Archive for the ‘French’ Category

Gidget, a gurdy girl?

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

As I’ve said, I was excited to find the two antique postcards of the girl in Breton costume shown from the front and side, which I thought would help in carving.

She has one major problem, however – she looks anything but happy. Who wants a sad figurehead on their hurdy-gurdy? Her second, lesser problem is that she isn’t particularly beautiful. Nothing against that, she can’t help it. I’d be more than happy to be able to duplicate her face perfectly – but with more of a smile.

But me being such an amateur carver, I need all the inspiration I can get. I imagine if I aim for a real beauty, I may end up with some one more like on the antique postcards, which would be fine. But if I start out with that, I would likely end up with something not as good. The third issue is that the two old views do not have a lot of detail of the subtle shaping of the face, and there are only these two shots, no in-between ones.


Sandra Dee - “Gidget”

Could I find a prettier face with various angles to work with, showing more detail? Maybe an actress, as there would be plenty of pictures available online from different angles. I asked a movie buff friend of mine for suggestions, and he said “Sandra Dee.” I really didn’t know who she was, but found out she was known for playing “Gigdet” in the iconic 1959 surfing movie, and other ingénue roles. An ingénue is a young woman who is endearingly innocent and wholesome. The term comes from the French adjective ingénu meaning “ingenuous” or innocent, virtuous, and candid. Well, I thought she  had a very sweet, girl-next-door look, and I guess I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Of course, she would have to wear the costume of the Auray region of Brittany…

Auray head 3

Sandra Dee Photoshopped into costume: “Gidget goes French!”

Will my figurehead look like Sandra Dee? I doubt it. I just hope she comes out passably attractive.

A Ma Vie

Monday, October 31st, 2011

hermine1When I did the laser-etching on the keychest, I promised to do a post on what the phrase A Ma Vie meant. So, finally… voilà!

It is associated with Brittany and the ermine, which I also used on my hurdy-gurdy, especially for the soundholes. You can see the whole ermine to the left, as well as the symbolic fur tufts like I used for the soundholes, and the phrase A ma Vie.

More precisely, it is associated with Duchess Anne of Brittany. As the postcard says: “The ermine,  emblem of Anne of Brittany, wife of Louis XII.”



This postcard gives more clues, the French text explaining the “devise” [motto]: “As this emblem is also that of purity of manners, it is believed that the motto A ma vie signifies I will remain pure all my life.” [or ‘in my life’] So, A ma vie [“ my life”] is an abbreviated slogan for this larger concept of purity. But what’s this got to do with ermines?

As with the French fleur-de-lis [lily], these weasel-like animals are a symbol of purity.  Their winter coats are snow-white, except for the black tip of their tails.


Anne of Brittany, r. 1488-1514

There is a legend about them that explains the Breton motto. One version is that the Duchess Anne of Brittany was on a hunt with her court when an ermine was being chased by the hunting party. When the ermine came upon a swamp, it turned to face certain death from the hounds rather than escape and muddy its pure white coat. Anne was impressed by the creature’s courageous attitude and asked that it be spared. She adopted it for her emblem. It has been used widely as a symbol for Brittany on various coats of arms, and even on their modern flag.

A longer motto of the Duchy of Brittany was Plutôt la mort que la souillure. [“Rather death than defilement”] A ma vie is a variant of  this same sentiment, according to Wikipedia.


Ermines with “A ma vie” scrolls carved in stone on an old mantlepiece

I don’t  know why they had so much difficulty portraying ermines back then. They are rather cute, contrary to the old representations.


The Angelus — completed

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

I left the statue alone while we were out of town for 10 days for the glue to cure, and now it is up on the bookshelf, hopefully out of the reach of the cat!


The homme will probably never get a new hat in my lifetime, or at least not until after I finish my hurdy-gurdy!

Before the trip, I got a new miter box to cut the key buttons to length. My old one’s slot is too worn to give a good vertical cut anymore. So, that’s what will be coming up next.

I’ve also got hundreds of old family slides and photos to scan!

