Archive for the ‘arts and crafts’ Category

Art at the Manoir de Couesme

Every September the Manoir de Couesme here in Ancinnes hosts a month-long art and sculpture exhibition by a featured artist. 2012 is the turn of Bap, a sculptor and artist originally from Dijon.

Today Jude and I went to see the exhibition, which as usual is arranged around the grounds and the buildings of the Manoir de Couesme, just 5 minutes up the road from us on the way towards Bourg-le-Roi.

As expected, it was a super exhibition and we can highly recommend it for anyone visiting here between now and the end of September – it is a rare opportunity to admire this delightful manor house, which dates from the 15th century and has been beautifully restored by the current owners, as well as to view the interesting sculptures and art works of Bap who works in slate, wire and also some amazing blue sculptures in coloured plaster and polyester which are made by moulding the material over sleeping horses!

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From today and every day until 30th September, at the Manoir de Couesme, 5 minutes from La Basse Cour between Ancinnes and Bourg-le-Roi. Take advantage also to admire the beautifully restored manor house and grounds. Entry free, open 10am to 6pm daily.

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St Céneri-le-Gérei “Rencontre des Peintres”

This weekend, the local village of Saint Céneri-le-Gérei in the Alpes Mancelles will be transformed into an open-air art gallery.


“Rencontre des Peintres” at Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei

On the 26th, 27th and 28th May the “Rencontre des Peintres” or ‘Gathering of the Painters” celebrates its 26th edition in this picturesque Normandy village, classed as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France”.

It’s a tradition that every year during Pentecost weekend the “Rencontre des Peintres” takes place at Saint Céneri-le-Gérei, transforming the entire village into a veritable art gallery.

Always a gathering place for artists of all stripes, this 26th edition promises to be an event not to be missed.   Forty artists from all over France will be exhibiting and more than 15,000 visitors are expected; there will also be a concert, a “repas champêtre” open-air dinner, workshops for children, guided tours of the Auberge of the Soeurs Moisy, an exciting mixture of art and fun throughout the weekend.

Visitors can also vote for their favorite artist, who will be presented with the Audience Award.

Access to the event is free with parking available at entrances to Saint Céneri-le-Gérei, which will be entirely pedestrianised between 10am and 7pm over the three days of the artists fair.

As well as the artists fair, visitors should not fail to visit the nearby gardens at la Mansonière on the outskirts of the village, 5 minutes walk up the road from the village square.

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La Perrière Arts Market 2012

La Perrière Arts Market 2012

On the Pentecost holiday weekend Sunday and Monday of 27-28 May 2012 about 90 artists will be displaying their works in the streets and alleyways, village square, houses and gardens of la Perrière – everywhere available, in fact!

This is the 16th annual arts market at la Perrière – contemporary modern art is to the fore in all its forms, be it bronze or clay sculpture, on canvas, paper et al.

About La Perrière

Perched on a spur of granite this little village with its old narrow streets has charm without end.  Apart from the artists’ fair there is a very nice bar, a restaurant (le Relais d’Horbé) a brocante (antique shop).  The picture-box houses date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Make sure you take a walk around the church, behind which are fantastic views of the valley.

More Information

More information available on the site : www.marchedart.com/

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Le Jardin Boutique

Location: Champsecret, Orne, Normandy

At the beginning of April we visited one of our favourite gardens locally, the Jardins de la Mansonière at St Saint Céneri-le-Gerei.

While we were there we asked Michèle (Manson) where she got all the lovely wrought-iron pergolas, tables and chairs which have appeared in the tea garden since last year.  She explained that she bought almost all her garden furniture, pergolas etc. from Le Jardin Boutique at Champsecret, near Bagnoles de l’Orne. We determined to visit it next time we were over there as it’s not far away, about 40 minutes, and close to a couple of other gardens that we like to visit now and again.

At the beginning of May 2011 the occasion presented itself after a visit to the garden of la Pellerine, Mayenne.

