Bits of clay flew as he twirled the little figurine between his fingers, poking and prodding, until the shepherd was smooth and his cloak billowed in an imaginary gust of Mistral. I watched closely, amazed by his skill, as he placed the santon on the table, next to the dozens already assembled, before starting anew.
I gazed around at the shelves lined with rows of miniature village folk, wondering which would make the best souvenir of my pilgrimage to the workshop of a Santonnier in Aix-en-Provence. Hundreds of hand-painted eyes followed me as I admired the pattern on the shawl of one, and the deep violet of the lavender in the basket of another. It was going to be a difficult choice.
The workshop was stifling, the heat accentuating the damp smell of clay. It was empty apart from the craftsmen and us and I wasn’t surprised. Who else would be silly enough to think about Christmas in August? The craftsman had finished his batch of shepherds and had started work on a traditionally clad woman. He flicked the excess clay off her dress and recounted the history of the santons or little saints, in the thick, lilting accent of the south.
The Provencal crib or Crèche Provençale dates back to the French revolution. My passion for them only goes back to my arrival in France, but come December our sideboard will once again struggle under the load of our home-made village and its tiny inhabitants. Annual trips to the Foire aux Santons in Marseille provide us with the citizens – a baker perhaps or maybe a monk, or a couple of dancers… The rest is a family affair. It is an on-going project and everyone is put to work, whether it be building, town and country planning, or decoration.
I packed the latest addition carefully into my handbag, and followed my sister-in-law out of the boutique. She seemed as pleased with the guided tour as I was. The little clay figurines are highly contagious and most of my immediate family have become collectors, each building and populating their crib in accordance with beliefs or taste, all loving their santons as much as I do.
After all, in the darkness of December, who can resist the warmth and colours of a Provencal village bathed in summer sunlight, or the charms of an old shepherd watching over his sheep, his cloak flapping in a gust of Mistral?
From Scribbits prompt : Collection