The creation of a new museum in France today is a rare and challenging feat, even more so when it is accomplished by a village with a population of only 5,000. The Musée du Verre François Décorchemont (François Décorchemont Glass Museum), in the picturesque Norman town of Conches-en-Ouche, opened this summer in a beautifully converted 19th-century hospice on the site of a former Benedictine abbey.
The museum is named after François Décorchemont (1880–1971), a master glassmaker who was born and died in Conches-en-Ouche. He specialized in pâte de verre, a glassmaking technique especially popular with Art Nouveau artists, which produces glass with dense color and varying degrees of translucency. He also invented the pâte de cristal technique, which he used to make stained-glass windows for over 30 churches in France, including the Église Sainte-Odile in Paris.
The museum’s collection began with only a few pieces of Décorchemont’s works, enough to give the town’s mayor the idea in 1996 of creating a museum to preserve them. Over the years, the collection grew through acquisitions and donations, and in 2005, the municipality began to hold temporary exhibitions in a warehouse. Today the 600-piece collection, with 200 chronologically displayed in the new museum, ranges from the late 19th century to the present. A separate space in the museum has been allotted to temporary exhibitions.
Each room contains a few or many gems of the art form. In the Art Nouveau style, for example, there is the delicate “Vase Poissons” (“Fish Vase,” c. 1875-78) by François-Eugène Rousseau, with its decoration of a tiny school of fish swimming amid plant life and the blue of the sea dripping down from the rim. Among the many other stunners in the contemporary section is Claude Morin’s “Bouteilles Folles” (“Crazy Bottles, 1976, pictured at the top of this page), a set of tall, slim bottles of varying heights and colors.
Stained-glass works by various artists – including the charming “Monuments de Conches” by Décorchemont (1962) – are on show in one room, and the original 19th-century stained-glass windows are still in place in the building’s chapel.
For the current exhibition, “Baldwin & Guggisberg: Amphore Métaphore” (through November 27, 2022), the team of glassmakers Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg reinterpreted the elegant form of the amphora, the antique storage container with a pointed bottom, used for everything from grain to olive oil and wine by cultures around the world for thousands of years. The theme is treated with a great deal of humor and skill in nine installations, beginning with a fish tank with real goldfish swimming above a sandy bottom evoking the seafloor, littered with broken amphorae. The artists’ tour of the world imagines amphorae for various cultures and in various materials, paying tribute to both the beauty of the form and the utility of the object.
Conches-en-Ouche, located an hour from Paris by car in the Eure department, is surrounded by forests and boasts 15th-century half-timbered houses, an 11th-century castle keep (temporarily occupied by the invading English during the Hundred Years’ War) and a 16th-century Flamboyant Gothic church. Its annual Fête de la Pomme, du Cidre et du Fromage (Apple, Cider and Cheese Festival) takes place on October 30 this year.Favorite