Visit Master Artisans during Journées des Métiers d’Art Suisse 2019


SEEING master artisans at work in their own studios is to witness their love and natural affinity for their craft up close. That’s nowhere more true than when visiting with master marionnette sculptor Christophe Kiss at his Galerie Ornicar in Rolle.

Surrounded by his creations in various stages of completion and by the materials and tools he uses to craft them, you get the sense there’s nowhere else he’d rather be and that his devotion and delight in bringing them to life really is his raison d’être.

“Puppets are for me, first and foremost, moving sculptures. I try to charge my characters with emotions to give them a life.”

He reminded me of a real life “Geppetto” when I visited his happily cluttered Galerie Ornicar during “Zig Zag in Rolle” last September. Now you have the chance to do the same during the upcoming Journées des Métiers d’Art Switzerland 2019 from 5th to 7th April.

Switzerland is one of 16 European countries participating in this year’s JEMA, which was launched in France in 2002 and which in 2018 saw 10,000 events organized across the continent, drawing 1,300,000 visitors.

Skills passed down over generations

Christophe Kiss introduces one of his string puppets to visitors during Zig Zag in Rolle 2018. Photo: CLG.

Here in the Swiss Romandy — and elsewhere I’m sure — it’s so easy to go about our busy daily lives noticing the handiwork of talented craftspeople whose creations fill our shops, opera houses, theatres, and museums, but without giving much thought to the painstaking workmanship and training behind it.

Usually the objects we admire result from years of study and apprenticeships in order to hone skills that have been passed down through many generations and which are sometimes in danger of disappearing altogether.

Bringing inanimate materials to life

“I think the material is rich and that it’s good to listen to it to be able to benefit from it, to be able to emphasize it,” says Christophe Kiss. Photo: CLG.

In Christophe Kiss’s case, he earned several degrees at the Geneva University of Art and Design (HEAD) before he started working on projects for the Théâtre des Marionnettes de Genève, which he’s been doing since 1993. In addition, he collaborates with other theaters in that capacity and also as a stage designer, as well as being a professor of drawing at the vocational training center of the arts in Geneva.

He patiently transforms wood, polystyrene, foam padding and resins into his lifelike puppets, and to see him maneouvering their strings for the enjoyment of visitors reveals a love for his craft that hasn’t waned since he first happened upon the puppet show, at age 17, that set him on the path to becoming a marionnette sculptor.

Go behind the scenes

Hatmaker Annick Roulet in Ecoteaux and embroiderer Cécilia Roger in Lausanne will participate in JEMA Vaud 2019. Photo: JEMA.

He shares that passion with a multitude of other talented artisans throughout Switzerland and this year 45 will open their doors in Vaud from Nyon to Concise to Ecoteaux. In Geneva, some 48 artisans’ studios, institutions (HEAD, the Botanical Gardens, Geneva’s main public library) as well as museums and theatres are welcoming visitors behind the scenes into spaces seldom seen by the public.

At past JEMAs I’ve enjoyed seeing budding ceramicists at work at the Centre de formation professionnelle-arts/Céramique; student illustrators/cartoonists and the jewellery workshops at HEAD; the set building and costume ateliers at the Grand Théâtre de Gèneve; as well as going behind the scenes to visit the dressing rooms and backstage rigging at the city’s renowned La Comédie Theatre.

Precious and time-honored skills

Entrance to all events during Les Journées Européennes des Métiers d’Arts Switzerland, which are conducted in French, is free and in most cases requires registration (and places are limited) so don’t delay in booking yourself a place at your favoured event.

These special days are designed to spotlight the skills carefully developed and passed down over centuries in the design, creation, maintenance and restoration of objets d’art, musical instruments, antiques, furniture, books, clothes, handbags and hats and a wide array of handicrafts.

JEMA offers a unique and not-to-be-missed opportunity to meet and talk with master craftspeople in the very place where they learn and practice their skills and in some cases are passing them on to the next generation of young artisans who are following in their footsteps.

I hope you get to some events and if you do, please leave a comment below this post and let me know what you thought of them. 

JEMA 2019 05.04 – 07.04.2019
JEMA 2019 programme Geneva
JEMA 2019 programme Vaud
JEMA 2019 programme Neuchâtel
JEMA 2019 programme Ticino

Main photo caption: Christophe Kiss, master marionnette sculptor, in his Rolle studio during the art open house event “Zig Zag in Rolle”, September 2018. He will welcome visitors to his Galerie Ornicar from 5th to 7th April during JEMA 2019. Photo: CLG

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