Welcome to French Crafts 101


Ever wonder why one crystal goblet costs $10 at a discount store and another $100 at a specialty shop?

That question, and others like it, will not only be answered but also demonstrated hands-on at the Festival des Artisans at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa on Monday through Sept. 20.

Sponsored by the Comite Colbert, a group of French luxury goods companies, the weeklong event features French craftsmanship and creativity. Twenty companies will participate.

"The French believe in tradition," said Ketty Maisonrouge, president of the Colbert Foundation. "We want items we buy to last more than one generation and be passed down, and we want to be innovative and creative."

At the festival, porcelain making will be demonstrated by Bernardaud, which has been crafting wares since 1863. Bernardaud's molds are hand-carved and then duplicated into plaster of Paris molds, which can be used only about 15 times.

Potter Weems "Ted" Estelle will explain slip casting. Slip is the liquid clay that is put into a mold to make a vase, teapot or other piece.

Estelle will pop out the first casting, smooth out the seams and perform the finishing work on a piece in the Louvre pattern. Festival-goers can work with him.

This way of making porcelain does not use a wheel, but it still requires a crafter to remove imperfections. No heat is used in the process until the actual firing, which is hotter than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

At another station at the festival, Marion Aubry, a master engraver from Paris, will be hand-engraving silver for Christofle. The design is produced by using a burin, or steel rod, to gouge strips of metal out of the surface to be decorated.

"Besides the engraving, we are going to have an Etiquette Game," says Dawn Moore, general manager of Christofle in Beverly Hills and a consultant on the book "Modern Antiques for the Table" by Sheila Chefetz (1998, Penguin Studio, $39.95). "We'll have three different menus [formal, informal, luncheon] and a wide assortment of flatware. We ask people to fill out a form explaining how they would set the table for the different menus. It's a lot of fun, with the accent not on the rules, but on learning to be comfortable setting a table."

Oh, and about those $10 or $100 goblets? The price is based on the level of hand-crafting.

Four-hundred-year-old Cristal Saint Louis will show 16 stages in making a single cobalt cased-crystal hock, a stemmed wine glass that was colored to hide the sediment in Alsatian wines. Today a hock is used for any white wine.

"It takes 30 different pairs of hands to create one piece of stemware," said Janet Ley of Saint Louis. At the festival, "we're going to encourage people to design their own patterns using gold and platinum pens on silhouettes of glasses on vellum paper."

Many of Saint Louis's glasses are engraved with friezes in gold and platinum.

The festival, which runs from Monday to Sept. 20, is free. South Coast Plaza's Jewel Court (near Macy's), 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. (714) 435-2000. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (closed from 3 to 4 p.m.) daily except Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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