Friday, November 6, 2009

fare-thee-well - objets en fer

Can one object be more an object than another? These articles made of iron - wrought, cast, sculpted - seem to be the very essence of objects. Everything in the Musée LeSecq des Tournelles of Rouen is a useful and often, a usual item. It may be the heavy process of taming iron, the bending, stretching, heating, hammering it into shape that gives it such fighting spirit. From heavy forged grills to dainty lacy pierced screens, they seem to say, "I was made by the sweat of the brow and now I stand alone." Objects par excellence.

L'arbre sec or the dry tree is a symbol for a cloth merchant and gave its name to a very old street in Paris. This wrought iron tree hung there until c. 1660. The street is located just next to the Samaritaine and I used to go there often to see a friend so I was particularly interested to discover the meaning of the name and its textile link. It seems that cloth merchants referred to Oriental legend for their symbol, since the most beautiful fabrics came from the East. The legend speaks of a tree visited by pilgrims to the valley of Josephat in the Holy Land. It was thought to have existed since the beginning of the world and to have grown on Lot's burial place; by the time of the death of Christ, the tree was dry.

At the sign of the cloth seller. Here the merchant holds the emblems of his profession measuring stick and scissors.

"How do you do?"
One of my favorite items in the museum is this candlestick that seems to be tipping a brass hat. It is really a bougeoir avec éteignoir automatique/ candlestick with automatic snuffer - an important item for those who liked to read in bed. When the candle burned low, the brass snuffer would fold over the flame, extinguishing it and preventing the start of a fire even if the reader had nodded off over his book. These items continued to be perfected until the beginning of the 19Th century.
Light fixture from 1930 which recalls the ancestral tradition of nailing the night creature to barn doors to ward off bad luck.

Dentist's pliers in the form of a bird head. The fun way to have a tooth pulled.

This robust 15-16th century door knocker seems to taunt us to have survived so many a man.
Its arms serve to balance its weight.

English lock from an Oriental cabinet.

Master project for locksmith. Note sun and moon emblems.

German orthopedic corsets, artificial arm, defensive collars (?).

Strength in numbers.

Door knocker with lion and salamander.

A magic lantern, ancestor of the projector.

Strong boxes and coffers.


Miniature furniture
The museum sponsored contemporary artists to create new "fencing" to surround the museum garden. Each panel represents a part of the collection. Here Epées by Ferdinando Nava, Carole Nava (St Cler-sur-Epte), Michel Mouton (Brussels), Florence (Arras), Ludovic Boyer (Paris).

The collection was started by pioneering photographer, Henri Secq (1818-1882) and continued by his son. It is housed in the former church St Laurent built in the late 15th century and renovated in 1911 for the millennium of the city of Rouen.

For further views and close ups, visit the site Musée Le Secq des Tournelles.


  1. I love iron! worked any which way cast, forged. I have worked with it long ago. I couldn't take the heat. Thank you for sharing this. I like the corsets, and the bat, actually I like it all.

  2. Thank you - what a wonderful post about a fascinating subject. Brilliant!

  3. Gorgeous objets. A fantastical collection- so many things of function that are beautiful. Funny today much of that functional beauty is gone by the way. The space is perfect for a collection, yes I could not resist the corset-but the door knocker lion and salamander would be my pick. G

  4. this is the most divine blog.
    i love!!!
    i will be back.

  5. To All, I'm glad this post met with the same enthusiasm I felt seeing the collection. I also like to see contemporary artists encouraged in ancient technics; it's ironic that the most "developed" countries lose their capacities to craft and create tangibly. And yes, functional details count!

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  7. Wonderful post! I agree - so sad that we have lost these skills in the most developed countries. There must have been great satisfaction and pleasure in making some of these things. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  8. Mlle Paradis, thanks for your visit! It sometimes seems we're going toward becoming big, bulbous heads that let agile hands carry out our ideas in far away places.
    FORTUNATELY there are artisans continuing this kind of work in France and elsewhere still today (see fencing) though their numbers are limited.

  9. This stuff is just so fantastic!