Saint-Just: a fashion for glassblowing

Saint-Just: a fashion for glassblowing

Saint-Just - JPEG The Saint-Just glassworks in France has been making mouth-blown stained-glass windows, window glass and sheets of glass for over two centuries… the “haute couture” of glass which is exported far from its native France.

From the stained-glass windows of the basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast or the blue-tinted glass partitions in the Tour d’Argent Restaurant in Tokyo, to the golden shimmer of the translucent wall that welcomes visitors to the French Embassy in Japan. From the mouth-blown window panes at the Château de Versailles or the renovated windows at the residence of the American President at the White House, to the immense stained-glass spiral of Thanksgiving Square in Dallas which features in Terrence Malick’s latest film, The Tree of Life, winner of the Palme d’Or at the most recent Cannes film festival. This brief inventory gives you an idea of the work done by the Saint-Just glassworks, a remarkable, little-known factory whose products are nevertheless to be seen on every continent.

Almost unknown to the general public, the glassworks has existed in a small Loire village near the town of Saint-Etienne for 180 years. This small firm, with fewer than a hundred employees, is the only place in Europe where glass of large dimensions is still blown by mouth. These large formats are still used by artists and architects, who heap praises on their exceptional quality. The firm is particularly noted for its colours, a rich palette of 300 shades from dark ruby to buttercup yellow, from Veronese green to Matisse blue, a colour once produced specifically for the artist.

The company has worked with Marc Chagall, Juan Miró, Fujita and Fernand Léger, for whom it created enormous sheets of flat blown glass adorning stained-glass windows that are famous the world over: such as the one in the public lobby of the United Nations building in New York, designed by Chagall; or in the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence, created by Henri Matisse, or in the Chapelle Foujita in Reims.

Today the firm works closely with a number of other contemporary artists, such as Philippe Starck and Peter Marino, to whom we owe the decoration of some ten luxury boutiques in Shanghai and Tokyo, which have wall panels of coloured glass, reflecting the light or adding a touch of colour without weighing down the space.

Now a subsidiary of the Saint-Gobain industrial group, the unassuming glassworks is at the forefront of most recent major heritage restoration projects. Both designers and artists are drawn to it. Architects make increasing use of this ancient material, which is now combined with cutting-edge technologies. The current trend for using glass is perfectly justified by its many qualities and applications. “It is being used increasingly, in hitherto unimaginable fields…” comments Pierre Mainguenaud, specialist in glass technologies in the Saint-Gobain industrial group. With integrated LEDs (light-emitting diodes), it lights up; in contact with an electrical impulse, it heats. Where there is very bright light, windows can change colour on demand, reducing energy consumption. And thanks to its vibratory capacities, with a simple mirror connected to a wireless audio system, glass can even be used as a loudspeaker.

The master glassmakers at Saint-Just have integrated all the cutting-edge technologies. They are perpetuating the craft tradition of blown glass, but nothing escapes them about the latest techniques in top-of-the-range glass. A combination that leaves nothing to chance, and which enables this small top-flight company to have a well-filled address book abroad. A resolutely modern old lady!

Virginie Langerock

publie le 08/12/2011

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