Snapshot in Time - Marcel Carbonel Santons Maker, New York Times 1990 article

Posted on November 01, 2012 | 0 Comments

We remember in those early years of searching on the internet, looking up Marcel Carbonel Santons and finding this New York Times article of December 23, 1990:  Shopper's World; Fanciful Creche Figures of Provence.

The article spoke to us in many ways.  It introduced us to the fact that the wonderful, colorful, Santons nativity figures of France are loved all over the world.  "In millions of homes all over France -- and indeed, the world -- the handmade santons are an enduring part of Christmas."

Most charming of all was the description of Marcel Carbonel (1911-2003):

"One fall morning, Marcel Carbonel is seated at a workbench in his immaculate white lab coat, sculpturing a fishwife. He works with a fine-pointed instrument, painstakingly modeling the face and clothing; he's having trouble with the tiny fish she carries on a plate.

When the clay piece finally meets his standards, which could take many hours, it will be used to create a plaster mould. That original mould, in turn, will go to make production moulds, hundreds of which line the shelves of the workshop. One of them, in fact, is in use: a workman places a glob of clay between the two halves of a mould, leans forward so that his weight squeezes them together and -- voila -- a donkey. After the wear and tear of 1,000 donkeys, that mould will be broken.

(Production moulds of popular figures, such as the infant Jesus, may last only two weeks.)  The donkeys will spend about 12 hours in the workshop's kilns and then move to the painters' tables. There, santons come alive as the vibrant colors are applied: the red cockscomb, the basketmaker's blue shirt, the orange tile rooftops of the villagers' homes....

Looking back over the years, Mr. Carbonel recalls worrying that his craft might die out, but he helped lead the effort to promote the santons around France and the world. 'The tradition will go on,' he declares firmly, with a glance toward his 32-year-old grandson, Philippe Renoux, an executive with the firm and himself a talented santonnier."

Marcel Carbonel earned the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France (best craftsman in France) in 1961. He created his own pigments, unique to the Carbonel Santons Workshops.  He built the Marcel Carbonel Santons Workshops employing around 50 artisans, a "giant in a trade typically practiced in one-and two-person workshops."   For all these reasons, and especially because he was so instrumental in celebrating the Santons' heritage of Provence, Marcel Carbonel will always be remembered.



Posted in Carbonel Santons, Provence Christmas



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