All Posts · Renovation work

Picture this

Today I framed a picture. This post developed into something more than that somehow.

On rainy days work at the farmhouse comes to a stop. The fields get slippery and knee deep in mud after a history of being cow pastures, and work on the coop building is dangerous. It’s a big build and with only Tony doing the grunt work off ladders, it’s no time to take risks. Without my man, I cannot run these French properties and manage our dreams. We take a day off and head for the factory in nearby Gouzon instead. This is also a renovation project, but a less labour intensive one, more about designing the interior, rewiring, re-puttying window frames and installing lighting. It was built in the early 1970’s as a car paint shop. Inside we still have a dust sealed, brightly lit paint room. Ideal for photo work.

The rest is slowly being converted into two studios, one for each of us, with mine screaming 1950’s to 1970’s and Tony’s a mix of American/English with a dash of Japanese. The brocantes have been lucrative, a hunting ground for unloved items that the French find old fashioned, but for us are gems. The local market place forum on Facebook is another with many objects almost free if you collect.

Today being a soggy day and Tony wanting to finish the front factory gates, I decided to frame an old Art Deco poster I bought over thirty years ago. It had languished behind a filing cabinet and had been dragged to our numerous rentals in London and finally to France. Now the office at the factory was finished in Mad Men 1950’s style, what better place than there to finally hang this?

I love painting and I love art. I miss the big galleries in London, but I do collect art books. I have phases. A few years ago it was Art Deco – linear, brutalist, abstract. Then it was Children’s illustrators, exploring how stories can be told through images, as I began writing my own stories with a view to illustrating in the coming years. I collected many books on bird illustration. Keeping poultry is my hobby and passion and I wanted to study how other artists captured these feathered friends. It was a whole genre I didn’t realize was so diverse and the illustrations have honestly blown be away.

My recent tapestry finds awaiting clean and framing.

I am now exploring tapestry, Aubusson is only an hour away, the famous tapestry factories of Louis XIV and super inspirational, mark making, collage and using thread, natural dyes, and found objects in art. My bookshelves are packed, my bedside floor is covered. Brocante found old bookshelves are getting painted and installed in every nook and cranny of the farm house and factory to try and make some sense out of this growing collection. We have cookery books on sourdough and making cheese, gardening in raised beds and composting, how to grow cutting flowers and build gardens that you can share with chickens, books on natural dyes, books on poultry health, books on business, writing, fashion, architecture, biographies and nature. It’s everything we love.
Artists found in books I love, have inspired designs I want to try in my own work from next year. I collect local artists paintings and tapestries too. It’s a growing collection alongside the books and majolica and drip ware ceramics I collect.

So today the Art Deco poster of New York Central Systems by Leslie Ragan needed framing. It’s a large poster and I found only one frame that would fit from my dusty collection. Every brocante visit unearths a good frame. The painting might not be great, but at under five euros sometimes, that’s a future frame bargain. Deco trains have always been a favourite of mine and this picture has the steam, the architectural graphic grandeur and dark colours I love. Leslie Ragan illustrated this in 1946. An artist who loved big trains, the machine age and transportation. It was suggested this should be the cover for Ayn Rands monumental novel Atlas Shrugged about the founding of railroad empire of America. It wasn’t considered as Ragan wasn’t so well regarded then. It’s a book on my shelf waiting to be read. It’s a book I am in awe of due to its length, language and story….a lot of rainy days perhaps to get that read.

This one had safety glass front and staples holding the back in place. After removing the backing, trimming the poster to fit and putting all the padding papers back in, I found the timber too hard for the stapler to penetrate. Popping into town in Amelie the Citroen 2CV to get tacks and picture hooks, I tried the smallest to secure the board. The glass split! There was no space between the glass and the frame to allow for anything more than a minute staple. Smashing out the glass, I finished securing the back and added string. It would be fine as it was and I would add Perspex later as safer and lighter.

I rarely hang pictures on walls. The walls get dusty and the pictures leave silhouettes where the sun has bleached the walls. And if you want to rearrange the pictures, the hooks are wrong placed, weak or too large. I like to change paintings depending on my mood. We have photos we want to see for a while, or a new painting that we couldn’t resist. As we rehang summer curtains and move furniture to be nearer the French doors, so paintings come down and go into temporary storage. When old loved paintings are rehung, all the great memories flood back and rekindles new ideas.

In my office I have an oil painting I found a few months ago and reframed. It hangs on the electric meter boxing. A print by a friend sits in a mirror on the floor. Tapestries get propped up on coffee tables and other simply sit on sideboards and shelves. I like to put small pictures in amongst my books and my two huge framed needlepoint tapestries are likely to be hung suspended from my mezzanines, to create a room divide. It’s all very flexible and can change as my mood changes. My mother I remember got stuck in a rut and over time disliked her home and how it looked. She wouldn’t change anything though. The same bowl of fruit in the middle of the table, the same lamp in the corner, the same side table by the window. This predictability even went as far to be inhospitable. You tried to sit at the table and read a book, moving the lamp a little. No sooner had I risen to get a drink, then she would be up, move your book and realign the damn lamp. Lunch was shared on a table that was half covered by a huge orchid. I hated that orchid. I hate orchid’s period. Ugly critters once the flowers have gone. The cushions were plumped all the time. You were told where you could sit and how you had to leave the chair as found. I hated the house. I hated what it stood for. When I closed up the house for sale, many of my mother’s “worshipped” objects found their way into the skip. I couldn’t even foist them onto the charity shops for fear they carried a curse! And in a moment of I suppose cathartic therapy, I took the small Russian tapestry she had continually requested I promise to keep, of a small boy and girl in fur caps in the snow; and carefully, slowly cut it clean in two with a pair of scissors. I cut it again and again till it was unrecognisable. I even distributed it around the skip for fear someone might try to re-join the parts to make a whole. It felt like a huge burden had gone. That tapestry was like Dorian Grays picture. It became symbolic of how a person can elevate an object above feelings, above rational thought and above all that your way of existence is the right way. But it was a lie. She was unhappy and played mischief. The objects made a prison.

Tony and I had thrown many treasured belongings over the year. Lack of money and ever smaller rental apartments meant downsizing. My mother would not hold any of our loved objects in her home, even if they were relegated to the loft or garage. In the end back in 2016, we had no more than a vans worth of belongings and one small storage room in a lockup back in UK. It was a clean slate. We have scoured the brocantes now for a few years a pulled together an eclectic mix of styles. But most of all we use them. The dogs jump on the blankets and cushions. The beds are never made perfectly, but they have antique bedspreads, toile quilts and old wool blankets from Early’s of Witney, all very old school British. Baskets overflow with slippers and the antique broom sits propped up by the back door. Our kitchen table doubles as a place for books, poultry meds, flowers, notepads, marmalade and black pepper corns. Sometimes there is a cake cooling on the table, sometimes I am cleaning shoes. Sometimes the dogs have a sneaky snack at the table. It has crumbs, it has mismatched knives and forks. It’s like life…a bit disorganized but it functions perfectly.

The picture is hung. It’s not perfect but it’s not hiding behind a filing cabinet anymore. And I may even move it in a few months……

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