Friday, 10 April 2015

Mini gifts and big signs

A group of  Marottes  ('bonnet ladies') wearing traditional French lace caps
 In the past, the French artisans, the carpenters, the shoemakers, the weavers, the iron masters, worked to very high standards - they had trade guilds and  to set up a workshop they had to work apprenticeships and there were very strict rules about where they were able to work, and erect a trade sign (the source of those delightful hanging signs showing a large example of their trade, a padlock, or a shoe or a plough, a hat or roof tile,)  They were all trained to produce goods that were typical of their own province in France and if you go to the large agricultural museum in Troyes you can see the dozens of differently designed tools, sickles, hammers, rakes, etc., and all can be traced to the areas were they were made and then used.
      I  used to see and buy quite a lot of mini examples of these different objects, little clogs, little baskets and mini treen objects and toys,  thinking that they were apprentice pieces but I was told that they were usually made as presents for the artisan's friends' children on special days, birthdays and Noel!   So the basket maker would make a clog out of cane and willow to give to the cobblers children, the ironworker would make little pots and plates of metal for the potters family and no doubt the children used them and decorated doll's houses with these miniatures.   They are highly collectible, of course, and I used to have a string of buyers for them and they very rarely found duplicates of their collections, all were original and hand-made!

    The trade signs were big money and most French dealers had a good idea of what they could fetch in francs;  nevertheless, by very active searching in Brocante sheds and lean-to's I unearthed several for my primitive art dealer in Knightsbridge!  A top hat was one of the favourites, then a padlock, followed by a large painted wooden clog and a roofing sign showing a man laying tiles on a steep roof cut out in silhouette style.   When I went to the Rural Museum at Laduz , beyond Rouen, there was a wonderful collection to admire - if you like primitive and rural byegones, this is a hugely enjoyable place, all gathered together by one family in delightful old farm buildings.   My favourite things were the papier mache women's heads with formal hair dressed with a central parting, and staring straight ahead, with pert noses and severe mouths, which were known as bonnet ladies or 'marottes'   and were used to display bonnets in old shop windows.   They appeal to a lot of collectors and are sold for hundreds of Euros!  I know copies are now being made, but they do not have the charm and little rubbed  noses of their older sisters!

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