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Sunday, 2 February 2014

A visit to L’École Boulle in Paris | Wood carving and sculpture department | A Course Ornamental Wood Carving | Journée Portes Ouvertes

Wood Carving department, école Boulle Paris

A visit to L’École Boulle in Paris

A traditional annual highlight on the first weekend of February is the open house day of the L’École Boulle in Paris. 
It is not like I go there every year, but since it had been a few years since my last visit I felt a strong urge to travel to Paris once again. Together with a couple of my students and a few other interested people we headed off to Paris. The annual open house day of L’École Boulle truly remains a special day to me.

Some of my students Woodcarving

The THALYS in Paris

We travelled with the Thalys high speed train from Brussels to the French capital; a journey of approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, peak speed is 300 km/h (186 mph). Arriving at the train station of Paris North we took the subway in the direction of Faubourg Saint-Antoine. This district is located between Place de la Bastille and Place de la Nation.
From Faubourg Saint-Antoine it was only a short walk to our destination. On the way we passed by what is probably the most impressive tools shop in France, namely “Outillage Gaignard Millon”.

Gaignard Millon in Paris, impressive tool shop

Website: http://www.gaignard-millon.com

Faubourg Saint-Antoine

Since the 17th century this Parisian district has been the beating heart of the furniture industry. Every now and then you can discover small charming workshops of real craftsmen such as wood carvers, gilders and renovators. It is truly an exceptional neighborhood, an “authentic” part of Paris so to speak. Strangely enough this district is almost completely unknown to the common tourist.

The district’s name was derived from the Cistercian nunnery Saint-Antoine-des-Champs, which was founded in 1198 by Foulques, a priest of Neuilly-sur-Marne, and strong advocate of the fourth crusade. The convent quickly rose to prominence and became one of the wealthiest nunneries in the whole of France. The “dames du Faubourg” or “the ladies of Faubourg”, as they were known, were usually coming from rich, privileged families. 
The nunnery used to be located on the grounds of the current hospital Saint-Antoine. In the 15th century the convent was given a special privilege. King Louis XI decided that the craftsmen working within the convent walls did not belong to any traditional guild. 

Faubourg Saint Antoine
Consequently, this privilege led to fast growth and considerable prosperity of this Parisian neighborhood. Without any strict regulations and often stubborn attitude of the guilds, the craftsmen were free to come up with their own ideas, thereby disregarding the traditional, standard designs in oak. The craftsmen at Saint-Antoine-des-Champs experimented vigorously with marquetry and all kinds of precious woods.

Despite increased mechanization during the last couple of centuries, there are still quite a few traditional workshops to be found.

L’École Boulle

L’École Boulle was founded in 1886 and is located on the Rue Reuilly. The establishment of this school was meant to satisfy the ever increasing demand in highly trained and skilled carpenters, furniture makers, wood carvers, marquetry craftsmen and bronze sculpture founders. 
In 1891 they decided to move the school to Rue Pierre Bourdan, and to this day L’École Boulle remains an internationally renowned, mythical place where tradition meets innovation. Also in 1891 the institute was given its current name L’École Boulle, in honor of the most famous furniture maker of the Louis XIV era, André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732).

Website L'école Boulle
L'école Boulle, Paris

The department of wood carving

Naturally the wood carving and sculpture departments received most of our attention but the other departments of this school are quite exceptional too, and therefore definitely deserve a visit.

Chair makers, marquetry artists, medal engravers, goldsmiths, the art of silver plating. This is only a short list of some of the métiers one can admire here; a true feast for the eye. 

A visit to L’École Boulle in Paris

It is also fascinating to see how at L’École Boulle old techniques and knowledge are applied to contemporary objects. Innovation is therefore an important spearhead in the school’s policy. By doing so, traditional knowledge is passed on to another generation which can decide whether or not to apply these skills to create modern or traditional objects. 
This institute has, without any doubt, retained its traditional identity and is still an important “hatchery” for traditional, artisanal craftsmanship. Initially, this approach was also followed at the Don Bosco institute in Liège (Belgium). However, due to budget cuts and bad policy making many of the traditional crafts programs at Don Bosco were cancelled in favor of courses with little or no content or artistic merit, completely in line with the declining Belgian industry and government.

A brief summary of some departments

Wood carving Department

Wood carving and sculpture department

 A Course Ornamental Wood Carving

Wood carving and sculpture department, l'école Boulle, Paris



 The department Marquetry

 The department 'chairs'


Department Furniture Restoration

Wood carving and sculpture department, l'école Boulle Paris



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