WELLFLEET — Art critic and poet Monique Brunet-Weinmann and artist Bertrand Bracaval are both from Brittany, the westernmost region of France, but they did not meet each other there. That happened in Montreal, where Brunet-Weinmann has lived since 1969. She showed Bracaval her poems in a series titled “Exile,” about her longing for the places of her childhood. The artist suggested that they collaborate.
“It was fate!” Bracaval exclaims, and they both laugh. “Yes, fate, and our connection to Brittany. You see, we never met there. We met in exile.”
That collaboration created the current exhibit of Bracaval’s art and books at the Wellfleet Public Library, which continues through Oct. 4. Monique and her husband, Heinz Weinmann, have been summer residents of Aaron Rich Road in South Wellfleet since 1979. When she and Bracaval realized they were both celebrating a 40-year anniversary in 2019 — her connection to Wellfleet and his folio imprint Pré Nian — they decided to celebrate it with an exhibit, and the library made it possible.
“Cape Cod and Brittany are both peninsulas,” says Brunet-Weinmann, standing on the shore at Lecount Hollow. “To me these two land ends resemble two arms reaching into the Atlantic, desperately trying to reach one another across the ocean.”
Monique, a Frenchwoman, and Heinz, a German, were married in 1964. “Twenty years after World War II everyone was speaking of Europe, but the countries were not yet connected,” she says. “We were both teachers and it was hard to find a place where we could both work. So we ended up in Montreal.”
She desperately missed the stormy winds and salty breeze of the Atlantic. The young couple began traveling down the coast each summer, looking for a place that reminded her of home. In 1979 they found Wellfleet.
Bracaval runs Pré Nian from his studio in Nantes. He has been hand-printing, illustrating, and publishing small folios in collaboration with poets from France and abroad since the 1970s. Each book is a painstaking work of art illustrated with his own and other artists’ etchings, printed in small editions and sold through book fairs internationally. Bracaval chuckles that his collaboration is so sought after by poets that he would have to live to 150 to be able to make all the books he has been asked to publish.
“Each book I create attempts to show links, connections between things,” he explains. The poem of Brunet-Weinmann’s he chose to enshrine in a hand-printed book is named for Saint-Servan, a small fishing town on the Breton coast much like Wellfleet.
“I spent several summers there with my parents, brothers, and sisters during my childhood,” she says. “The poem includes impressions from the sea and also mentions the mythical city of Ys, which in Brittany’s legends disappeared under the ocean. A lot of places will one day be completely beneath the waters like that.”
Bracaval creates his art in communication with the words and the space it inhabits. His paintings were made specifically for the Wellfleet library’s exhibit room. They are colorful block prints on cloth.
“When he took them out of his suitcase,” says Brunet-Weinmann, “he laid them out on the moss in our garden and wet them with water. We hung them on the clothesline between the trees on our property, just like the washwomen of old did in Brittany.”
Bracaval’s brightly colored work hangs in the silence of sunshine streaming through the library windows. The viewer hears the voices and laughter of children echo through the wall from the children’s room next door. It is as if the artist knew this, that his art would evoke the reminiscence and nostalgia of a childhood long gone, across the ocean.
“It was my dream that both arms — of Cape Cod and of Brittany — would one day meet,” says Monique. And now, here at the Wellfleet library, they have.
Tombe la peine Pain drops as
pluie sur les toits Rain on rooftops
à perdre haleine Breathlessly
l’océan boit The ocean drinks
la lune verte The full green moon
colibri mort Dead hummingbird
rêvant sa perte Dreams his loss
dans l’eau du port In the harbor’s waters
L’eau dort livide The water sleeps
chanson du port A pallid song
lent vogue vide The perished ship
le navire mort Full of emptiness
traîne à ses rives Drags from its boards
un filet d’algues A net of dead algae
l’oiseau proie vive The bird lively prey
au vol des vagues Glides inside the waves
D’Ys la ville Towards Ys flooded city
au ciel bleu d’algues Where the clouds are blue algae
berçant la quille Rocking the keel
du vaisseau vague Of the vague vessel
l’oiseau solair The sun’s bird
lune flambant Flamboyant moon
vit dans la chair Lives in the flesh
de l’océan Of the ocean
translation by Aurelia Pabot