Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Faience Museums in Sarreguemines

Sarreguemines offers a Circuit de la Faience, a series of points of interest exploring the history of the faience pottery industry in the city on the French-German border. The circuit includes the last remaining "bee-hive" kiln in Europe and, of particular interest, two museums. The first museum, the Moulin de la Blies, is housed in part of one of the old factories and presents the story of the how the factories produced faience. Most of the factory is in ruins, now part of an interesting garden where the buildings serve as, for example, a "maze."

This factory was built on the banks of Blies, which here is the border between France and Germany. The river provided power to operate the machinery, at first through paddle wheels and later through turbines. Looking through a factory window across the river, you can see how close Germany is.

An intact factory building houses the museum. The ground floor had space and machinery for preparing the materials and molding the clay into pottery. Here's the crusher--two enormous stone wheels, powered by the river's flow, that transformed big chunks into small chunks.

The rest of the ground floor contained other preparation machines, presses, molds, dryers, and kilns.

The upper floor was where the pottery was decorated--by hand--and fired. Stations where workers painted the faience designs stand as if the workers had gone to lunch and just never returned. The clash of the humanity of the workspace and the finality of the interruption struck me as poignant. We actually have some beautiful pieces of Sarreguemines pottery at home, and it's sad to realize so completely that no more will ever be produced.

Sarreguemines primarily produced dishes for everyday use--popular products in a great range of styles. Some special pieces, such as tiled murals or elaborate sculptures, were also produced as works of art.

Materials and finished products were transported within the factory on small carts, something like mine cars. In the ruins, you can see the tracks for these carts.

Raw materials coming into the factory were, I think, transported by railroad. The museum has two small locomotives that served the factory. I was able to climb into the cab to look at the locomotive's controls.

Back in the center of Sarreguemines, we also visited the Jardin d'Hiver de Paul Geiger, which is the city's museum of faience. The museum occupies a house that was the residence of Paul Geiger, whose family owned multiple factories in the region and who himself directed the Sarreguemines works from about 1880 until his death in 1913. The museum contains a beautiful collection of Sarreguemines faience, ranging from early pieces of dinnerware, to popular humorous mugs with molded human faces, to one-off works of art.

The museum's name of Jardin d'Hiver comes from its most splendid room, the large, luminous and richly ornamented winter garden. If this room is perhaps overdecorated for contemporary tastes, it nevertheless impresses. Some of the decorations include large tiled murals, of Sarreguemines faience, of course that reflect the style of the turn of the 20th Century.

Some of the murals, particularly those inspired by Asian art, are more timeless. The galleries of the museum display some engaging large murals, along these lines, that continue to delight visitors.

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