Flowery spoons and old sealing wax

This small group of three spoons (from the top, 955.1.66, 955.1.65, 955.1.58 all Musée de Bretagne, Rennes)  all from the Vannetais region of Brittany and were made sometime in the late 19th century. They display the most incredible level of craftsmanship, both in the basic form of the spoons and then in their delicate, pierced decoration.

They are also unusual for two reasons. Firstly they have an essentially asymmetric motif which is very unusual within the Breton tradition. In addition they have colour on them. These are the only spoons from this area that have any decoration in colour. It is not, however, a coloured wax inlay as in the spoons from Cornouaille, but a painted motif.

Sadly there are no dates for these spoons, but the top two are documented as having been made in Carnac, on the south coast of Brittany between Vannes and Lorient, at the very heart of the Vannetais area of decorated spoon making.

It can only be speculation that these are made by the same person, but it would probably be safe to assume they come from the same workshop. In particular, the slope at the end of the hinge tenon in each of the first two spoons is unusual. While it is common to see a step here, these two have a step and a slope, shapes that are different  from all the other similar spoons in the museum collection at Rennes.

Looking at the first two of these spoons when they are folded, its possible to see the consistency and skill of the workmanship required to make them.

It is tempting to comment that these spoons are perfectly designed to be carried safely in a pocket. The handle extends beyond the bowl to protect the bowl-tip and the spoons fold fully, with bowl-to-handle contact, reducing the possibility of strain across the hinge pin.

Unfortunately however, the third spoon has been broken at the hinge and glued open! Its hinge layout is similar to the first two, so I doubt it was a pocket-related accident that caused the breakage.

Heres my own interpretation of this lovely old pattern.

I’ve changed the wild violet flower to a spray of gorse, which is the emblematic flower of Brittany (http://www.letelegramme.fr/bretagne/bretagne-l-ajonc-devient-la-fleur-embleme-de-la-region-10-12-2016-11326442.php ).

In addition, I have used a yellow and green wax inlay, instead of paint to add the colour. This yellow is from one of three old blocks of wax that I bought on French Ebay, a red, a green and a yellow. These were probably originally intended for sealing wine bottle tops and were, almost certainly, available to the spoon makers in the 19th century

My recently-bought little fretsaw proved invaluable for cutting out all the tiny nooks and crannies around the flowers and to rough-out the rope borders.  It made cutting these out possible. I don’t think it could have been done with just a knife.


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