Musverre Nord. New Glass Museum in Sars-Poteries, by Julia Pascal

A new glass museum opened last autumn in the North of France and it is a jewel.  It is centred in Sars-Poteries in the Avesnois.  This is a rural setting which once housed glass-making factories from 1800-1937.  The museum is close to the Belgian border and attracts visitors from a wide geographical area of France, Belgium and Holland.  Certainly it is a huge contribution to the arts in this disadvantaged region known as Le Nord.  Its creation reveals a political will by France’s enlightened politicians to showcase an artistic history and culture which is linked to a vibrant working class past.  What is stunning is the way that it reveals the craftwork of the male and female workforce and especially the art that they produced in their breaks.

MusVerre, designed by Raphael Voinchet, is constructed with Hainhault bluestone and, although it is clean and geometric from the outside, it is inside that the interaction of light and architectural design really come into play.  The display rooms are in a variety of sizes and this surprising element is exciting.  It is the first room that boasts an amazing collection of individual works made by the workers for themselves and for their families.  This rich legacy is entitled Bousillés which is impossible to translate in to English.  These items are quirky, imaginative and challenging objects that were not made for sale or profit but for the pleasure of blowing and painting glass, often in strange and seductive designs.  As these were created during 1801-1937, many reveal the imagination of the French art deco movement.  Politics, religion and secular France are revealed here.  This vivid artisan legacy delights on so many levels.

However the Museum is not only rooted in its past.  The brilliant curator, Aude Cordonnier, has developed an active acquisitions policy: there are unique glass collections from Europe, Japan, the USA and Australia.  What particularly pleased me was the strong representation of women’s work.  I enjoyed Londoner, Philippa Beveridge’s witty Lost and Found– a weird group of glass purses.

Philippa Beveridge
Lost and Found
8.5 x 10.4 x 5 cm (each element)
© Philippe Robin

Seated Dress Impression with Draper by American sculptor Karen LaMonte is a disturbing evocation of an absent woman.

Karen Lamonte
Seated Dress Impression with Drapery
123 x 75 x 68 cm
© Philippe Robin

Polish artist Marta Klonowska’s Philippe IV Chassseur, where the royal hunter is absent, is a satire on elitist power.  Phillipe is missing from the art, all that remains is his dog and his boots.  Klonowska here mocks class and notions of aristocratic masculinity in a re-vision of Velasquez’s 1635 painting.

Marta Klonowska
Philippe IV
10.4 x 5 cm
© Paul Louis

Remaining with the theme of absence, Spanish artist Joan Croas’ glass mise-en-scène is a table with a half-eaten dinner.  It suggests a drama of people being taken away, never to return.

Joan Crous
Cerae 9
110 x 250 x 70 cm
© Paul Louis

My only quibble with this magnificent museum is that, before you can step through the front doors, you have to breathe in the cigarette smoke of the staff who stand puffing at the entry.  This means that before you step in to this wonderland you inhale a lungful of acrid nicotine.  It is an unpleasant start to a very sweet experience.

Julia Pascal © 2017.