NEW YORK.- Like a language, an ancient craft tradition can be lost and with it an expression of a particular way of being in the world. Understanding the value of its own rich and intricate heritage, since 1994 the French Ministry of Culture has acknowledged the most exceptional practitioners of quintessentially French craft traditions by conferring upon them the title of maître dart. To date, 90 artisans have been so honored by the French government for technical brilliance, creative vision, and commitment to passing along their knowledge to future generations.
Six of these French masters/maîtres will display an array of their finest work at the Gallery of the French Institute/Alliance Française (FIAF) through February 13, 2009. As the first in a biennial series of such exhibitions, Earth and Fire: Master Artisans of France assembles 90 objects. Thirty are recent, one-of-a-kind pieces made of crystal, enameled porcelain, steel, silver, and other metals by Roland Daraspe of Versailles; Pierre Gaucher of Sarrebruck; Jean Girel of Burgundy; Jean-Louis Hurlin of Le Ban-Saint-Martin; Pierre Reverdy of Romans; and Serge Vaneson of Baccarat, France. Another 60 are exceptional examples of faïence from the collection of the Faucon family, seven generations of ceramicists who maintained a factory in the town of Apt in the South of France from 1890 until 2002.
This exhibition is an extraordinary opportunity for New Yorkers to view in one gallery the diversity and innovation of artisans drawn from throughout the French countryside, says Tristan de Terves, the Gallery Director of the Alliance Française.
The Artisans Two of the featured artisans have not only mastered, but have re-imagined, the once extinct method of forging steel known as Damascus steel. Jean-Louis Hurlin, appointed in 2006 as an artistic blacksmith, presents five works, including a precious bowl, only seven inches in diameter, whose exterior of swirling eddies of molten nickel and steel, polished to a high gleam, swells to a hand-wrought, ragged rim. The inside of Hurlins bowl is a study in contrast, rendering the molten patterning in rough, matte surfacing. Pierre Reverdy, also appointed in 2006 and considered one of the finest cutlers in the world today, is represented by an array of knives crafted from hand-forged steel and silver, mammoth ivory, and precious stones.
An ingenious and witty meditation on the archetype of the mirror, entitled Three Cubes for Reflection, is a highlight of the section devoted to Pierre Gaucher, a master wrought iron craftsman named to the maîtres dart program in 1996. Three cubesforged of pure iron, stainless steel, and gold-plated steel, and each slightly variable in size and imperfectionare stacked atop the other. One side of each is polished to perfection and aligned to form a vertical mirror that can be disassembled or reassembled in a second.
A large vase of hammered silver with a slightly wavy rim and surface adorned with raised elliptical shapes is among five objects illustrating the virtuosity of Roland Daraspe, named a maître in 2002. Other works in this section display Daraspes mastery of a delicate cross-hatching technique and bark-like scoring. In the 18th century, there were more than 50 silversmiths in Bordeaux: today Daraspe is the only one who can stamp the Minervas head of the Bordeaux hallmark on his work.
For more than 40 years, Serge Vaneson has been blowing and cutting crystal for Baccarat. In Earth and Fire, his mastery of the medium is exemplified by a mouth blown fluted vase of clear green crystal, which realizes a design by Ettore Sottsass; a pair of candlesticks and a carafe, also of olivine (green) glass; and a cylindrical, ruby red vase.
The Faucon Family One section of Earth and Fire: Master Artisans of France is devoted to 60 examples of the faïence earthenware created by the Faucon family in Apt for more than a century. Works on view range from vases, tureens, plates, and bowls to perfume burners, potpourri pots, wall fonts, and even watch holders. The family atelier is now shuttered. Rooted in the traditions of Provence, with it green faïence tableware and octagonal and oval plate forms, the faïence produced by seven generations of the Faucon family is distinguished by a yellow/orange coloring derived from iron oxide, a natural component of the clay deposits surrounding Apt. The work is also characterized by very delicate decorationoften of flowers and vine branchesmade possible by the double firing characteristic of faïence.
Two techniques invented in the Provençal region are showcased here: marbled clay with swirling, colored veins, and flame designs. The oeuvre of the master ceramist Joseph Bernard dominates the exhibition, beginning with the first flame vase he created in 1927, only two years after the decorative technique was introduced to the world at the 1925 International Decorative and Industrial Arts Exhibition in Paris, to the special decorative plates and vases he made in the early 1970s. Altogether, 20 flame glazed pieces by Bernard demonstrate how this innovator fully exploited the potential of the flame technique, by the 1940s perfecting a whole range of variations with intense earthen coloration and, remarkably, figurative forms.
