The Museum Workshop

A workshop preserved in situ

In late 2008, while removing the workshop of the stringed instrument maker Philippe Moneret, the Town of Mirecourt accepted the proposal to acquire the holdings of the Gérôme Workshop for the Museum. With the support of the Museum Team, this project was validated by deliberation of the Town Council in February 2009.
If the collection of the Museum comprises several holdings of workshop, none was complete at the time of its entry in the collection, and scientifically documented. The acquisition of the Gérôme workshop holdings was a real opportunity to fill this gap.
Since most of the workshops downtown were dismantled and transformed in residential or commercial buildings historically, the project to preserve holdings of the workshop in situ was very quickly considered. The Town of Mirecourt then signed a leasing agreement for the workshop and its dependences. As early as in the summer 2009, the Museum Team submitted a cultural project for the Gérôme workshop, as an additional resource for visitors.
In August and July 2009, the visitors of the Museum were invited, for the time of a meeting in the workshop, to visit this unique place where three generations of stringed instrument makers had worked to make mandolins and guitars. They were welcomed by a professional who worked in front of them and answered their questions. Today, the workshop is open and running in the afternoon on weekend during the low season and six days per week in the high season for tourists.
The workshop is also used at times for topic-based meetings with invited stringed instrument makers who present their know-how, according to the cultural project of the Museum. It can also be used as a Residence for hosting meetings and exchanges between professionals.

Media

'Le chant du bois' (The song of wood) November 20, 2009. This is a TV report made by Images Plus (today Vosges television), a local TV Channel of the Department of Vosges. The report shows the session of stringed instrument making led by the Association Le Venotte, on the occasion of the Saint-Cecilia feast in 2009 in the Museum workshop.



'Luthier sans frontières' (Stringed instrument maker without borders), March 4, 2010. This is another 3-minute report made by Images Plus (today Vosges television), the same local TV Channel of the Department of Vosges. As quoted above The report shows a session of stringed instrument making run by the Association L'Entureloupée, in which some trainees makes some instruments for the Association Luthier sans frontières (www.luthierssansfrontieres-lsf.org).



The Gérôme workshop is also a step marked on the Path of the Stringed Instrument Makers. The Museum Team has imagined a tourist attraction in the form of a 'Balade instrumentale' (Instrumental walk). Thus, since 2009, every Wednesday in the summer, a guide leads the visitors first to discover the instruments shown in the Museum exhibition. Then they move to walk on the Path of the Stringed Instrument Makers on the other bank of the Madon river, and stop by the Museum workshop to meet with professionals working there. Next, they go on to the district of Saint-Vincent and deepen their knowledge of the various activities of stringed instrument making, based on samples on display. Finally, after eating a light snack, their tour ends with music in the House of Mechanical Music and Lace.

Story of workshop

Various sources are available to tell the story of the Gérôme family (the former owners of the workshop). Existing records in the communal and departmental files in Paris, in the Vosges Departmental Archives, and family archives can be reconciled with the memories of Lucien Gérôme and of Philippe Moneret, as they were recorded by the ethnomusicologist Lothaire Mabru in 1996.

Louis Gérôme sets up the workshop in Mattaincourt in 1892
René Gérôme was born on 16 July 1884 in Paris. His father Louis Eugene Gérôme, born in Mattaincourt, a village close to Mirecourt, in 1857, was an organ-builder. René had two younger brothers, George and Charles. At the time of Charles' birth in 1891, Louis Gérôme was still registered as an organ-builder, but resided in Malzéville (in the suburbs of Nancy). In 1892, Louis moved to settle in its native village of Mattaincourt and to produce exclusively Neapolitan mandolins. This instrument was then very much in vogue and the workshop employed up to twenty workmen. The three sons, René, Georges and Charles worked with their father at that time.

