The incredible WWII Art Project Helped a Brain-Damaged Man Rebuilt His Life

In April 2000, Mark Hogancamp was beaten nearly to death by five digots in a bar in his hometown Kingston, New York, for he drunkenly admitting his love for cross-dressing. The deadly assault threw him in a coma for 9 days, and he could only find blank in his mind when he finally woke up. In fact, he thought he was still in the navy in Ibiza in 1984.

Hogancamp had no choice but to relearn every simple skills like a child, together with the memories as well as imagination in his past life.It was then when he started to build Marwencol, a marvelous miniature Belgian village set in World War II. “I wanted to bring it back—my imagination— because I knew my mind was an eight-cylinder engine that’s only running on one cylinder. So I figured to get it back, I would build my own bar. Because I always wanted my own place. So I built it…and then it looked weird all by itself out there, so I built other buildings to keep it company.”


The whole fictional town serves as a staging area for 1:6 scale period dramas in light of people and experience in Hogancamp’s real life. The moment his alter ego Hoagie is created, the story was on. From the perspective of this toy soldier, we see the entire imagination world.


Hogaie’s story are as colorful as other’s with romance, adventure and drama. With Nazi figurines, miniature G.I heroes, Barbie dolls and his camera, Hogancamp succeeded in giving all those frozen models life and spirit in his amazing photographs. He doesn’t shot them in an overhead view but see things from the character’s angle. In order to accomplish that, the outsider artist bend down near the groud and do his work carefully everyday.


Marwencol is a town at war filled with soldiers, guns, and blood. The background was his idea inspired by grandfather’s story and his own experience being navy. Hogancamp creates his characters based on either real people or his imagination, mirroring the reality somehow.


There’re his neighbours, himself, and of course the five digots as SS soldiers. In there, he can sentence that five guys to death and that actually comfort him a bit psycologically, since the men hurted him are punished quite lightly in reality.


Over five years, Hogancamp dived into the project. He put his imagination in his backyard, and it pays off. All those images like Hollywood films help him regain his cognitive faculties and various abilities, while the most important benefit might be the courage and happiness it brings back to him.


“When he sits inside Marwencol, the city is real to him,” says Chris Shellen, who help Mark with his publish. “People need to drink so Mark built a bar. People need to get married so he built a church. They needed to see movies so he built a Town Hall cultural center for film screenings. Mark makes all these things not because he has some grand idea of how a city should look but because every prop and room and building serves the needs of its people.”


Marwencol was not set out as an art work but a creative form of therapy helping Hogancamp recover from his emotional and physical wounds. However, it turns out that no one could neglect the remarkable charm of this fancy tiny world.


More than 100 Hogancamp’s photographs are now collected in the book, Welcome to Marwencol, telling the vivid novel of Hogaie, which was just published in this month from Princeton Architectural Press, accompanied with a 2010 documentary about his story, Marwencol.


“Because everything is so far away from me, I figured I’d bring the world to me,” Hogancamp is quoted saying in the book. “So here’s my little world, where I can make things happen, and I can create anything I want. I figured I’ll never get all those memories back, so I’ll just make new ones.”


Inspiring others by his story is also one of his biggest wish. “It’s good hearing from people who have been helped by my story, by my town,” says Hogancamp. “That’s why I did all this—the art show, the documentary, the book. ‘For duty and humanity.'”


While it is tragic what happened to Mark, he admits that it opened a door for him. He is a new person, a person with a passion and a talent, and he is a person that you should get to know.