French Folk Art: Brittany’s Quimper Pottery Saturday, Jan 21 2012 

As I mentioned in the last French Affaires posting, the country of France is so diverse and rich in things to do, see and experience. Northwest France is home to la Bretagne (Brittany), a rocky and remote region known for its extensive coastline, Celtic influences, ancient forests and legends, native costumes, music of the biniou (bagpipe) and bombarde (horn), marvelous sea salts including fleur de sel, delicious sweet and savory crêpes, and charming hand painted pottery known as “faïence de Quimper.”

Quimper

The lovely town of Quimper (pronounced kam-pair) is the capital of the Finistère department, a very traditional area of Brittany. It has been a center of faience (pottery) production for over 300 years as Jean-Baptiste Bousquet, a pottery maker from Provence, moved here in 1690 and began producing utilitarian salt-glazed looking bottles and bowls.

img_7549_0011

Quimper is located at the convergence of two rivers and near ancient forests so natural materials were readily available for the production of the pottery. One could say that Quimper faience went ‘upscale’ in the late 1600’s. As King Louis XIV’s treasury was running low due to his numerous wars across Europe, he asked the French nobility to donate their gold and silver plates and goblets to fund his military efforts. Consequently, pottery became fashionable to the aristocracy, and faienceries developed across France. The everyday dishwares of the peasants were now being decorated by artists to appeal to the tastes of the upper classes.

The folk aspect of Quimper pottery intensified when regional costumes became popular across Europe in the late 1800’s. In the 1860’s, the familiar figure of the “petit breton” wearing sabots (wooden clogs), embroidered skirts or vests with hats or coifs (a woman’s hat) was first depicted on the pottery’s plates, cups, and bowls, as well as on decorative household items. The Quimper faienceries then expanded production beyond basic wares to include “souvenir” wares as travel became easier for French citizens and for foreigners. Pieces were made in Quimper and sold to shop owners in Brittany’s seaside resorts and other destination villages marked with the name of each particular place. By this time, the faience was known for its five signature colors: blue, green, red, yellow and violet.

img_7895_0016

img_0340_0002

img_0343_0005

Quimper faience became popular in the U.S. between the two World Wars when department stores such as Macy’s, Gumps, Tiffany, Lord & Taylor and Marshall Field’s began selling the colorful French “folk art.” The production was specifically marked with name and or logo of the U.S. retailer, as well as, the mark of the Quimper factory producing the pieces. Stanley Marcus introduced Quimper to Americans during one of the early “Neiman-Marcus Fortnights” of France in Dallas.

file000

Styles of Quimper faience decoration and form have evolved with the influences of other faienceries in France and the movement of artists between these faienceries and from other regions of Europe. Despite of all the differing decors made in Quimper through the centuries, the “petit breton” remains the most recognizable symbol of Quimper ware.

Today, Quimper pottery is made much the same way as it was 300 years ago–by hand. It is possible to buy lovely new pieces of Quimper. And serious Quimper lovers are always on the lookout for beautiful and collectible old pieces. Many of them belong to the Quimper Club International which holds meetings and symposia both in the U.S. and in France on special aspects of the faience and its history.

img_7744_0013

img_7743_0012

img_7804_0015

I love this Quimper piece showing the Breton woman painting the pottery herself!

Other areas of France with important faience tradition include Rouen in Normandy, Nevers in Burgundy, and Marseille and Moustiers in Provence. If you are intrigued by pottery and its history, there are faience museums worth visiting such as the Musée de la faïence de Quimper. There is also the wonderful Musée National de Céramique-Sèvres located in Sèvres just to the west of Paris. One of my favorites, this museum contains excellent collections of earthenware, faïence, pottery and porcelain from around the world, dating from the earliest to the present.

img_0344_0006

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

If this whets your appetite for a bit of Quimper, France, in the U.S., there are two events coming up in Dallas in February…

1) On February 7, the patron members of ”Friends of French Affaires” are invited to:

“The Glories of Quimper:
Private Talk & Viewing of Antique Quimper French Pottery”
Join the “Friends of French Affaires” for this special event featuring the beautiful and unique handmade French pottery from Quimper in Brittany. Dallas resident and president of the Quimper Club International, Susan Cox, will host us for this private viewing of her collection of antique Quimper pieces. She will talk about the history and artisanal nature of Quimper and what makes these objects so valuable and collectible. Our other featured speaker is Anne Marie O’Neill, a leading expert, author and dealer in antique Quimper pottery. Reception following the talk and viewing. Our gathering will be a special visit to Brittany, France!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012
6 to 7:30 pm
Private Collector’s Home
Dallas, Texas
RSVP required

Please note that this complimentary event is by reservation only for registered “Friends of French Affaires.” Attendance is limited at this particular event so please RSVP quickly at info.french@frenchaffaires.com . Directions to the event provided upon RSVP. To join the “Friends of French Affaires,” please click here.

