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Special Edition:An Alsatian Spindler of Wood

Jim Humberd, author of “An Invitation to France,” reminded me about the Alsatian art on the walls at Chez Jenny, where we will be holding the Invest in France Seminar.

Not all that long ago, Chez Jenny held an elaborate soirée to inaugurate it’s newly renovated restaurant and conference spaces. That evening, an Alsatian artist of inlaid-wood was cutting and fitting wood pieces into a scene, on display for everyone to see (fortunately not far from the dessert tables!). The cutter was operated by pumping a treadle and each tiny sliver was delicately cut to his design.

The following exceprt is from page 139 in “An Invitation to France”:

Mr. Jean-Charles (John) Spindler, the third generation of this artist family (his wife Betsy and the fourth generation are on the scene), creates beautifully accurate pictures of the Alsace. Hundreds of veneer-thin pieces of wood from a variety of trees supply the different colors and are cut to fit together to form a perfect picture — no paint, stains, or varnish are used. Wood grain is selected and positioned to show the texture of streets, buildings, and the sky. Many times we have watched the artist create these pictures, and we have his art displayed in our home, but we can tell one thing for sure — it’s hard to believe that anyone can create a picture with such beauty and intricate detail, using only wood veneer.

The small group of buildings that include the Spindler studio is on the west side of the road at St. Léonard between Boersch and Ottrott, just outside Obernai. We drove through an arched passageway and found ourselves surrounded by a winery, a couple of homes and other buildings, and on the right, with a courtyard, is the ancient studio.

At one time this was an abbey, but its church was destroyed during the French Revolution. The studio buildings were built between the years 1000 and 1300, but the deed for the property only shows the names of the owners since 1450. Christopher Columbus wasn’t even born until 1451.

John’s mother, born in America, went to France to work with Dr. Albert Schweitzer just before WW II. She worked at the American Hospital in Paris during the war, and then met the late Mr. Paul Spindler after the war was over. They were married in the chapel at the nearby hilltop abbey, Mont St. Odile. “The Twelve Stations of the Cross,” marquetry pictures created by Mr. Paul Spindler, line the walls in the pink and gray stone chapel at the abbey. When we visited the beautiful Mont St. Odile at noon one day, we found several large restaurants, crowded with tourists.

Marquetry pictures, created by John Spindler’s grandfather, who started this family enterprise many years ago, line the walls of the second-floor dining room of the restaurant Chez Jenny in Paris

At the Spindler Studio we visited in the private apartment in the old abbey building. The first room we entered was two stories high, with a balcony and a library around the second level. The room was filled with books, maps, and with slides and pictures taken on their many travels. Some small sculptures, various paintings, and some marquetry pictures, are displayed as if the late Paul Spindler was expected at any moment, to continue his work.

The living area is rather small but comfortable, and unlike anything we are likely to see in the US. We were surprised to see they had TV and electricity in those days — but maybe that was installed later. Among the reasons it looks different, it was built long before Columbus took his little boat ride.

Jim Humberd for Parler Paris

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. Invest in France Seminar, Wednesday, August 10, 2005


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