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Behind Provence’s famous traditional festive figurines - The Story of Marcel Carbonel Santons

Posted on December 12, 2020 | 0 Comments

We are delighted to share this wonderful article by Camille Renoux on the tradition of Marcel Carbonel Santons - the premier Santons workshop in Provence, which we are very proud to carry. Only Carbonel paints Santons with the meticulous painting processes detailed here.

"During December in Provence there are numerous fairs selling individual handcrafted traditional crib figures known as santons made in the region.

One of the oldest workshops is Santons Marcel Carbonel, named after the first man to be awarded Meilleur Ouvrier de France for his work as a santonnier in 1961 (santonsmarcelcarbonel.com).

The company, awarded Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant for its traditional savoir-faire has stayed in the same family for four generations.

Why are santons made in Provence?

The first live crib was created by Saint Francis of Assisi during a mass in the forest of Abruzzi in Italy in the 13th century.

In the 17th century we know that a Capuchin friar, with a gift for sculpture, reproduced the characters for use by his congregation in Marseille.

Up until the Revolution, churches used to have nativity scenes at midnight mass, but afterwards these were forbidden and people started making miniature versions they could display in their own homes.

First, they would make them out of anything to hand, but gradually a profession grew up around them.

Master-craftsmen appeared in the 19th century and they would include characters from everyday life.

The first annual Foire aux Santons et aux Crèches was in 1803 in Marseille, and it is still an annual event today. Provence probably became the centre because the craftsmen made the figures out of clay which was readily available in the region.

Who was Marcel Carbonel?

He was a well-known santonnier who had studied at the Beaux Arts and worked as a lithographer before he started making his first crib figures in 1935.

His father, who was an electrician, also made cork santons as a sideline, which he sold at the Foire aux Santons in Marseille.

When he died, Marcel started making his own, out of clay. His figures stood out from others because he made his own natural pigments, still used today, to decorate them so they were brightly coloured but not shiny. He painted the faces with fine details which made the figures come alive as real personalities. He set up his first workshop in Marseille in 1942, and we are still here nearly 80 years later.

How are the santons made?

Everything is done by hand. First a character has to be designed and created.

Every year we introduce a new one to our range. Then a plaster mould is made and copies of a poorer quality are made which are sent out to our crafts people who mostly work in their own homes.

The poorer quality mould is designed so that it will not last for long, so it won’t be copied. It is in two parts. The clay is pressed into each side and then pressed together. The figure is released from the mould and carefully trimmed so that you cannot see any trace of the seam.

The craftsperson adds fine details such as the handle of a basket or the drumstick of a tambourine player by hand. After drying the figures are fired in a kiln. “Each piece is checked at each stage of the production and rejected if there is the slightest sign of any defect.

There are two firings a week all year round. Santons are in the kiln for 24 hours. It takes 12 hours for the kiln to heat up to its maximum temperature of 980°, they bake for six hours and then it takes six hours for the oven to cool so the figures can be taken out without cracking.

How are they decorated?

There is a chief decorator who works out the detail of each character and other decorators follow his or her instructions.

The watercolours are all prepared in our workshop. Each figure has 16 layers of paint. The decorators paint 50 at a time, and repeat the same layer on each one, so by the time they have reached the last one, the first has dried and they will be able to start with the next layer.

Each decorator paints around 150 a week. Each piece is checked at each stage of the production and rejected if there is the slightest sign of any defect.

What skills do you need to make santons?

You have to have passion and dedication. Santonniers have to be very meticulous with great attention to detail.

Who are the figures in a Provençal crib?

The different local crafts and jobs are represented as well as the biblical figures found in all crib scenes.

They come from the Pastorales Provençales, [plays which are traditionally acted out around Christmas, particularly around Marseille. They depict the nativity story as it would have happened if it had been in Provence].

Our characters come from one of the most-famous pastorales called la Maurel. All types of work carried out by local people are represented. There are olive pickers, stone masons, shepherds, lavender pickers, a woman with a baby, a monk, a fisherman and so on. Every year we add a new figure. This year’s was a hat maker.

