Interview with Patrice LeJeune, Marquetry Artist

Patrice2Patrice LeJeune is a Marquetry Artist working out of Antique Refinishers in San Diego, CA, where they also run the American School of French Marquetry. I’m lucky to be friends with Patrice; aside from being a very talented artist, he’s also easily one of the funniest people I know. With his wicked, dry humor and ability to do voices and impressions, he’s a fantastic guest at any dinner party, a fun partner in Belotte, and a guy you don’t want to mess with in poker.

The term “marquetry” is from middle French, meaning “inlaid work.” It is the art of assembling veneer pieces (usually wood, but sometimes other materials like ivory, pearl, or even metal) together to make a design or picture. The techniques began in 16th century Florence as well as 16th century France. In the mid-seventeen century, French furniture makers began using marquetry techniques to provide the ornate furniture that would decorate Versailles and Louis XIV’s other royal residences.

Patrice notes that he is, “working on developing new techniques that I did not create but for which I am putting different aspects theories in place.” Wikipedia expands on Patrice’s new techniques, you can read about them here.

Circle of Life - Fusion Marquetry

Circle of Life – Fusion Marquetry

Here is my interview with Patrice:

What interested you/attracted you to the field of Marquetry?

My father was a harpsichord maker; I grew up with the smell of wood. I chose to study furniture making in order to work in the family workshop and entered Ecole Boulle in Paris at the age of 15 for a 5 year program. Unconsciously, I am sure choosing this profession at that age was to try to get closer to my father, but soon my thoughts and desires switched from musical instrument making to furniture.

In my 4th year in school we visited and studied for a couple weeks in other workshops. One of those workshops was marquetry. I really fell in love with that art and always wanted to add this skill to my toolbox.

Patrice at work

Patrice at work

What kind of school did you go to and what was your education like?

I did go to Ecole Boulle. It is an Arts and Crafts School focusing on Decorative Arts. It hosted at that time 11 workshops such as cabinet making, upholstery, turning, marquetry etc., all related to the different fields of decorative arts. The 3 first years are dedicated to traditional furniture and how to make them by hand and machine. Then 2 more years to learn how to create furniture, and to produce a master piece on a theme, “artists house,” during the last year. {It was} a piece of furniture which could be included in a house where an artist lived open to the public or a museum. I chose the Horta House in Brussels and realized a piece mixing Art Deco and nouveau.

The program included all the regular classes you have to follow in high school, with a slightly lighter program, French, another language, mathematic, science, etc. Plus an artistic side, drawing, composition, modeling etc. Plus the technical aspects, technology, machine shop, workshop, and for me, cabinet making.

What are your favorite projects to create/work on? Any favorite completed projects?

I like to work on anything that includes marquetry but mainly a job which offers challenge. My favorite project is usually the last one but there is a difference in my heart between what I do for a living, the traditional stuff, and my modern art work. Both of them are very important but I wish I had more time to work on my art.

What is a typical day like on your job?

Morning starts with breakfast in front of the computer, doing emails. Then strong coffee and chasing money. Our main business at which I spend more than half of my time is restoration. I repair and restore furniture, with a specialty on veneer and marquetry restoration, but I am also a French polisher and a gilder. When I am done chasing money, then comes the IT choir: marketing, graphic design, website design, etc. Then if I have time left, I can work on our spec marquetry projects; for now I try to find as much time to work on that.

One of Patrice's projects

One of Patrice’s projects

From this original I redesign a better quality marquetry just using the overall composition as a guide.

If I have time or a deadline or spare energy then I work on my art…

Tell me about the school at your studio.

American School of French Marquetry in San Diego, CA

American School of French Marquetry in San Diego, CA

In our school, the American School of French Marquetry, we teach French style marquetry, which for us is the best and most efficient and with the possibility of a better quality result, methods and techniques.

Our students range from amateur, hobbyist, or curious to serious professional. We have people coming from all over the world (though not Europe), but our main source of students is in the US and Canada.

Our programs are designed by weeks, each week students learn a new technique or refine their techniques. Most of the students take 2 to 3 weeks in one or two trips.

What brought you to San Diego?

Agnes (Patrice’s wife, who just completed her PhD) had a exchange program in Scotland in 2002. We loved living abroad so we looked for a good place to carry on speaking and learning English. Nothing came out of scotland or UK so We turned to the US. I did not choose San Diego, I was looking for a job and contacted Patrick Edwards who had come 4 years in a row for 3 months to my school in Paris to learn marquetry. I asked him if he knew anyone in San Francisco and he offered me a job. Not a bad decision overall.

 

If you are in the San Diego area, be sure to visit Antique Refinishers in their North Park workshop, or sign up to take a class or two at their school and discover your inner artist!

Here’s a link to Patrice’s blog, and some videos to learn more.

Here are some photos of Patrice’s work:

This one took Best of Show at the Design in Wood Show 2010

This one took Best of Show at the Design in Wood Show 2010

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Replication of a piece

Replication of a piece

The finished piece

The finished piece

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