Sitting in front of a long table, Marie Rousvoal, co-director of Ateliers Duchemin Vitraux, turns the pages of a binder containing the company's main projects. It’s like seeing a course in the history of art and architecture, the creations of Jacques Gruber, Jean-Michel Alberola, Carole Benzaken, Sarkis, Robert Morris or Geneviève Asse illuminating the walls of cathedrals or houses.
Very clever who could define, at first glance, a Duchemin style: none of the stained glass windows imagined by these artists and crafted in the Parisian workshops are alike. However, Marie Rousvoal knows well what it is the ability to have lasted over time that makes the reputation of the family business. “For six generations, we have been demanding in the honesty of the work we carry out,” she summarizes. And customers know it.”
Marie and her sister, Charlotte, are one of the links in a long dynasty in the service of glass and light. They are in majesty at the International Cultural Heritage Fair, at the Carrousel du Louvre, in Paris, until November 5, which has made transmission the theme of this edition. There is no doubt that they will arouse interest, as the ability to organize a succession, and therefore, to persist, constantly occupies minds.
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Before Duchemin, it was first the stained glass technique that united the ancestors of the two leaders. At the beginning of the 20th century, Georges, Marie's great-great-grandfather, worked with Jacques Gruber, a figure in Art Nouveau stained glass and the Nancy School, then with Max Ingrand, Gruber's student. His son Raymond will take up the torch from Gruber, as a traveling glassmaker. Then his son, Claude, continued at the Bony workshops, where the creations of Matisse and Georges Rouault were made for the stained glass windows of the Notre-Dame-de-Toute-Grâce church, in Plateau-d'Assy, in Haute-Savoie. .
It was Claude who created the workshops, buying up stocks of old glass, and thanks to this managing to restore the stained glass windows of Castel Béranger by Hector Guimard, or even to restore the entrance rotunda of the Petit Palais. He in turn trained his daughter Dominique in dance in 1976 - who helped Duchemin grow up with her husband, before passing the torch to their two daughters, Marie and Charlotte. “Transmission is not just a question of chances, it is also a moral objective,” assures the first.
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Both started by doing something else, before returning home, the business functioning as a center of life for the family. “I had assisted my father on the construction sites of the cathedral of Nevers, or of Saint-Pierre de Maguelone, in Hérault. That’s when I decided to join as a master glassmaker, in 1997,” says Marie. While she learned the art of creating masterpieces, diamond cutting, painting, engraving and installation, her younger sister would take a few more years to join her. Since then, they have formed a tandem. “We have the same name, we understand each other,” adds the young woman.
Ten employees work in the Parisian workshops. If the father of Marie and Charlotte praised “staff loyalty”, a guarantee of excellence, it is increasingly difficult to obtain. “The education system tends to confuse fulfillment at work and autonomy. It encourages CAPs to become self-employed,” notes the director. It takes ten years to train a master glassmaker, a long time which is less and less suitable for younger generations. Furthermore, Paris, and its exorbitant rents, is not always a competitive advantage for Duchemin. But the workshops carry out a great diversity of tasks, ranging from restoration to creation, from civil to religious stained glass - including a bay of Notre-Dame de Paris - with projects in France or abroad.
One day, the two sisters will also have to hand over the reins, if possible to one of their four children. If one of them, a young girl in her twenties, was wandering the workshops last week, nothing has yet been written. In any case, “after us, it will not be the flood, and we will be careful that Duchemin does not become just anything in the hands of just anyone,” admits Marie Rousvoal.
International cultural heritage fair, at the Carrousel du Louvre (Paris 1st), until November 5.