Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Virgin Gets a Makeover

Currently there is an exhibition of sculpture from the Touraine Loire Valley at the Logis Royal in Loches, curated by Guy Bertaud du Chazaud, Curator of Art and Antiquities for Indre et Loire. Numerous works have been brought together from all over the département. The exhibition runs until 15 March 2015.

Conservator Hélène Gruau touches up the base of the Virgin.
Some significant pieces proved too fragile to move to Loches though, including a terracotta Virgin with Serpent by Charles Jean Avissau from the Abbey in Preuilly. This notable 19th century sculptor is also known for his ceramic pieces exhibited in the Musée de Beaux Arts in Tours.

Conservator Laure Chavanne, who grew up in this area, catches up with one of the locals.
With transporting the fragile objects impossible it was decided to create a circuit for viewing them in situ. One of the circuits includes treasures in Boussay, Yzeures, Preuilly and Bossay. The sculptures concerned are currently being conserved with the help of the Conseil Général (the equivalent of county or supershire council). The Virgin with Serpent was carefully conserved by two graduates of the Ecole des Beaux Arts de Tours, Hélène Gruau and Laure Chavanne.

Hélène shares a joke with a local who's come to check out the work.
After a thorough cleaning, reassembling bits which have fallen off and filling cracks, they have given this forgotten work a new luminosity and she will hopefully attract more attention from the locals and visitors to the Abbey. 

I spoke to Hélène and Laure on Friday morning and they expected to finish the work that afternoon. Laure now lives in Lyon, but had come all this way for the opportunity to work with her friend and colleague on this project. Hélène said much of the work was actually redoing the work of an old restoration. When I visited the Abbey to see them in action she was working on evening out the colour on the repairs so they blended well with the rest of the sculpture. Apart from the overall clean, most of the repair work was done on the hands, the snake and the plinth. The statue has been moved to a different position in the church, perhaps to give it a bit more prominence. As yet there doesn't seem to be any plans to turn her into a theremin though.

Both women were relaxed and friendly with me and one or two other locals who dropped by to watch them working. They answered questions and engaged with us in a thoroughly professional and rewarding way. Visible conservation requires a delicate balance for the conservator, as they must concentrate on the work at hand and it can be really difficult for them to be interrupted by audience questions. On the other hand their audience really appreciates being able to see behind the scenes of what is involved in maintaining a work of art on display.
A la cuisine hier: Endive and Leek Gratin, with gallons of cheese and bechamel sauce. Endives are not my go to vegetable of choice but they are local and seasonal and in the interests of ringing in the changes I'll cook them once or twice over the winter.

Eccles Cakes, made with the fruit mince that has been festering for a few days and home made rough puff pastry. These are my contribution to a shared lunch with friends today. I made 20, and some spiced cherry 'cream' (cheese) to serve with them. There is a jar of the fruit mince left over to make more cakes or pies with later.


  1. It's funny, David L.'s recipe for Gratin d'endives calls for 8 medium endives weighing 450 grams. When I buy a one-kilo bag of endives, I get 6 or sometimes 7. Why the discrepancy, I wonder. Parisian endives must be tiny.

    I cooked endives a few days ago, and for the first time I boiled them in plenty of water. I had always been told that cooking them that way would make them bitter. However, I didn't find them bitter at all, nor did Walt. Another superstition down the drain. Before wrapping them in ham slices, I sauteed the boiled endives in butter until they took on a golden color. In the mornay sauce, gratinées, they were delicious.

  2. Ken: I didn't pick up the discrepency. I bought 4 loose endive and didn't pay attention to how much they weighed.

  3. There are endives and endives....
    I spent a few minutes today trying to find four the same size...
    in packets of four...
    of the red ones...
    sweeter than the green and great for winter salads.
    I did it eventually...
    but most packets had a range from miniscule to giant!!

    And the loose ones had been under the stores lighting for too long...
    they'd started to go deep green!!
    And, all of them were huge...
    biggest I've ever seen...
    could have been why they had been on the shelf a while???

  4. Tim: Yes, it's not easy getting 4 identically sized endives, even when you buy them loose.