Ferdinand Cheval and The Palais Ideal – One Stone at a Time to Build a Dream

“Whatever your age, whatever you wish to achieve, if you are courageous, persistent and hard-working, you are sure to succeed.”

— Ferdinand Cheval, postman

The postman who created something magnificent out of obstacles in his ordinary days.
Ferdinand Cheval: 1836-1924. The postman who created something magnificent out of obstacles in his ordinary days. (Photo: Public Domain)

This morning I learned about a man who lived in Hauterives, France, named Ferdinand Cheval. Long ago, while working as a postman, he stumbled over a stone. This was most likely not an unusual occurrence, since that region used to be a seabed and is covered with stones. However, this time was different. This time Ferdinand stopped to look at the rock he’d tripped over and realized it’s unique shape and beauty. This realization triggered the memory of a dream in his mind. What if he could create a monument out of stones like these which caught his shoes every day? He put the stone in his pocket and continued his postal rounds. For 34 years he worked on his project, picking up stones and carrying them home, graduating from pockets (when his wife complained about the mending), to baskets, to what he came to call his best friend, the wheelbarrow.

The neighbors complained about his rock pile, and mocked his vision, but he didn’t let it bother him. Stone by stone, he worked to create the masterpiece that he had seen in a dream. After a time, the neighbors saw the potential of what he was doing and became more supportive. Thirty-three years later, he completed his monument to what one person can do when determined. Today Ferdinand Cheval’s Palais Ideal is a visitor attraction that inspires others.

He wanted to leave something behind that others would remember him by. He followed no set architectural practice or structure, but put into cement and stone sculpture what he saw in his mind.

In the end, this is what he created:

Emmanuel Georges (Copyright Coll Palais Idéal Emmanuel Georges)
Photo used with permission: Emmanuel Georges (Copyright Coll Palais Idéal Emmanuel Georges)

It’s a monument to what one person can do by noticing and using the ordinary bits of life that may sometimes get in our way. If you click here or on the palace photo, it will link you to the official website of the Palais Ideal.  Seeing this place in person might be a good thing to add to a bucket list.

I fell in love with Ferdinand Cheval’s story because it feels like what I do everyday. I pick up stones, pieces of life and stories, and tuck them away for later use. Everyday, when I write, I place yet another stone in the creation of something that is difficult for me to fully see in the whole, but which I glimpse now and again as if through the haze of a dream.

The other day, Arctic Boy was browsing the archives of this blog, which I began as a way to document and share some of our family’s adventures together. Soon after I began blogging, we decided to embark on an adventure to China with our three youngest children. Arctic Boy said reading the archives helped him to remember some things he had forgotten and gave him a more rounded perspective of what the whole experience was like “behind the scenes,” from my perspective as a parent and orchestrator of the event. Looking back I can see how the stones we collected throughout our experiences in China have helped our family to begin to create something wonderful ourselves. Like Cheval, we may not see the future of our creation in full detail, but as we pick up stones, we become inspired by each one and try to use it in a way that will influence others to take a second look at the things they may trip over in their own ordinary days.







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