Meet Burgundy’s ‘Jean-Fran’ at the ocrerie !

House renovating in Burgundy
Jean-François

One of the most interesting and original characters that you are ever likely to come across in Auxerre in the Yonne, just has to be ‘Jean-Fran‘from l’Ocrerie. When you enter l’Ocrerie that is situated on the right bank of the River Yonne, you find yourself in a place where time stands still. This ancient ochre manufacture, that was once the site of a 12th century water mill belonging to the St Martin abbey, has taken on a very sleepy appearance, since the demise of the Ochre industry after the second world war.

The old ochre factory, Auxerre Burgundy
The Ocrerie in Auxerre

Housing the site of the biggest ochre industry in the whole of France, supplying ochre extracted from Puisaye to countries all over the world including Russia and Argentine and with 250 workers living there, it now houses an immense and impressive collection of objects recuperated from demolished houses, churches and chateaux. In fact you can find everything you could ever wish for, to renovate your house from floor to ceiling; anything from quarry tiles, claw baths, door handles, windows, sinks, to rafter beams. Everything and anything! L’Ocrerie even houses France’s biggest collection of authentic fireplaces and still sells ochre!

What’s so original about that, you may be asking yourself? It’s the owner, Jean François that is probably the biggest attraction! This ‘Auxerrois’ (a person born in Auxerre), hidden under his cloth cap appearance is an educated, highly intelligent and talented artist! He speaks fluent English and delights in taking you on a guided tour of the Ocrerie, explaining in great detail all of the history behind this amazing site and his amazing collections. He says ‘My biggest clients ever were an Australian couple who spent 100,000 euros on building material that we exported to Australia for them to build a new house using authentic old materials.”

Burgundy art
J.F.Michèl

And why not ask him about his artistic creations? You will be speechless! Jean-Fran has converted the turbine room of l’Ocrerie into a make shift art gallery, to house all of his weird and wonderful creations. He works principally with objects that he has recuperated from demolitions, but anything goes!. He was even inspired by the skeleton of a cat that was found under some rubble on site. He mainly works on religious imagery and tarot card themes, but has more recently worked on vertical themes with his ‘Manhattan’ series where he incorporates electronic systems into a Manhattan skyline.

A favourite and recurring object that Jean-Fran uses are children’s toys and in particular plastic dolls that he transforms into creative and original modern art! When asked did his parents not allow him to play with dolls as a child, he replies “ it was quite the contrary” and that “my parents always encouraged my artistic talents”. You might even wish to visit his workshop where he has spent years covering the ceiling in anything that he could lay his hands-on, from plastic dolls to plumbing pipes, a real labour of love!

In September Jean-Fran held his second annual Art and Music Exhibition, attracting thousands of visitors. It was held on the “Journées Nationales de Patrimoine”, the week end where France celebrates its heritage by throwing open the doors of sites that are not normally open for public viewing.

If you want to ask Jean-Franc about his michelmateriauxanciens.com or his works of art you can do so, just make sure to address your e-mail for his attention (no one else speaks English!)

© Jacquie Boulton-Bridoux

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