When is the crib set up?

Traditionally, families open the box where the crib has been stored all year in November. They plan what it will look like and what new characters to add.

Maybe there will be a walk to collect moss, leaves and small wood chips to decorate the scene. It takes time to set it up. The finished crib is then traditionally on display from Sainte-Barbe, on December 4.

This marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Provence when wheat grains are planted in three saucers of humid cotton and if they have grown well by Christmas Day it is a sign of a good year ahead. Every day the santons are moved to create a new scene.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, the Baby Jesus is laid into the manger, at midnight. The three Kings start approaching until they arrive for the Epiphany. The crib is then put away until the next year.

Are your clients mainly from Provence?

We have customers all over France. It is a tradition that has spread throughout the country. Often families add a new figure every year and grow their collection.

They are all types of people. Provençal, Parisian, religious, carrying on a family tradition. Often the crib is passed down the generations and we have families who have been faithful to us over many years. We also sell to the United States, Japan, Belgium and Switzerland.

Many countries have their own cribs. What is different about those from Provence?

We have a museum with more than 2,000 pieces from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries from all over the world.

They are made in many different materials including wood, cork, paper, glass and porcelain. In Provence, they are made from terracotta. There are five major producers including ourselves in the region and we all have our own characteristics."

Posted in Carbonel Santons, Christmas Traditions, French Christmas, Nativities, Provence Christmas

WENDT & KÜHN ELEGANT LIMITED EDITION MADONNAS WITH CHILD INTRODUCED IN 2020

Posted on February 19, 2020 | 0 Comments

Wendt and Kühn has introduced two exquisite Limited Edition Madonnas with Child.  

       

 

These figurines are masterpieces made exclusively to order. They are available by SPECIAL ORDER (see the details below) and are 16-1/2" tall. Each year Wendt and Kühn will create only 100 pieces. The label on the underside of the base will show its number out of 100 together with the year it was made. My Growing Traditions is offering them at a savings of $300.00. 

The two Madonnas offered are very different in appearance. While the Madonna in the dark-blue richly painted dress exudes elegance, the one with the pale-blue robe touches us with her gentle demeanor. Regardless of which version you choose, the skill and artistry that has gone into their painting means these impressive large figurines represent the master craftsmanship of the Wendt and Kühn workshops like no others.

    

To order please call My Growing Traditions at 1-877-831-6077 (Eastern Time).

Each extraordinary Madonna will be produced exclusively to order, one by one. These pieces require a very high degree of craftsmanship from the skilled craftsmen and women at the Wendt and Kuehn workshops.

A $750.00 non-refundable deposit will be required.  Once ordered this item cannot be canceled, it is limited to 100 pieces per year and if not available it will come the next year. In placing your order you agree to wait for delivery.

Brunette or Blonde hair color may be requested, but is not guaranteed.

It is not known whether Grete Wendt was interested in the Virgin Mary in a religious sense or if she took a more humanistic view of the Madonna as a depiction of a mother and child. What we do know is that she was very taken with a particular painting of the Madonna, the “The Virgin and Child with a Pear” 

by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), a German painter. A reproduction of this work hung on the wall of her living room.

In the coming years Wendt and Kühn intends to select with great care, and at regular intervals, a number of genuine treasures from their extraordinary treasure trove of designs.

__________
Wendt and Kühn of Grünhainichen, Germany,
a "Toymakers Village"- since 1915 
Imaginative, unique, elegant, and delicate
figurines from a traditional workshop -
meticulously hand-crafted by 155 artisans -
80 are painters,
but only four (4) paint faces.
Winner of the 1937 World's Fair, Paris
Gold Medal - Grand Prix
Simply Exquisite!