The Angelus — glued together

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

While at Michaels looking for a miter box to cut the hurdy-gurdy key buttons to length, I ran across some Elmer’s China + Glass Cement. So, I got that for gluing the base together. It says it dries clear and gives one minute of set time. Dishwashable when done, not that I’m going to do that, but I thought that sounded like a strong, durable joint.


Sculpture glued together and drying — will it hold?

No telling how well it worked. It takes a couple days to achieve full strength. I think I’ll leave it alone, then. After holding it with pressure for several minutes, it didn’t seem to be bonded. I hope there was still enough wet glue to hold it once I decided to just set it down and let it dry. I didn’t want too much glue so that it oozed out everywhere. It didn’t, thankfully. Seemed like I had enough on there, but not sure how it will bond if the porcelain pieces aren’t in tight contact against each other.

I really would hate to have to clean the glue joints and glue it again – with something else. The Elmer’s packaging doesn’t even say how to remove it! Apparently not with warm water, if you can put it in the dishwasher. I hope I’m done with it.

[The last little flake of porcelain I finally figured out went on the bottom of the outer leg of the wheelbarrow, along the break. I put that on before gluing the halves together.]

The Angelus — update

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

The femme half is still draining a few drops of water from a pinhole under the potato sacks on the wheelbarrow. This is in an area that I needed to re-attach a broken chunk of the base. I left it lying down overnight, so that area would be dry. Then I glued on the piece today.


Base edge piece was removed, cleaned and reglued

I did a dry fit of the two halves of the sculpture for the first time since taking on the project. I don’t think it will be a seamless join, due to the complexity of the break. Also, two pieces have been glued in along that edge, which cannot be glued in exactly the way they were originally.

I’m worried about using super glue. I don’t think I could get it put all along the edge and then attach it before the glue I first applied had dried out. Might have to use epoxy? It is thicker, but gives me five minutes. I expect the epoxy would show more, if any squeezed out.

When it appears the dripping is done, I can proceed. The pieces will have to be glued upright, which is the position that causes drainage, and I can’t have that along the fresh glue joint.


The anxious couple awaiting the day that has been decades in coming

The Angelus — l’homme

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Last night I glued on the three surviving pieces of the homme’s hands and one sliver from along the base, using Loctite super glue. So, he’s all done now.


The homme checking out his clean, reattached hands

It would be nice to carve him a new hat someday and try to paint it the color of the porcelain, but that’s not going to be any time soon, if ever. At least he’s got arms — and clothes, which is more than I can say about the Venus de Milo.


Before and after views of the hands

The femme is still draining some water near where  a piece of the base needs attaching. After doing that, the final step will be gluing the couple back together.

The Angelus

Monday, April 25th, 2011

I always liked the 1857-59 painting by French artist Jean-François Millet called “The Angelus.” It shows a peasant couple stopping their potato harvesting to pray when the church bells ring at the appointed hour.


My antique postcard of The Angelus by Jean-François Millet

In addition to the simplicity of it, it shows the custom considered quaint today of the man praying with his head uncovered, and the woman praying with her head covered, as specified in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 11. The man has removed his hat to pray.

My grandmother had a porcelain sculpture of this painting in her Dining Room when I was little. It turned up in a box of my Dad’s things from his attic, broken in half and badly stained by age and a couple poor glue attempts. The man’s hat has also been lost, despite having been glued in the past.


Sculpture in its found damaged condition

The sculpture is French, as it says “L’Angelus d’après Millet” on the base. It could have been my great-grandmother’s, who was from Europe. I don’t know.


Old glue along crack of the base on the femme side of the sculpture

I decided, instead of trashing it, to take it on as a restoration challenge, to see how much I could clean it up. Miraculously, the delicate basket and wheelbarrow were undamaged, despite the whole thing being broken in half under its handles. The whole femme side of the sculpture was unscathed, with the main problem there being the remnants of orange-brown glue along the base fracture.