What a great place Le Jardin Boutique is – gorgeous, spectacular “gloriettes” (imagine if you can circular, wrought iron pergolas direct from the Garden of Eden!), wrought iron tables and chairs, and loads of novel ironwork plant supports and garden decorations in the form of flowers, insects, birds, fancy trellis etc.

For the house interior there are wonderful lamps, candelabras, statues, statuettes, screens and so on in two separate showrooms each side of the entrance to the garden area.

The big bonus is that all of this wonderful, hand-crafted garden furniture and the interior decorative items are well below the prices you would pay in most French outlets and shops – this is definitely a place to note.

As for us?  We bought a number of their smaller garden items (and some unusual plants) but we’ll be back later this year with a trailer to collect a lovely heavy, wrought iron table and chairs in white to furnish our new summer house – just as soon as I’ve finished building it! Brico Depot – here we come this week.

I want this table and chairs - and I will have it!

Practical information

Le Jardin Boutique
La Pesnière
61700 Champsecret

02 33 37 68 17

Opening hours:
All year, Friday to Tuesday inclusive, 10h00 to 12h30 and 14h00 to 18h00.



Bed and breakfast in Southern Normandy at La Basse Cour

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Alençon Lace

Alençon Lace – Frilling Stuff

UNESCO recognised the exceptional quality of Alençon lace by adding it to the “Representative List of the Cultural Heritage of Humanity“, it was announced on Tuesday this week (see video at end of article).  French gastronomy  was also added to the list.  In its announcement the UNESCO committee said “Alençon needle lace is unusual because of the high level of craftsmanship required and the very long time that it takes to produce (seven hours per square centimetre).”

Alençon Lace

But Beware Cheap Imitations …

You’ll find plenty of suppliers offering what they claim to be “Alençon Lace” and wedding gowns supposedly trimmed in Alençon lace.

With very few exceptions, most of this is NOT genuine Alençon lace.  It often comes from China and is a cheap, machine made imitation that bears only a superficial resemblance to the real thing.  When it is available to order by the yard, or the dresses cost just a few hundred dollars, this gives the game away – new Alençon lace costs several hundred dollars per square inch!

Ouch – Why is real Alençon lace so expensive? Mainly because it takes eight years of training to master the Point d’Alençon technique and 25 hours of labour to produce a finished piece of Alençon lace the size of a French postage stamp (2.5cm by 2cm, less than a square inch).  The end result is stunning and can’t be matched by any machine made lace.

History of Alençon Lace

Alençon lace, known as “the Queen of laces and a lace for Queens“,  is the most elaborate needle-point lace ever produced in France.  It traces its origins to 1665, when Louis XIV determined to improve the quality of French lace in order to keep in the country the enormous sums then being spent on Italian and Flemish laces by members of his court.

Venetian lace makers were brought in to train the French lace-makers of Alençon in Normandy, who were already skilled in making cut-thread lace.  The number of workers rapidly grew and by 1875 nearly eight thousand workers in Alencon and surrounding towns (Sees, Argentan, Falaise, Mamers and Beaumont) were engaged in lace making.  Until c. 1675 the new French lace strongly resembled Spanish and Venetian points and was called “Point de France“.  But around that time the lace-makers of Alençon adopted a mesh backing technique and invented a new and even more delicate stitch,  a distinctive style leading to the “Point d’Alençon” soubriquet.

Alençon Lace

Enormous prices were paid for Alençon lace, which could only be afforded by the aristocracy.  Despite this, not only were articles of clothing trimmed with it, but it was used as a trimming for luxurious bedclothes, upholstery, valances and bed spreads.  Altars in the churches were hung with it, surplices of the priests trimmed with it, and the king gave away to his courtiers cravats, ruffles and complete items of clothing. At the time of the French Revolution in 1794 the value of Alençon lace was a staggering 12,000,000 livres (pounds) per annum.  The average wage at this time was only 3 sous (shillings) per day, making the value of the lace equivalent to 80 million days’ labour.