2) If you are interested in collecting some antique Quimper faience of your own, dealer and expert Anne Marie O’Neill will be holding a Quimper pottery sale on Thursday, February 9, in Dallas, Texas:

Quimper Pottery Show
Hosted by Anne Marie O’Neill & Beverly Sherman
Thursday, February 9, 2012
10am to 1pm
6924 Oak Manor Drive, Dallas, Texas 75230
(located in the Lake Forest community; the gate house is just north of Forest on Hillcrest)
RSVP required to Anne Marie O’Neill at info@annmarieoneill.com

img_0348_0008

France Travel 2012 ~ Favorite French Places Thursday, Jan 12 2012 

I often get asked about my favorite places to go in France. With the amazing variety of options the country offers, that is indeed a tough question! In fact, it is said that in France the landscape and cultural character of the place changes every 30 kilometers. For a country about the size of Texas, that is quite extraordinary if you think about it.

Given the riches found all over France, I still have landed on my favorite places – places where I have lived. Places where I was a student. Places where I put down my French roots. Places that sustain my creative soul.  Places home to my good French friends. Charming places that I return to again and again. Places so special they have to be shared with other travelers to France.

With that in mind, I am excited to spotlight two of my absolute favorite French locales for our French Affaires’ insider trips this year. Provence, which has been my cultural and creative home for over 25 years, is our first destination. Provence could be described as heaven on earth. It is the land of French sun, fabulous landscapes, marvelous colors, extraordinary food and wine, deep history, and cultural offerings of every kind. And I’d also say that just sitting outdoors and enjoying an aperitif in Provence is a vacation in and of itself. If you have never been to southern France or if you’ve been but wish to experience it in a more meaningful and personal way, you’ll want to make plans to join our small group for this lovely week of “Provence bests” in September.

Remy 2

Baux

Our second destination this year is the Loire Valley, also known as the “garden of France.” French kings in the Renaissance made it their favorite destination and built sumptuous châteaux surrounded by exquisite gardens. It has been one of the top travel spots in France ever since. Our trip includes visits of famous châteaux such as Chenonceau, Villandry and Rivau and also includes wonderful lesser known manor houses and gardens for a very intimate feel. We’ll also enjoy a couple of days in Paris to experience gardens there as well as a visit to Monet’s  Giverny just outside the capital. Late September, early October is one of the best times to visit France with fewer tourists, delightful weather and another garden viewing season. Joining us for this trip will be Jane Holahan, a Loire Valley gardens specialist and former resident of the Loire Valley.

Arboretum photos 086

French Affaires’ trips to France are small, personal and full of magical experiences. Our French friends and colleagues pull out all the stops to show us what is special about their part of France. Just as important, our trips include just about everything for your stay. So you feel like you are visiting friends or family in France rather than running around as a paying tourist!

Below are overviews of both France excursions with links to the full trip descriptions. And with the euro currency at historic lows right now, we are able to offer a discount of $200 off each trip price for those signing up by February 3, 2012. See the full trip description for pricing and details.

The Best of Provence with French AffairesSeptember 21 to 28, 2012 – Join Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz of French Affaires for a once-in-a-lifetime insider excursion to southern France. Possibly the most beautiful and rewarding region in all of France, Provence is known for its picturesque villages, stunning countryside, flavorful cuisine, wonderful wines, colorful and fragrant gardens, superb fountains, and relaxed culture. On our itinerary: the delightful towns of  St. Rémy, Les-Baux-de-Provence, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence; gourmet Provençal meals; wine tastings; private cooking class; shopping open-air markets; art tour with Provence artist Jill Steenhuis; the gardens of Château Val Joanis, and of course, enjoying the spectacular landscape and ambiance of Provence. Our hotel, the Château des Alpilles, is located just outside the charming town of St. Rémy for that winning ‘stay-in-the-French-countryside-with-the-town-nearby’ experience. Our group size is limited to 12 for a very special and intimate travel experience. An unforgettable personal and special immersion into the best of southern France. Please click here for the full itinerary description.

Remy

Great Gardens & Châteaux of the Loire Valley” plus Monet’s Giverny & Paris Gardens September 30 to October 6, 2012 – Join us for this spectacular trip to France featuring great châteaux and gardens of the Loire Valley. We’ll take in the beautiful architecture of châteaux such as Chenonceau known for its soaring arches over the Indre River. We also will be treated to guided visits of well-known gardens such as Villandry—notably the most magnificent and inventive garden in all of France—and lesser known private gardens not usually accessible to the public. Our stay in the Loire Valley will be made all the more special by our lovely accommodations in château hotels in the region. Other trip highlights include two days based in Paris. From there, we’ll enjoy guided visits to Monet’s gardens and manor house at Giverny in Normandy—if you’ve never seen them in the fall, they are a must at this time of year! We’ll also have a walking tour of Paris’s amazing Luxembourg Gardens in the heart of the Left Bank. Not to miss as well are Paris’s finest garden stores and garden bookstores. Our group size is limited to 12 for a very special and intimate travel experience. Don’t miss this insiders’ trip to the Loire Valley and Paris seen through fabulous French gardens, châteaux and manor houses! Please click here for the full itinerary description.