The homme with broken hands, missing hat and orange and shiny glues

The homme was a different story. Because of his hat and hands having broken off, he suffered several distressing glue attempts, with both an old orange glue, and a clear super glue. The super glue ran in rivulets down both legs, and collected around his arms, coat hem, ankles, shoes and potato sack. Because the porcelain is unglazed with a flat finish, the shiny glue was very visible everywhere.

The first question was: Could the old orange glue be removed from the crack edges of the thick base by soaking in warm water? Yes, it actually came off very cleanly with careful scraping using an X-acto knife.


The femme's base cleaned of orange glue

Question number two: What about the clear glue, would fingernail polish remover with acetone take it off? I suppose it helped. This superglue was much harder to remove, not only because it was in crevices everywhere, but because it had adhered better. But scraping and chipping with an X-acto knife after applying acetone, it slowly was removed with no damage to the porcelain surface, even when sparks were sometimes created!

Now for the hands — some delicate pieces there, and really globbed up with both kinds of glue, including hollows inside the pieces. It was tedious, but the operation to remove the three glued pieces of the hands was successful.


The femme praying for her homme's successful operation

All the little pieces cleaned up well, too. That is good news, as they should fit much better now and the seams be much more invisible.


The homme finally free of his humiliating glue problems

Next issue was the light brownish age staining. What about denture cleaner? I got the cheapest the grocery store had, a 90-tablet pack of Efferdent. You put one in a glass with your teeth, but how many for a plastic kitchen washtub filled about 5 inches deep? I went with 36. Did that twice, leaving overnight each time. The femme liked to float, so she was weighted down with a wet wash-cloth.


The homme and femme enjoying one of their Efferdent baths

I used the remaining 18 tablets this evening with less water, focusing mostly on the bases, where most of the discoloration was. I’ll take them out in the morning, and let everything dry well for several days before trying to glue it all back together.



Ad Vielle Que Pourra

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Cover of the CD I bought last night

We went downtown last night to trade in some of our CDs. One nice thing about this store is you can listen to used CDs you are interested in. I came away with one that’s pretty nice. I’d seen Ad Vielle Que Pourra’s albums on ebay, but wasn’t sure what they were like. It has hurdy-gurdy, accordion, bagpipe and other folk instruments playing French and Breton music. What more could you want? Even their name refers to a hurdy-gurdy:

Ad Vielle Que Pourra is a Quebec group full of surprises. Its hallmark is traditional French instruments, but Ad Vielle plays music on them that, as the liner notes state, “is not indigenous to the regions where the instruments come from.” They intermix Parisian waltzes, Breton sea songs, bourrées, gavottes, schottisches, and original compositions with abandon. the name Ad Vielle Que Pourra is a pun–a play on the French expression advienne que pourra (“come what may”). The vielle is from vielle à roue, a French instrument commonly known as the hurdy-gurdy.

The founding members of Ad Vielle are Brussels-born Daniel Thonon, a luthier who plays an intricately carved hurdy-gurdy he built himself; Alain Leroux, born in Brittany and a fiddler specializing in traditional Breton, Scottish, and Irish melodies and songs; Clement Demers, an Ontario-born accordionist who learned Québécois tunes while living in Quebec and Cajun tunes while travelling through Louisiana; Luc Thonon, a multi-instrument musician who plays the rare Flemish bagpipes; and Gilles Plante, a Montréal-born flute, recorder, and bagpipe player who went to Brittany to study the music and culture of his ancestors.

The subtitle [of their first album] is “new French folk music”, but could easily read “some of the most stirring and emotional traditional music that you will ever hear”. With this, their debut album, Ad Vielle Que Pourra rocked the folk music scene with interpretations of French and Breton music with an intensity that is rarely heard. With combinations of diatonic accordion, bombarde, fiddle, hurdy-gurdy, Flemish bagpipes, etc., you cannot help but be moved by their bourees, polkas, waltzes, and so much more. A Gallic feast.

The second album from Montreal’s Ad Vielle Que Pourra [Come What may] transports you to another place and time. You’re in a Breton village, then in the heart of old Quebec, Cajun country, or a medieval court. There are waltzes, schottisches, polkas, and several French and Breton dances, all served on hurdy-gurdy, bombarde, accordion, Hungarian and Flemish bagpipes, flute, and various stringed instruments.

