The Pastel Shop was a treat. The tour – well, really a lecture – was in the Henri Roche shop: La Maison du Pastel.
The store was founded in 1729, bought by M. Roche in 1865. He sold pastels and actually created new colors and changed the formula when working with artists including Degas and Bonnard. His son, a doctor, joined him. The son continued the enterprise after M. Roche’s death and he was later joined by his three daughters.
The direct line ended there – but in 1999 when the eldest passed, the two remaining sisters sought someone to get involved. . A distant cousin took it over in 2000. An engineer, she learnt the craft from those elderly cousins.
Isabelle Roche (that’s with an accent on the ‘e’ if I had a French keyboard) (ro-shay) welcomed us and told us her family story. I loved the shop with the original wood shelves and boxes.
It was a big job to take on by herself. Dwindling stock and small clientele…
Serendipity is a marvelous thing.
Isabelle Roche met Margaret Zayer in 2010. Margaret is an American and an artist who was at the time a student in Paris. She joined Isabelle. Now the two, an engineer and an artist, make the pastels by hand.
The studio (you can’t call this a factory) is in the country outside Paris so we had to settle for an
excellent video of the very time-consuming process. The process hasn’t changed much – the scale is from 1909 or so. The pigments are now bought from distributors so they no longer have to grind it. But they hand mix and squeeze and roll.
The pastels are pricey – 27 euros for 3 half sticks, 120 euros for 12 sticks – but when you see the process, you understand the cost. The pastels in and of themselves are a work of art. See the open box on the left? That holds 72 pastels – with the box it costs 1,385 euros. Almost $1,600.
I have included a link to the website for the store itself and a link straight to a 15 minute video with much of the same footage I saw today of the process. I never much enjoyed working in pastel but now I want to pastel again! Too pricey – and yet, I would feel like I was buying a piece of art and of history.
It’s only open one afternoon a week. The rest of the time I guess they are in the studio making more pastels. And nowadays with the internet, why not?
Funny coincidence – I am going to have dinner tonight in a restaurant two doors down from La Maison. My vegetarian French friend selected it: Le Potager du Marais. We are checking out a veggie restaurant each week. (I must admit I am not up for the French cuisine of eat every part of the animal… veggie is stressless!)