René Gérôme moves the workshop to Mirecourt in 1920
During World War One, René Gérôme was put on active service in the French Army. First he served as a stretcher-bearer, then head of music in Mostaganem (Algeria), since he had learned to play music in his early childhood (violin and clarinet). After the war, he worked initially at the Laberte Company, one of the large production houses of Mirecourt, where he specialized in the decorations of mandolins. Then he worked for Huillier, a manufacturer of mechanical devices for musical instruments. Meanwhile his brother Georges continued the business in the family workshop of Mattaincourt. In 1920, René set up his own business in Mirecourt, on Lebreuil Dock. He left his mark in the history of the workshop by creating new models meeting the needs of musicians and more appropriate to the changes in musical styles: flat-backed mandolins and/or with double soundboard, banjo, jazz guitars, folk and Hawaiian, Ukulele and Balalaika. He offered a wide choice of inlaid decorations, and improved workshop productivity, tools and machines.
René had three sons, André, born in 1910, René (Junior), born in 1914 and Roger, born in 1918, who took part in the development of the workshop starting in the years 1930. The fourth son, Lucien, born in 1930, learned marquetry very early with his father, and joined officially the workshop at the age of 14 in 1944. Meanwhile, he followed correspondence courses in book-keeping during three years, in order to assist his father in the company management.
In the early nineteen fifties, René Gérôme and its sons (Fig. No. 12) produced up to 1,000 mandolins and 900 guitars per year. Following a dispute with his father, Roger left the family workshop in 1951 and set up his own business for the manufacture and sale of stringed instrument accessories, bows and of wood for stringed instrument making.
The clients were not accommodated in the workshop, which was not suitable for that. The stringed instrument makers worked eleven hours per day, six days a week. A sales representative was hired in the late nineteen thirties and after World War II, to bring back to the workshop the orders for the year. In France as in other foreign countries, instruments were distributed almost exclusively through retailers like Paul Beuscher and Hohner, who took significant margins. This mode of marketing continued until René Gérôme's retirement in 1967, and his death in Mirecourt on 17 January 1968.

Gérôme Brothers Workshop until the last brother Lucien Gérôme (1967-1996)
At the age of 82 in 1967, René Gérôme sold his business to his three sons, who from now on, produced under the label "Frères Gérôme" (Gérôme Brothers). In 1968, Lucien Gérôme bought up the house from his brothers.
The Gérôme Brothers continued producing the models of their father, while responding to the demands of the musicians. Thus, they decided to restart the production of Neapolitan mandolins which had been stopped after World War II. They organized work according to their respective competences. For finishing, André carried out instrument assembly, whereas Lucien was specialized in marquetry work (Fig. No. 13), and René was looking after "hafting" and varnishing.
An external staircase leading directly to the work place was built up from the interior courtyard. This marked a change of the commercial strategy, as the clients were then accommodated inside the workshop to make their own choice among the products stored there. Clients bought also in exhibitions in which stringed instrument makers were taking part. Articles in the trade press, and TV reports contributed to build the reputation of the house. From 1975 on, the entire workshop production was sold "directly" to the clients. This was leaving higher margins, since no middlemen were involved.
The company then managed to survive during the twentieth century, in spite of the successive crises that hit the stringed instrument making industry, by adapting its production and marketing methods to the changes of the market and the requirements of the musicians.

Philippe Moneret takes over the workshop (1996 - 2009)
In the late nineteen eighties, when his two elder brothers retired at the age of 75, Lucien Gérôme was joined by Philippe Moneret. Trained at the School of Stringed Instrument Making of Mirecourt in 1975, he practiced music on a full time basis for ten years, while maintaining contact with his former activity of instrument making. In a discussion with Lothaire Mabru in 1996, Philippe Moneret told about his return to Mirecourt in 1985. He worked initially for the Sofraluth Company before joining Lucien Gérôme in 1989 with whom he worked, and from whom he learned, during seven years. In 1992, they celebrated together the Centenary of the Gérôme House. And quite naturally, on the retirement of Lucien Gérôme in 1996, Philippe took over the workshop selling under the brand name "Ateliers Gérôme". He focused the business on "custom" manufacture, working mainly on order for the musicians. Although he took part in many festivals and exhibitions in France, the workshop remained a preferred place of meeting between the stringed instrument maker and the musicians.


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