Loire

For questions about either trip or to be sent the full itinerary and registration form, please email us at info.french@frenchaffaires.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

France for Kids – Clothes, Culture, Ketchup Thursday, Jan 5 2012 

With all the wonderful things France offers adults, it’s easy to overlook the kid component of French society. But there are some charming aspects to the life of les enfants (children) in France that make it worth a closer look.

First, some cultural background. France takes great pride in taking care of and educating its children. The French government provides subsidized childcare for infants on up and free public school from kindergarten through high school. In addition, French children often have strict parents – sévère mothers in particular – who instill in them a sense of good manners and behavior. It is fascinating to watch French children out to dinner with adults. They eat the same gourmet food as the adults do, and more interestingly, they are taught to be fairly quiet and completely respect the adults’ dinner conversation.

But of course, there are some French parents who let their kids run amok. Last summer, I was waiting at Air France’s terminal 2F at Charles de Gaulle airport for a flight from Paris to Bordeaux. It was July 14, better known as Bastille Day, and the start of vacation for not a few families. (Note to self – stay away from CDG on July 14!) One poor French dad was traveling with his three kids under the age of eight and watched as two of them terrorized travelers waiting near them. Instead of reining them in, he actually seemed to enjoy the effects of their antics, much to the chagrin of everyone around. But thankfully, I find that kind of situation in France is the exception.

So what else would I mention on the kid front in France? Here’s a quick look at clothes, cultural activities (great for visiting kids too!) and ketchup, oui, le ketchup.

Clothes:

The French have a penchant for the classic in clothes and nowhere is this more true than in children’s fashion. Tailored coats straight out of storybooks, beautifully made Mary Jane shoes and wonderful fabrics in plaids, corduroys, wools and velvets are the rule in French boutiques such as Bonpoint, Petit Bateau and Jacadi.

Bonpoint_Fall11

Bonpoint’s Fall 2011 collection

I like Jacadi in particular as it stands for “Jacques a dit,” the French equivalent of our children’s game “Simon Says.” Here are a few recent kid fashion looks Jacadi was offering in their shop windows.

jacadi

Kids clothes 3

 Smock dress

Children’s clothing stores often like to come up with themes for the season. This one decided to bring pets into play.

Kids clothes 1

Culture:

After day care or school, French kids are dying for a goûter, or snack. Top choices would be a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) or chausson aux pommes (apple turnover) from a nearby bakery.

PC090452

To run off their energy, French children then have some playtime in a park. These kids at the Parc Monceau in Paris have turned this statue into their private playground.

Kids clothes 5

On the weekends in Paris, a smorgasboard of kid activities await…the marionnette puppet shows and pony rides in the Luxembourg Gardens…

Marrionnettes

…the zoo at the Jardin des Plantes in the 5 th arrondissement, the Paris Aquarium in the 16 th arrondissement, riding the manège (merry-go-round) in the Tuileries gardens or other parks followed by some barbe à Papa (cotton candy)…

PC220099

PC230121

…special activities at museums and local libraries, not to mention visits to magasins de jouets (toy shops) or children’s bookshops. And if kids need a pick me up from all this activity, an ice cream cone from Bac à glaces in the Rue du Bac is a great option or even a cup of the legendary hot chocolate from Angelina in the Rue de Rivoli.

Ketchup:

But speaking of sweets, the French are starting to worry about childhood obesity. The French media reported in October significant changes in French school cafeterias, or cantines. Since French children are thought to be losing good eating habits and getting heavier as a result, the French government decreed that more healthy menus would be required in schools. In addition, condiments like salt, ketchup and mayonnaise would no longer be freely available. If French children do have a hankering for ketchup outside of school, however, they can still have it at home or at McDo (pronounced mac-doh in French) which is their short way of saying “McDonald’s.”

Of course, the American media recently picked up this story and have taken the French school ‘ketchup ban’ to be anti-American. You can view the ABC Nightline news clip called “Au Revoir, Ketchup” by clicking here (note there is a short advertisement before the video begins). At least the French did not try to fool themselves on the childhood health issue by calling ketchup a ‘vegetable’ as has happened in the U.S.!

In any case the next time you are in France, take a moment to appreciate the cultural charm of the kid contingent in France—their cute clothes, their good manners, their lovely French accents. Or take your children to France and indulge in some French cultural activities for young people. It’s a wonderful way to see French culture afresh.

Kids clothes 2