Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Folon’s Over the Rainbow to See the Stars

The imagination and whimsy of Jean-Michel Folon’s sculpture gift to the Rose Garden in Florence (February 8 post) led me to discover more about this extraordinary artist. A quirky story about an 80-year-old yacht saved by Folon at the end of his own life caught my attention..

Folon's Arcangelo (2003) - a blue man flying
Folon's Arcangelo (2003) - a blue man flying

Folon said, “I’ve spent all my life trying to fly and I assure you that I can’t, I’ve spent my life drawing blue men who flew, and during my life, I’ve also drawn many rainbows.” In 2001, he found a  tangible rainbow.

He told this story: Some years ago I was in Roma with Federico Fellini, in the street and under the rain, and Federico had an appointment with his doctor.

After a while he put his big hands on my shoulders, looked at me and said “We’ve spent our life fulfilling our childhood dreams”; we all had dreams when we were children, and I believe that when we were children we all thought, “one day I’ll fly”. Childhood dreams are very important. In life we all face reality soon, it stresses us and it takes everything away, our energy and our time. All things considered, all the children are the same when they say, “when I’m a grown-up, I want to fly, I want to find a boat and sail far away”.

Eventually I took refuge in the sea, and, luckily, I’ve found the boat to go to sea with.”

On Over the Rainbow Folon went in search of his dreams
On Over the Rainbow Folon went in search of his dreams

History of a Special Yacht

It was in 1930, when W. G. Hetherington from Glasgow had his 34 meters (115 foot) yacht, Janetha IV, built at Dickie & Sons Shipyard in Bangor, North Wales, in order to allow himself relaxing cruises together with family and friends, along the coasts of Scotland. In the years that followed her launching, Janetha IV sailed in the Scottish waters until 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War, she was commandeered by the Royal Navy and put at its disposal as coastal patroller.

In the years that followed the war, after a short period spent sailing in America, the yacht arrived in the Aegean Sea. In that period, in Greece, the Janetha IV, at the anchorage off the harbor of Athens, was transformed into a little floating casino. The yacht, whose name was then changed in Ismini III, disappeared for a long time, almost forty years, until, at the end of the eighties, an English owner bought her, renamed her Classique, and used her as a charter yacht, a successful market for about ten years, until a new owner moved the yacht to Cote d’Azur, where it was left in a state of neglect; virtually abandoned until Folon discovered her in 2000.

Folon's spirit influenced the beauty of his yacht
Folon's spirit influenced the beauty of his yacht

After years Folon managed to buy the yacht. He said, “Three years ago I was in a little bar and I had just bought a wreck and I was looking for a name and Judy Garland was singing “Over The Rainbow” on the radio, a wonderful song, which doesn’t mean “over” but “beyond” the rainbow.”

In 2002, the renamed Over The Rainbow arrived at Mondomarine’s slipway in Savona, a shipyard the construction of large yachts. Folon was avidly involved in the rebirth of the adventuresome boat. Two years later, Over the Rainbow was launched.

The 2004 Launch Party

At the 2004 launch party, Folon tells the story: “One day in a port I saw a wreck that was going towards death and I thought that it shouldn’t have died; I said to myself immediately “you’ll have a new life.”

And so this yacht is not just a yacht for me, but a real creation, which is part of my life, with her I want to discover countries that I don’t know very well, and from this yacht I want to see the lights of the coast and the stars in the sky.”

And all this to tell you that I could still speak for ages, because now the only thing I think about is this magic yacht; she hasn’t got anything so extraordinary, I think she is quite an ordinary yacht, she isn’t particularly fast, she can’t give you a great performance because she is slow, lazy, she allows herself to be dragged away by the sea; but she is more than that, she’s a real wooden yacht as you’ll never find again, and I want to go and see the stars with her.”

Over the Rainbow still explores the Mediterranean (2008)
Over the Rainbow still explores the Mediterranean (2008)

I think that in life people should have many dreams, because they guide us and Over The Rainbow is a dream. My little crew and captain Jean Louis believe in the yacht and so do I, and together we’ll go to stroll and visit islands; and I’ll come back with many images, drawings and water color paintings, because I want to look at nature, the lights on the sea and the beauty on the earth.”

Folon enjoyed just over a year gazing at his billion of stars before he succumb to leukemia at the age of 71 on October 20, 2005.

To read more about the restoration of Over the Rainbow.

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