Etched in time

For over a decade, the French National Institute for Arts and Crafts (L’Institut National des Metiers d’Art) has been organising the European Artistic Craft Days (Journees Europeennes des Metiers d’Art).  The European Artistic Craft Days take place each year on the first weekend in April.  Last year over 6000 events were organised in 14 European countries, including France

This year I went to one such event: I visited the workshop of Christian Fournie in the village of Beaufort, about 30 minutes from Saint-Chinian.

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Christian Fournie is a master craftsman who specialises in the transformation of glass for the use of architecture, interior design and stained glass.  His particular passion is for a kind of patterned glass which was produced from around 1826 to 1940, and which has all but disappeared since then.  It is called verre mousseline or lace glass.  Originally the patterns would have been produced by overlaying clear glass panes with lace, and sifting enamel powder over the lace to create a pattern.  Once the lace had been removed, the glass pane would be processed in a kiln to fuse the layers of glass and enamel.  The resulting pane of glass would keep prying eyes at bay, whilst only slightly reducing the luminosity.

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Above is a piece of verre mousseline which Christian Fournie has produced, using modern techniques.

Before we get to present day production though, here’s a little more history: Over the course of his working life, Christian Fournie has researched all aspects of the production of verre mousseline.  He’s created a slide show (in French) to share his findings:

Christian’s talk about his favourite subject was as fascinating as it was technical.  He covered most of the glass making tradition in France and explained that the craft was almost like a secret society.  All the knowledge used to be transmitted within the workshops and factories, and very little exists in the way of written records.  Did you know that until the advent of modern glass manufacturing, all window glass was blown glass and made by artisan craftsmen?  The video below shows how window glass was made in the 1920s

The following video is from the Saint-Just glass works near Lyon, and shows the present-day making of flat blown glass.

The Saint-Just glass works is one of only two factories in Europe where this type of glass is still produced.  Nowadays, sheet glass is produced by the Pilkington “float” process, where the molten glass is floated on a bath of molten lead.  You can still find blown glass in some of the windows of old village houses in and around Saint-Chinian – Acanthus and La Rive have them for sure, and there are many other houses with old glass panes.

After this little digression, let’s get back to verre mousseline.  Christian has amassed a collection of catalogues, patterns and samples over the years, and from that he has created his own collection of verre mousseline, which he can produce to order.  Here are some pictures of the glass in his studio, some old and some new:

He uses two techniques to create the patterns.  For one technique  he covers a piece of glass with adhesive film.  The adhesive film is then cut by a plotter with the required pattern, and the parts of the pattern which will later be sandblasted are then peeled away with the aid of a scalpel.

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Depending on the size of the piece of glass and the pattern, this could take some time!

For his other technique, the glass is coated with a photosensitive substance.  A film negative with the desired pattern is placed on the coated glass, and the whole thing is then exposed to light.

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After exposure the result is “developed”, much like a photograph would be, and the resulting plate can then be sandblasted.  In the picture below, Christian is holding up a developed plate of glass which has not yet been sandblasted:

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In the picture above, you can see a brass stencil, which lies on the table just behind the piece of glass that Christian is holding up.  This stencil is used for a different technique, which Christian explained to his visitors, but which he does not use.  The picture below shows the ingredients and tools, and the piece of glass between the brass stencil and the brush is the finished result:

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The white enamel powder is mixed to a paste with a gum arabic solution, and then the glass is coated with that solution.  Once thoroughly dry, the stencil is fixed to the plate, and the metal brush is used to brush through the stencil, removing the enamel coating where there are holes in the stencil.  The resulting glass plate would then have to be fired in a kiln, in order to fuse the two layers – which is why Christian does not use this technique in his workshop: he does not have such a kiln.  Here is another video, which shows the process I have just described:

The pictures below show the display at the entrance to the workshop – as you can see from two of the pictures, Christian does also do contemporary work!

This was a very fascinating visit, getting a glimpse into the universe of glass and its transformation!!  The subject is vast, and I’m sure Christian will be happy to share his passion with you, should you wish to visit his workshop!

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6 thoughts on “Etched in time

  1. Amazing post! As I live in the glass city, I am very interested in the ancient craft. You were so lucky to attend the workshop! Thank you so much for sharing your experience, and for the historical videos!

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  2. Pingback: Spring events | midihideaways

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