Tuesday 17 June 2008

Signs of character

Rochefort-en-Terre is a 'little town of character' in Morbihan, Brittany, with houses and shops dating back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and a mediaeval church. It's full of timber-framed and granite buildings, art and craft shops, and flowers. Even the town hall has an ancient wisteria clinging to its front. (Unfortunately, these photos were taken in winter so the plants are bare!).

An important influence on the town's character was Alfred Klots. An American painter, he was among the artists attracted to the town in the early twentieth century. He took on the task of rebuilding the chateau, which had been destroyed during the Revolution. (Today it is in public ownership, and has a small museum). Klots also encouraged the townspeople to decorate their houses and balconies with flowers, establishing an annual competition for the best floral display. He even allowed local people to put delicate plants in his greenhouse for the winter; today, municipal greenhouses offer the same service. Rochefort-en-Terre remains famous for its floral displays and artistic activity. Craftspeople in the town include a bellows-maker, glass-blower, and candle and soap shops; not forgetting Breton biscuits and the buttery, flaky kouign amann ("butter cake").

However, you have to raise your eyes from the flora and facades to see one of the characteristic features of the town: its shop signs. They are carefully crafted to blend in with their historic surroundings, and add real character to the streets.

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