If you haven't ever heard of straw marquetry, you can't be blamed. This once-forgotten art is getting a more contemporary, glamorous avatar, thanks to Ms. Lison de Caunes
By: Nikita Vivek Pawar
Posted on: March 8, 2019
A young girl was mesmerised by the technique of using straw to create art in her grandfather’s workshop. Her grandfather, famous decorator from the Art Deco movement, André Groult, used straw maquetry in his stunning furnishing, and was thus the catalyst to Paris-based designer Lison de Caunes’ affection and awe for the technique. “Straw marquetry is a childhood memory for me,” she said. Forty years later, it would not be wrong to say that Ms. de Caunes has single-handedly not only revived, but also made the art stylish again.
Attending Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris gave her newer perspectives on what innovations she could unfold. “When I studied book-binding, I learnt many new skills and techniques, such as ivory folding, one that I decided to apply to straw marquetry.” Her refreshing viewpoint and passion for the art helped make the art refreshing and in vogue again.
An artist’s appetite
Straw marquetry is perceived as a poor relative of wood marquetry. Straws are cut, flattened and then glued down to panel, tables and other furnishing to create a wood veneer effect. The 17th century saw that art at its highest point of fame when the French king Louis XV commissioned furnishings in that technique. When Ms. de Caunes took up straw marquetry as her profession in 1970s, she didn’t consider herself as a rescuer for the rapidly dying art, but was fascinated by the endless possibilities of patterns and designs straws could make. Revival was just a collateral!
For the initial years in her career, Ms. de Caunes focused only on restoring and replenishing masterpieces from 18th-20th century. When she later started creating her own pieces, she took inspiration from life. ”From nature, to an exhibition that I visit, from any geometrical pattern I happen to see in the streets, in a magazine, in a book…I really get inspiration from everywhere and anywhere.”
Ms. de Caunes has partnered with topline brands like the stunning Guerlain perfumery on the Champs-Elysées, the Louis Vuitton stores in Place Vendôme, Milan, Rome and London, and the Four Seasons Hotel in New York. In 2015, she founded her own brand Lison de Caunes Créations wherein she created original pieces of objects and furniture.
For challenges fuel an artist’s appetite, the designer remembers her most challenging piece of work: “Around 10 years ago, I was asked by Leila Menchari to reproduce 8 Hermes silk scarves in straw marquetry for the rue Saint Honoré windows of the Hermes boutique. I had to dye the straw myself, in the fish poacher in my own kitchen. The result was amazing but it required a tremendous amount of work. I only had one month to complete the project, so I hired 10 people to help me!”
Straw marquetry as an art
Lison de Caunes believes that her art and the craft had its real recognition when she was awarded with Maître d’Art in 1996. The art is labor-intensive and will always be a one of its kind. While the cutting, flattening and sticking sounds easy, the execution is just as difficult. Where a square centimetre of the simplest designs takes four days, it reaches upto a week for complex ones.
The designer has always been in a pursuit to find newer ways and materials to make the technique more holistic and refined. “Throughout the years, the technique remained entirely artisanal, and I continued to innovate and develop my approach of straw marquetry. For example, I associated different types of materials such as gold leaf, mother-of-pearl and molten glass inlays in my designs.”
We say every piece of art has a life of its own, it is because the artist gives a part of him or her in making it. “My favorite piece is the Madras Table I created in 2005. It was a real challenge to recreate an Indian silk which is so flexible and supple and to give the impression of a weaving with actual marquetry.”
Art is about giving
For an art to thrive and survive the test of time, it important to have an engaging audience, but an equivalent artisanal base as well. The designer believes in propagating the art as much as possible to bring it back to its former glory. She had a pupil for over 14 years whom she taught everything that she knows. Today, she is working independently with a career of her own.
Workshops are a great way of educating people of the art and its techniques. Ms. de Caunes holds many exhibitions and workshops for people to know about the art, encouraging them to maybe pursue it as well. “I did a lot of exhibition and demonstration in schools, museums and cities all around France to present straw marquetry to the public as I wanted to present this forgotten craft, and I think I pretty much succeeded, considering the regain of interest it has today.”
Excited to know what future creations we would get to see, the designer said, “I can only disclose that I will be presenting a piece at Salone del Mobile in Milan.”