“Birch twigs, their tips gilded with gold leaf, blue and gold muscari flowers, blue harlequin glorybower fruit and natural lichen”, “Wild grasses gilded with gold leaf, oak leaves gilded with moongold, and carbonised birch twigs”, “Poppies gilded with gold leaf and magpie inkcap mushrooms”. Each of these descriptions could well be the beginning of a poem, and the repetition of “gold leaf” the refrain to a visual melody in honour of nature. Lisière céleste, Se souvenir and Fragments are just a few of the delicate, treasures created by Sophie Blanc, whose simple but deeply committed purpose is clearly stated as a prelude to any discovery of her work: “To express my admiration for the plant world”.
Sophie Blanc has been a gilder and restorer of wooden heritage since 2005. Over the course of time and in parallel with her restoration and conservation activities, she came to feel the need to create. Wonderstruck by the beauty of nature, she decided to turn its most fragile manifestations into objects to be treasured. On the first floor of the workshop she set up in Montégut-Lauragais with her husband Jean, she meticulously classifies plants gathered in her immediate surroundings. The artist brings back wild grasses, twigs, oak leaves and other graminae from her wanderings in the countryside.
Harvested at maturity and dried in the workshop, they’re all prepared for their entry into art. Just us prima ballerinas shape their bodies, refine their movements and make even the least choreographed steps glorious, flowers from woodlands and gardens alike adorn themselves with gold leaf applied with a brush before featuring in amazing sculptural compositions. Usually set on blackened wooden bases and placed under glass domes, these creations make use of traditional and contemporary gilding techniques alike.
With Sophie Blanc, master craftsmanship is complemented by artistic vision. She has no interest in recreating the splendours of bygone days or of reproducing nature, but is guided purely by her imagination. A gold-haloed leek flower floats above a forest of nine gilded stems of redtop grass growing in white lichen. This engrossing scene has something surrealist about it, attributing plants with qualities and attitudes they don’t possess in their natural state.
Glorify so as to make each component collected in the garden, countryside or forest as precious as any of the historical objects lined up in restoration workshops, and use the techniques involved to show that nature is also a heritage whose every detail must be taken good care of – such are the goals of the alchemist Sophie Blanc.
Sophie Blanc is an ornamental gilder, master craftsperson and master craftsperson of art in gilding. Her activity alternates between heritage restoration and contemporary creation. With poetry, sensitivity and finesse, her creations, based on plants enhanced with gold leaf, enable the artist to express her admiration for the plant kingdom.
When she was a child, Sophie Blanc wanted to be a cabinetmaker, but her parents’ preference for more protracted studies led her to take another direction, into the world of processors and computer science. In 1999, as if to celebrate her change of decade, the young thirty-year-old also made a career change. After studying cabinetmaking at Ecole Boulle, she took a professional baccalaureate in furniture restoration. It was there that she met Jean, who was also undergoing professional retraining. It wasn’t long before they got married.
Her collaboration with a workshop run by a certified “Best Craftsman in France” (MOF) led her to take part in a number of projects overseen by the Centre Region’s Cultural Affairs Directorate (DRAC). With a view to refining her skills, she decided to specialise in gilding and restoration/conservation of gilded wood. In 2005, she and Jean opened “À l’Or & du Bois”, a workshop that treats pieces of furniture, seats and other objects in natural, inlaid, gilded or polychrome wood, dating from the 17th century as imagined by 20th century designers.
In Montégut-Lauragais, the couple use age-old techniques to preserve each item’s authenticity. They combine traditional knowhow with special modern techniques and keep a close eye out for the most recent research to be published, to see if its results can be applied to restoration/conservation. Together, Sophie and Jean work for private individuals, institutions and associations connected with heritage. The Senate, the Niel Palace in Toulouse and Albi Cathedral are among their most prestigious customers. For Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire’s private apartments, they are restoring the gilded wood living-room furniture from the Empire period, stamped Pierre-Benoît Marcion.
In parallel to this activity Sophie Blanc collects plants in the surrounding countryside. Classified in boxes on her workbench, achenes, poppy capsules, grasses, herbaceous plants and so on wait to be outfitted in light. To provide them with unique lustre and the scent of eternity, the artist applies gold leaf with a brush. For her, every sculpture is an ode to nature, exhibited under glass like a precious manmade object.
The “À l’Or & du Bois” workshop started delivering training courses in 2015 and Sophie Blanc became a gilding teacher. As such, she works with restoration professionals and career-change trainees alike. A master craftsperson and master craftsperson of art in gilding, she exhibits her own creations. In 2022, she was a guest at the Revelations Biennale at the Grand Palais Éphémère in Paris, where her work was much appreciated.