 

Posted in Angels, Christmas Legends, Christmas Traditions, Erzgebirge, German Christmas, German Folk Art, Sale, Wendt and Kühn

Merry Christmas

Posted on December 25, 2019 | 0 Comments

Posted in Angels, Christmas Traditions, Erzgebirge, German Christmas, German Folk Art, Wendt and Kühn

Brück and Sohn Advent Calendars - European Cities and More - Limited Supplies Available

Posted on November 15, 2019 | 0 Comments

Brück and Sohn (Printers in Meissen, Germany 1793-2018) celebrate European cities and culture with their exquisite Advent Calendars. After honoring their 225th anniversary in October 2018, the 7th generation, Annette and Helmut Brück, retired, closing their doors. An era has come to an end.

My Growing Traditions has scavenged where we could and replenished our inventory in hopes of being able to make them available to you as long as possible. We do have limited supplies available.

Here we present a few customer favorites - 

   

Stuttgart, Germany

Colmar, Alsace, France

Graz, Austria

Victorian Playroom

Christmas Tree Mischief     

The Brücks continue to memorialize the history of their company and offer a small museum and postcard archive which are preserved in Meissen and which are open to the public by appointment.  

Given our limited supplies we recommend you secure yours now. You can click on the photos and titles above, or click here: to find the entire collection 

 

Posted in Advent, Brück and Sohn, Christmas Traditions, French Christmas, German Christmas, German Folk Art, German Traditions

A new annual Special Edition Series from Wendt and Kühn to Celebrate Advent and Saint Nicholas Day

Posted on October 25, 2019 | 0 Comments

Wendt and Kühn is creating a new annual special edition series, meant to be a small, perfect, yet precious gift for Advent or Saint Nicholas Day (December 6).

For 2019 they give us a charming Angel on a Star at 2" tall. The Angel is similar to the legendary Angel 28 designed by Grete Wendt even before Wendt and Kühn was founded. The Angel has a special label on the underside of its base with the words "Zum Weihnachtsfest 2019" (For Christmas 2019) and comes in the Green and Gold Wendt and Kuehn presentation box.

Angel on a Star 
A truly extraordinary gift! 

 

 

Posted in Advent, Angels, Christmas Traditions, German Christmas, German Folk Art, German Traditions, Wendt and Kühn

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings!

Posted on December 25, 2018 | 0 Comments

by Tasha Tudor
and a Happy New Year!

Posted in Christmas Traditions, Trees

The Santons Come Marching In... by Thomas Kern

Posted on December 09, 2018 | 0 Comments

A Swiss nativity scene with a French touch - by Thomas Kern, pictures and text.

as published in swissinfo.ch - This is such a special celebration of a Santons Christmas, one cannot help but share the magic.

"Joseph, Mary, and the Christ Child are joined by common folk in a priceless nativity scene on show in northern Switzerland."          

All alone, but not for long       

     All alone, but not for long             Putting the animals in position           

"The nativity scene has been put together under the expert direction of art historian Rudolf Velhagen. Velhagen, head of the historical collection at the Museum Aargau, discovered the nativity figurines, 'Santons', while teaching art history in Marseille, and decided to bring them to Switzerland."

          

            The people of Provence                 Creating the background by hand

"Made by the late French artist Marcel Carbonel, the Santons include not only the usual nativity figures, but common folk from a cross-section of Provençal society. There's a baker, knitting grandmother, fishmonger, vagabonds and men and women in traditional costume."

               

           There's room for a shepherd....Putting together a nativity is much like  putting together a train set.

"Velhagen has over 60 figurines in his collection. Each Santon has its place, representing society in its entirety and without any direct reference to the nativity story. An important source of inspiration for the figurines was the 'Lettres de mon moulin' by the French writer Alphonse Daudet (1840 - 1897), who describes happy and sad events."

          

     They've arrived... Joseph and Mary       The Three Kings are on their way

"The figurines are placed in reference to political or social conditions, while the traditional Santons - the shepherds, angels and the Three Kings - are moved each day, slowly approaching the birthplace of the Christ Child."

          

     An angel has a prominent place....            As does a baker

          

         The landscape of Provence                 Missing Jesus... who arrives

                                                                             Christmas morning!

Posted in Carbonel Santons, Christmas Traditions, French Christmas, Provence Christmas

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