Sometimes, one must go back to the very origins of beings to define the direction of their art. No doubt that Gilbert Poillerat, the Decorator-Blacksmith, born on the border of Beauce and Sologne, maintained connections with the pleasant Touraine climate.

His work reveals to us his sensitivity, his tastes, drawn from under one of the most beautiful skies in France. His quiet voice makes us hear the echo of the plains where the azure ribbon of the Loire runs. Nothing is jarring in the work or the man, but on the contrary, a harmony between the artist and the work. After graduating from the Boulle School in 1921, and spending eight years with Brandt while still young, which is to say in the prime of life, he is now ranked among the foremost practitioners of ironwork.

However, it was only after dedicating himself to chiseling and painting that he developed a passion for this art. Ask him the style he prefers in iron ornamentation, and he will answer: The 17th century, because it was the period that animated the most beautiful works of ironwork. A simple balcony, a staircase rail carried the mark of elegance and French spirit.

It is in this order that Gilbert Poillerat conceives his works. The arabesques of his balustrades made him known to the public. They are, like a winged handwriting, filled with memories and sweet visions from childhood. His tall bronze doors, decorated with robust and graceful motifs, turn smoothly. We spend hours looking at his precise drawings, his daily research, of which we regret that such an infinitesimal part has been realized.

It is by examining these graphics that one understands the creator's work. The staircase, the door, the lamp post, the table, Gilbert Poillerat illuminates them by deciding on their shapes and volumes, because he adds to his art of decorating the technical knowledge of the forge.

Indeed, it is essential that the plans are measured to the millimeter, giving all the construction details of each work. The perspective, the thickness, which escape the uninitiated's eye in every graphic drawing, are indicated by numbers that the workshop manager and, under his orders, the blacksmith workers must conform to. This work of the blacksmith, as such, is substantially the same in a large metallurgical firm, such as the one that publishes all the works of Gilbert Poillerat, and in the blacksmith's workshop, although the latter does not possess the essential equipment for the publication of large architectural ornaments.

The bars, the profiles arrive from the rolling mills at the factory, this vibrant city of hammering where men, methodically, flatten, bend, drill, turn, weld using powerful machines powered by electricity. There, the saws cut enormous iron bars with the same ease as if it were a mere timber beam.

Since 1918, explains Gilbert Poillerat, the tools of mechanical industries have allowed daring achievements, especially in architectural ironwork, because a building constructed with advanced means goes up in a few months and must follow the accelerated pace of the construction site.

Does this mean that the art of ironwork is more specifically applied to building? We do not think so. Modern architecture seems to increasingly reject wrought iron ornaments, and apart from the imposing doors of museums and capitalization companies' buildings, we very rarely see new constructions equipped with balconies and rails of delicate design.

It seems that these ornaments remain the prerogative of private hotels, artist studios, country houses that seek refinement as adornment, a style.

Will we ever find a new and enduring style that truly reflects French taste? When we think of all the attempts, these ill-matched unions between cement and iron ornament, we like to refer back to the unequalled value of old residences where the balcony, the terrace, the rail add the eyes of intelligence to the face of the stone. This amounts to saying that the artist is often dependent on the architect who orders the decoration of the building he is constructing.

Let's just follow the master blacksmith today.

His drawings prove to us how far his constantly vigilant conception can go. Alongside the ornaments of a house, a church, a museum, here are signs exhibited at the Salon de l'imagerie. At the end of the gallows swings the ripe sheaf, beneath which is suspended a golden crescent, inviting to enter the bakery. The piglet from the butcher's shop speaks to those who wish to listen, and the pot surrounded by flames signals the guild restaurant.

The medals, in which Gilbert Poillerat excels, with all the delicate art of chiseling, show another part of the diversity of his talent, not to mention painting and the drawings of Touraine landscapes which, in the precision of detail, of line, make us close the cycle at its highest point: Ironwork. These artisans, whom we mentioned earlier talking about the factory, perform in their workshop, on given plans, works of equal value. In a hangar where the flames of the forge burst out, in a few moments the iron bar becomes malleable. The craftsman who holds it on the anvil shapes a foliage, a doe, a pilaster.

It takes no less than five years to acquire the sure hand of a good worker. You must know how to keep flexibility in the iron tormented by the hammer, avoid crushing the bar outside of the part to work, or if necessary, grab this bar with both hands and brutally pack it while it is still glowing.

But even if he still uses the same tools as an Empire blacksmith today, the craftsman does not disdain the help of the electric hammer, which replaces two men hitting in turn, nor arc or oxyacetylene welding. This profession of Artisan-Blacksmith is undoubtedly a bit abandoned currently, just as the situation of the creator, the only ornament maker of an era in love with nudity and poverty, seems isolated. But this does not imply a withdrawal from this applied art. It suffices for the beautiful periods of wrought iron to come back to life by not admitting any routine, any monotony.

Iron does not ask to be an accessory, it is an ornament.


Sources : Images de France N° 98 de Juillet 1943

Texte : Marina Paul-Bousquet / Photo : Jahan