During the Revolution many of the Alençon lace factory workers were killed or fled France on account of their connection with the aristocracy.  Nevertheless, the skill survived and even had a renaissance when in 1810 the Emperor Napoleon I gave Marie Louise bed linen decorated with finest Alençon lace on the occasion of their marriage.

The Duchess  of Angoulême also tried to revive the industry, but by 1830 there were only two or three hundred Alençon lace-workers still employed.  Alençon lace was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Crystal Palace of London where it was greatly admired, and in 1856 a large commission was placed to mark the birth of the Prince Imperial.  In 1859 the most expensive single work ever executed at Alençon was exhibited – a dress valued at 200,000 francs purchased by the Emperor Napoleon III for the Empress.  Despite this, the Alençon lace factory fell into terminal decline towards the end of the 19th century as cheaper machine-made lace became available and tastes in fashion changed.

Alençon Lace Technique

The technique of point d’Alençon is a rare technique of needle lace-making.  Alençon needle lace is unusual because of the high level of craftsmanship required and the very long time that it takes to produce (seven hours per square centimetre).

Its process comprises a number of successive stages: drawing and pricking of the design on parchment, creating the outline of the design and the background netting, then the stitching of the patterns, shading with filling stitches, decorating with designs, and embroidering to create relief. Then the lace is removed from the parchment with a razor blade, trimmed and, finally, the filling stitches are polished with a lobster claw.

Every Alençon lace-maker knows how to complete all the stages of the process – knowledge that can only be learned through a practical apprenticeship. To fully master Alençon needle lace-making requires seven to ten years of training. The learning method is exclusively based on oral transmission and practical teaching.

In 1903, the Alençon Chamber of Commerce realised that there was a need to safeguard the special Alençon lace-making technique for posterity and it founded a lace making school in the town.

In 1976, the Point d’Alencon National Workshop was created by the State to preserve the lace needlepoint traditions in the town.  Today the workshop houses a small group who keep alive this unique skill, mainly producing pieces of needlework destined for great state-owned properties.

Lace Worker

There is a permanent exhibition of Alençon lace and exhibits showing how it is made in the Musée des Beaux Arts et de la Dentelle in the town centre.

The public can also visit the adjoining  lace-making workshops on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in summer, or groups by appointment throughout the year.

Small samples of the lace can be bought from the museum shop for a price – about 500 euro!

More Information on Alençon Lace:

Understanding the Alençon lace technique – illustrated guide





Musée des Beaux Arts et de la Dentelle, Alençon

Musée des Beaux-arts et de la Dentelle d’Alençon

Cour Carrée de la Dentelle
61000 Alençon
T. 02 33 32 40 07

Open all year daily except Mondays, 10h00 to 18h00.
Closes for lunch 12h00 to 14h00 except in July and August.


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Desseins de Femmes

Ceramic art exhibition at the Manoir de Couesme

A few days ago we visited the Manoir de Couesme in Ancinnes to see the outdoor exhibition of sculptures, paintings and ceramics on display in the grounds of the manor house.

The Manoir de Couesme, in the commune of Ancinnes on the border of Normandy and Pays de la Loire,  dates from the 15th century and has been beautifully restored by the current owners.  They hold regular art exhibitions there each September under the patronage of Jean-Pierre Coffe.

The manor house exhibits for 2010 are the creations of Céline LAURENT DESSOR, who studied Fine Arts in Tarbes then ceramics at Mulhouse, but was especially influenced by learning native pottery in a Nigerian village. For the last ten years she has run the AL TERRE NATIVE centre at Nancy, where she runs vocational courses in the ceramic arts.

The grounds are brought to life by her sculptures , murals and dishes decorated with images of women.  Her work speaks of the virtual and literal enslavement of women in certain societies and contrasts this with the freedom they enjoy in others.

The exhibition runs until the end of September 2010 – if you are in the north Sarthe, make a detour and enjoy the exhibition – truly inspiring.

