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In this little corner of Provence, Tarascon unites traditions and brims with craft expertise. Several craftsmen keep once forgotten age-old techniques alive for the love of their art which they put into their creations.
Saddlers, true leather experts, sell harnesses, saddles and boots. Sculptors and stone-cutters transform "la prima materia" straight from the quarries of Fontvieille and Baux de Provence.
Whether it be a tapestry-maker, cabinet-maker, santon maker, painter, stringed instrument maker or craftsman in wrought iron, they all exhibit their talent in their traditional or modern pieces which are always imbued with the region’s history and traditions.
Espace Souleïado, testament to the indiennes (the name given to the fabric) traditions. Private collections
The art of the toile peinte goes back to the most ancient Mediterranean and Oriental civilisations. If we are to believe the writings discovered in the region of Arles or Avignon, on their way back from the East, the crusaders brought back beautiful dyed fabrics in bright colours and with images of lemons, olives and flowers…the symbols of the Mediterranean basin. Considered a luxury in Roman times, the crusaders and the Compagnie des Indes (India Company), it was not until the 17th century and Louis XIV’s Court’s passion for the painted cloths imported from Grandes Indes (India) that they became part of daily life. The indiennes tradition was more established in Provence where local craftsmen brought their own inspiration to them and created the Provençal style.
The colourful cotton fabrics would become the base for Provençal women’s traditional clothing. Hats, shawls, skirts and dresses were printed with warm colours and varied patterns.
Nowadays they are used for household linen, tablecloths, curtains and cushions to bring a ray of Provençal sunshine to your home.
The first documents mentioning the existence of a factory in Tarascon date back to 1806.
Charles Demery, heir to the factory, created the brand Souleïado in 1939 and founded the museum in 1988. Located in a stunning mansion in the same grounds as the family business, it retraces the history of the cloth’s manufacture. Here, you can see rare fabrics and Provençal costumes, a unique collection of the region’s pottery, mixed clay as well as moving reconstructions of everyday life in 19th century Provence.
>> Visit: www.souleiado.com
At the end of the 18th century in Marseille, the first figurine who would be called santon or “santoun” in Provençal, meaning little saint, was made. These small, dried clay, hand painted figurines represent biblical characters.
They are now inspired by the village world and used in the Christmas crib. Whether hand painted or wearing the famous Provençal prints, each character is in traditional dress and has its own attitude, size and face.
>> Must-see: Santon maker’s workshop “Autour de la Terre”
Santon maker and qualified teacher, Christine Darcq creates, shapes and paints her clay figurines in her workshops based in the heart of King René‘s town in the most symbolic part of town. Throughout the year she takes part in several fairs and exhibitions and runs santon making courses in her workshop/shop for adults and children as well as short courses. You get the chance to make and decorate any type of figurine as well as their decorations and accessories to bring them to life.
CHURCH CANDLES & CANDLES
In the old town there’s a beautiful 15th century mansion housing the White Canons’ candlemakers, one of the last traditional candlemakers in France. In its Tarascon workshop, it continues the White Canons’, from the Abbey of Saint-Michel de Frigolet, age-old expertise. They were forced to leave their abbey in 1903 and these master candlemakers managed to share their recipes and manufacturing secrets which have been carefully guarded. Today, church candles and candles of all sizes are made here using two manufacturing techniques dating back to the 15th century: dipping and with a ladle. The Candlemakers of the Abbey of the Prémontrés remains to this day the main supplier of several churches and chapels in Provence.
Living heritage in business >> Visit + www.ciergerie.fr
Saddlers, real leather experts, sell harnesses, boots and Camargue saddles as well as Western, classic, Andalusian and Portuguese saddles all made the old-fashioned way. Fans of bullfighting will love the hot smell of untreated leather.
Tarascon sculptors and stone-cutters transform raw material straight from the quarries of Fontvieille and Baux-de-Provence and feed it with their love for creating and craft making.
Not only can we find decorative sculptures in their workshops but also custom made creations for the home.
Pascal Demaumont brought Tarascon’s favourite monster, the Tarasque, back to life by dedicating a 25 ton stone statue to it. This monumental sculpture has since been erected near the Château Royal de Provence on the banks of the Rhône.