I’ll have to keep my eye out for their other albums. Below is a  sample: Andromadère, the last track on their Ménage à Quatre ablum. See what you think…

You have to use your imagination

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

This big block of mahogany is going to be the head of my hurdy-gurdy. I decided to try my hand at some carving, instead of using the ready-made head that normally came with the kit. So, Mel gave me this nice piece of wood instead. You have to use your imagination. I’m not sure where to begin!

The photos were sized in Photoshop to the same size, one that would fit the available space.


Block of mahogany that will become the instrument’s head

Of course, I wanted the head to match the Brittany theme and have the same costume as the girls on the keychest. There are many different costumes in Brittany, with their own headdress or coiffe. This one is from around the town of Auray on the southern coast.


MORBIHAN – Jeune fille d’Auray

Antique postcards of these Breton costumes were very popular. I was happy to find two images, on eBay or somewhere, of the same girl, one a front view and one a side view. This will be great for carving purposes, to be working with the same face.


Morbihan is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790. It was created from a part of the Duchy of Brittany. It is the only French department which has no French name and which has kept its original name. Morbihan is Breton and means small sea, referring to the prominent gulf along its shores. [Wikipedia]


Auray is west of the Gulf of Morbihan between Vannes and Lorient, just above Carnac, where all the roads come together on the above map.

Being part of Brittany, Morbihan’s coat of arms [blason] naturally has ermine on it!

Keychest etched

Friday, March 11th, 2011

We did it! Finally, the decorative side of the keychest is finished. I went over to the Texas Wood House Thursday. It was a bit of a drive in rush-hour traffic. Then some very tedious work getting set up. It was hard holding my breath for two hours. But it was worth it! Sherry was very careful in making sure everything was right.


Adjusting the height of the laser based on the wood thickness

First, we did the test exposures on a piece of the same veneer as the faces. We also exposed the text on an extra piece of holly that the scroll was made of. Then Sherry did all the careful alignment necessary to get the etching right. We got off to a slow start in our initial approach — things were not lining up as we expected them to. Once we changed our technique, things went smoothly. It was interesting seeing the process. The etching is done from Corel Draw, a program that I am very familiar with but have never seen used for something like this.


An “action” shot of the laser during a test for proper positioning

The original face artwork is a continuous tone grayscale image. But a laser cannot print continuous tone, because it is either On or Off. It has to print a halftone with dots, like in a  newspaper, to simulate gray by changes in dot size. At a normal distance, the dots aren’t noticeable. I wanted a very subtle image, not something too dark. Thankfully, the woman doesn’t look like she has a beard!


The happy couple on the left with their new faces

The guinea pigs were the couple on the left. The main concern here was making sure the shadow of the woman’s cheek near her ear where it meets the corner of her cap matched up correctly. I didn’t want any of the dark etching showing up on the white cap. It came out great. It probably could have been nudged down one click, since the shadow above the man’s collar is slightly high and runs onto his hat brim. But that is splitting hairs and it really isn’t noticeable at all, being a dark area already. What was important was getting the woman’s face correct.


The right-hand couple can finally look at each other

Because of the large separation between the couples, we naturally etched them individually to have greater control over the alignment. We experimented with different exposures for this couple, but ended up using the same setup. The  main concern here was getting the dark shadow on his forehead to match the edge of his hat. It would have looked unnatural with a lighter gap there. This side went much quicker, since we had the process smoothed out. And the alignment is perfect!

It would be interesting if the actual Breton people whose photos were used to do this artwork could see themselves immortalized on the side of my hurdy-gurdy! They are blissfully unaware of all that has transpired to make them so “famous.” [The couples were created from separate photos composited together. The men were not originally dancing with those women.]


Etching the French words “A Ma Vie” on the scroll went quickest of all, since there weren’t any critical edge alignments. The burning of  the wood creates a smoky brown residue on the surface. This wipes off nicely with a slightly damp cloth.

I probably should explain in a separate post what the story is with the Breton motto “A Ma Vie”…