Manoir de Couesme “Desseins de Femmes” Exhibition

Manoir de Couesme, Desseins de FemmesPractical Information

Opening hours

Every day from 4th to 30th September 2010

Hours 10h00 to 18h00


Bar on site

Parking on site free

Souvenir and gift stall run by the “Amis du Manoir de Couesme”

Artwork for sale


The Manoir de Couesme is situated between Ancinnes and Bourg-le Roi in the Sarthe department, Pays de la Loire, France.

The Manoir de Couesme is 2 minutes (2km) from our B&B in Lower Normandy by car, or 20 minutes on foot.

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Monet’s Garden at Giverny, Normandy

Many people visiting Lower Normandy make a day trip to visit the artist Claude Monet’s house and garden at Giverny on the Seine, immortalised in a series of paintings.  We’ve visited the gardens on a number of occasions – it’s about a two hour drive from where we live.

Giverny from Paris

If you’re staying in Paris then a short, 45-mile train ride from Paris St. Lazare station brings you to the town of Vernon, from where you can take a bus to Monet’s garden at nearby Giverny (about 2.5 miles, 4km).  Alternatively, you can also hire push bikes near the train station.

Giverny and Artists

In the late 19th century a number of American artists – John Singer Sargent and Theodore Wendel among them – stayed and painted at Giverney.  Examples of their work can be seen at the town’s “Musee d’Art Americain“.

Claude Monet noticed the village of Giverny while passing through on a train. He decided to move to Giverny where he rented a house and the land surrounding it. In 1890 he bought the house and land outright and set out to create the gardens he wanted to paint. Some of his most famous paintings, such as the water lily and Japanese bridge paintings, are of his garden in Giverny. His other most famous series of works is of the cathedral at Rouen, down river from Giverny.  Monet lived in Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926.  He and many members of his family are buried in the village cemetery.

Giverny Hotel Baudy was one of the bars frequented by the artists in the late 19th century.  Nowadays you can eat there but be warned – it is extremely popular!  Book lunch in advance if you can, or get there early.

By mid-morning in summer Giverny is packed with tourist buses – try to visit early morning if you can, or late afternoon.

Clos Normand, Monet's Garden at Giverny

Monet’s House and Garden at Giverny

Monet’s house and garden are open from 1 April to 1 November. Hours are 9.30am to 6pm and admission is 6€ for adults, with reductions for children under 12, students and senior citizens.

You enter the gardens via turnstiles and the path leads you through Monet’s old studio, now a large, light and airy souvenir shop.  There are dozens of books on Monet, the man and his works, postcards galore and beautiful reproduction prints to buy.

At the exit from the shop Monet’s house is ahead on the right (there are also toilets at theentrance).  Photography is not allowed inside the house.

Monet’s House at Giverny

The outside of Monet’s house at Giverny is adorned with green shutters while the inside, like his paintings, is very colourful. One hallway is decorated in old Japanese prints, whilst his wife’s bedroom has bright green walls with sky-blue detailing.  The living room is pale blue with wood panel detailing in bright peacock blue.  The works of Monet and his artist friends cover the walls.

The dining room is dazzlingly bright, with tables, chairs and walls painted in vibrant yellows.  Two enormous china cabinets dominate the room,  decorated with blue and white pottery.

The kitchen next door is plastered floor to ceiling with blue and white tiles and overflows with copper and brass pots and pans.

Monet’s Garden at Giverny

There are actually two parts to Monet’s garden: a flower garden called Clos Normand in front of the house and a Japanese inspired Water Garden on the other side of the road, accessed by a pedestrian tunnel from the bottom of the Clos Normand garden.

The Clos Normand is ablaze with colour in summer, with masses of tulips, roses, dahlias, sunflowers, nasturtiums and other annual flowers according to the season.   Monet created his garden with an eye for how it would appear on canvas, and the present day custodians remain faithful to that vision.

Japanese Bridge, Water Garden

Japanese Bridge, Water Garden

Monet’s Japanese Garden – Water Lilies and Ponds

Monet was inspired by his Japanese prints to create the water garden and Japanese bridge.  The famous ponds are dotted with water lilies (in season) and surrounded by willows, wisterias and towering bamboos.

The Japanese bridge is painted the same bright green as the house shutters.

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