Friday, May 19, 2006

Pique-Assiette Aspirations

Recently I made a pilgrimage to the city of Chartres, though it wasn't the religious journey you might imagine. Chartres Cathedral has been the object of spirtual adoration for centuries, but I'll address that in another post. For now, join me in a hike across town where I sought out the fabulous Maison Picassiette, also known as the Mosaic House, one of my principal interests in visiting Chartres.

My first objective upon leaving the the train station (one hour's ride from Paris) was to stop off at the Tourist Bureau to obtain a local map. That mission was easily accomplished, but not knowing the city, I underestimated the distance it would take to reach my desired destination. One hour and fifteen minutes later, sweaty but enthusiastic, I arrived in Saint Chéron, a residential neighborhood that looked like any other in France, and began searching for number 22 rue du Repos. From the street, the Mosaic House is hardly recognizable. The only tell-tale sign of its existence is the handy, dandy tourist marker. The house sits off the road, protected by a narrow garden alley, so none of its glorious colors are visible to the unenlightened passerby. I arrived at 2 p.m. just as the ticket seller was returning from lunch. It took us awhile to gain entry access as he accidently set off the alarm system (housed in a tiny ticket booth) and began cursing and dancing around wildly. The frenzied man then turned to me and launched into a sympathy-seeking diatribe about how good service is hard to find nowdays. I didn't mind, and while he was busy getting hysterical about the alarm, my eyes cast a fleeting glance at the "No Photographs Allowed" sign and quickly began to capture a few clandestine Kodak moments.

I've long been a fan of outsider art momuments, that is art and architectural sites created by people with no previous artistic training. Such individuals often devote their entire lives to producing a site-specific project (frequently their own homes) packed to the gills with creative offerings. The Mosaic House is one such place, with its creation spanning a period of thirty years. Construction on the small house began in 1930, undertaken by Raymond Isidore (b. 1900). What began as a means to provide shelter for his family evolved into a life-long passion for mosaic work. Isidore covered every aspect of the family home; its exterior, the flower pots, the furniture, even his radio didn't escape the shards of broken pottery that infused his creative hands. With his mosaic house complete, he continued along the garden walls, and created fountains, small pavillions, and outdoor furniture, including a mosaic throne for both his wife and himself.

Hours can be spent perusing the designs and messages encoded within Isidore's mosaics. The color scheme is full of Chartres blue, his said favorite color, and so named for the shade of blue found in the celebrated stained glass of the city's cathedral. Fervantly religious, Isidore was reportedly a big fan of France's famed cathedrals and pays just hommage by recreating them on his homestead. Notre Dame, Arles, and The Sacre Coeur were all easily recognizable, but it is Isidore's local cathedral that receives a place of honor nestled atop a multi-color pedestal in front of his home (pictured above).

As an intereseting side, Franck informed me that in French the word pique-assiette (pique being pronounced the same as pic) refers to someone who sponges off of others as a means to achieve their own goals. The dictionary explains it as making one's self invited to everyone else's house for dinner in order to scrounge. From this we can see how La Maison Picassiette is a play on words, utilizing the slang term above, and the fact that in order to create mosaics, one rearranges broken pieces of plate (assiette). Speaking of plates, Isidore is reported to have used over 4 million discarded dishes., and that doesn't take into account the funny figures, jars, and animals that one finds embedded in the walls. When it came time to leave, I found it hard to tear myself away from this little hidden treasure trove of one man's obsession with broken shards.


ethan said...

hey there. i am a big fan of your blog, having spotted it over at the comment section of the nytimes "frugal" (to be debated) traveller. i am off to france for the next 3 months to do research and would sincere appreciative of any housing recommendations.

i am looking to be in paris



Jessica said...

I am completely in love with the architecture. Absolutely absolutely gorgeous ♥ Guess I'm going to have to round up some money so I can visit you over there (my main reason would to be see you of course, not the architecture) :)

Marisa said...

Hi Ethan! Thanks for "stopping by". I'm off this weekend for more travelling but I'll be glad to help in any way I can. What kind of research will you be doing? Talk to you soon.

Ronan Jimson said...

Great Work!!!
this is a good link you can refer Art Collection

Mark said...

Wow! thank you for sharing this gem. I am in awe of what this man achieved. I am just a little ol' grandma in Canada starting my own small project of 'pique assiette'. I looked up images of same on Google, and found this blog post. I've never left a comment before, but Ihad to thank you. Abigail

Marisa said...

Dear Abigail,

For some reason I'm only just now seeing your comment. Thank you so much for visiting my blog. Best of luck with your own pique assiette projects! :)