The exhibition traces the manner in which Faucon pottery evolved from everyday ware to a faïence collected by well-to-do patrons, including even Marc Chagall (by the 1950s established in Vence). Featured are such objects as an 1890 pastel blue piriform vase with a wavy lip and floral decoration; marbled sugar bowls decorated with a motif of dancers in a ring (c. 1943); a dish with radiating palm leaves; an Antique style vase; and a rugby player figure in plain glaze posed on a marbled base (c. 1950s). Of special interest is the Moroccan styled ware, with arabesque patterns delicately drawn onto pastel green and blue backgrounds, created by Joseph Bernard in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The exhibition concluded with the black and white marbled ware in traditional shapes produced by Pierre Faucon, Joseph Bernards brother, in the early years of this century.
About the six Maitres dart Serge Vaneson began his training as a crystal cutter and engraver at the age of 14 in Baccarat, France. He has won the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Workmen in France) title twice, for the Best Cutter in 1982 and the Best Engraver in 2000. He has created exceptional pieces for collectors and designers, including the royal family of Morocco. Today, he trains young people and oversees his companys cutting and engraving workshops.
Roland Daraspe worked as a coppersmith, aeronautical mechanic, and glass worker before discovering his passion for silverwork. Born in 1950, he continues to carry on the tradition of his 18th century Bordeaux predecessors. His work has been exhibited many times, notably for a conference on his work at the Louvre. The Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris and the Fonds National dart Contemporain (FNAC) have also purchased his work for their permanent collections.
Pierre Reverdy started working with steel at the age of fourteen, when he discovered the power of forges. After traveling around France, the craftsman went on to master the Merovingian techniques of Damascus steel, a special steel with origins in Indian, Japan, and Damascus, hence its name. He founded his workshop in 1989 and is a member of the Grands Ateliers de France.
Jean-Louis Hurlin was born in 1950 and trained as a blacksmith and ironsmith. A master of Damascus steel, Hurlin abandoned life in the factory in 1974, choosing to patiently go back to basics to rediscover the nature of his medium. He has created a range of commonly used forged objects, but also original works of art like his round blades that testify to his skill.
Jean Girel was born in 1947 and lives near Cluny in Burgundy. Inspired by long forgotten ancestral ceramic techniques, he is a master of blending ancient Chinese methods of working with porcelain with innovative technologies. Pierre Gaucher was born in 1958. He has spent time in Germany, Italy, and the U.S. widening his range of skills, establishing his own workshop in 1986. He is often commissioned by architects and engineers, and has most recently designed gates and railings for the Maison de la Culture in Cergy Pontoise, the media library in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, and the INSEE building in Lille.
The not-for-profit organization French Institute Alliance Française promotes knowledge and appreciation of French and Francophone culture and language, and encourages interaction among French, Francophone, and American people through programs in education and the arts. Founded at the turn of 20th century, the French Institute and the Alliance Française de New York operated as two separate organizations for decades, the first promoting French arts and the second teaching French. In 1971, the organizations merged to form what has become one of the largest and most respected centers of French-American activities in the U.S., the French Institute Alliance Française. Located at 22 East 60th Street between Park and Madison Avenues on New York Citys Upper East Side, the Institutes beautiful Beaux Arts building is reminiscent of the architecture of Haussmann Paris. Over 6,000 students learn French in its Language Center, New York's leading center for French language. The Haskell Library is the most comprehensive private French library in the United States. The 400-seat Florence Gould Hall Theater presents performing arts events and New Yorks only year-round French cinema series, CinémaTuesdays. The Tinker Auditorium hosts culinary, literary, and other cultural events, and the dramatic penthouse space, Le Skyroom (featuring a demonstration kitchen) is a site for exclusive Art de Vivre events. The recently opened FIAF Gallery ensures the Institutes place as a vibrant cultural force for New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds.
The Gallery of the French Institute/Alliance Française is open Tuesday through Friday 11 am to 6 pm; Saturday 11am5 pm; and closed Monday and Sunday. Admission is free. To reach FIAF by subway visitors may take the 4, 5, 6, N, R and W trains to 59th Street, or the F train to 63rd Street. For more information the public may call 212-355-6100 or visit www.fiaf.org. This exhibition is co presented by FIAF and the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication and is sponsored by Tradition Group.