen, for example, is considerably larger than it was, having expanded into neighbouring rooms that once comprised a maid and cook’s residence. The Svobodas oldest son, Philip, now lives in an area of the home near the garage that once housed the Hásek’s driver. In general the smaller rooms in the home have now been expanded to allow for larger, more open living spaces.

The Svobodas have a small archive of material relating to the villa and I was given permission to look through it, finding photographs of the home before and during its restoration. These photographs compared with others from Zdenka Hásek’s personal collection mark the changes to this dynamic space through the years and will become source material for my photographic and sculptural works.

Before and after my stay in Jablonec nad Nisou I spent time in Prague, exploring the city and its museums and galleries. I also visited a building in Old Town Prague that once belonged to Vilhelm Lebenhart, the great-grandfather of my frequent music and art collaborator Leah Abramson. Vilhelm had a fabric store at street level and an office above. The building is now occupied by the North Carolina State University College of Design’s Prague Institute, and also houses a music store and several personal residences.

On my return to Canada on August 3, I received news that Zdenka Hásek, who had been so generous with her story and information, had died the previous night. She was less than a month away from her 108th birthday. Zdenka had a zest for life, and her adaptability throughout a century of changes was truly inspiring. I will be forever be grateful for the generosity of multiple individuals that allowed me the opportunity to pursue this area of research, and for the funding received through the Graduate International Research and Travel Award that made it all possible.

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