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Since the beginning, the following generations have shared an enterprising mind among essential values at the Atelier. Protecting transmission and perpetuating that just unique art craft has been the primary motivation of those successive inheritors. From Jean Serre a tireless searcher, on to nowadays Eric Papon a visionary craftsman, including Michel a well-informed investor, Leon an ambitious contractor, Roger-Hyacinthe a wise administrator and Edmond-Michel a modern builder, the family have remained involved, succeeding in combining tradition with modernity. The evolution of the making processes, the constant development of creative projects and the architectural adaptations of the visiting site have allowed the Atelier to keep its attraction and to ensure the essential transmissions.
Over 800,000 Euro have been invested into an ambitious programme. It consists in increasing the surface of the current visiting tour, so as to allow both the craftsmen’s activities and future creative projects to be shown. That programme fits in with the craftsmen’s will to share even more with the yearly 70,000 visitors.
The environment policy of the Atelier, which has already led to the geothermal heating of the premises with the hot springs, will be completed with solar resources to reach total energy autonomy.
Leon buys over the petrification site in Clermont-Ferrand. He devotes it to the crystallization of items whereas he uses the Saint-Nectaire site exclusively for encrustations on moulds. That decision allows him to meet the rising visitors' fancy for emblematic local souvenirs.The Clermont-Ferrand site will close up in 2000.
Leon Papon makes the most of the expanding balneology and opens the Atelier to the people taking the waters in the area. He is a precursor as regards business tourism. Very early the craftsmen at Fontaines Pétrifiantes have shown their will to make visitors aware of that unheard of know-how, by presenting the working tool and the real techniques leading to the manufactured artworks.
Michel Papon and his son Leon sell their production on the French Riviera. Their purchasers are the owners of Grotte de Monte-Carlo, Grotte Saint-Andréet Grottes du Saut-du-Loup.
Leon and Edmond will carry on that marketing choice up to the 1960ies supplying the shops on visiting sites like Grottes de Bétharram, Caves Gouttières de Savonnières and Gouffre de Padirac.
Michel Papon, at the age of 16, joins the Atelier and learns the making secrets. Back from his one-year-long initiatory journey in De Vegni’s footsteps, he marries Madeleine, Jean Serre’s daughter. In 1869 Michel inherits the Atelier, the corporate name of which is yet « Maison Serre-Papon ». He purchases the equipment required to make encrustations on moulds, introduces Gutta-Percha as moulding material, orders from engravers the creation of matrices to be reproduced and lays the foundations of modern petrification.
Jean Serre, a scholar and researcher, takes with his father Gilbert an active interest in the petrification process, especially in the technique of encrustation on moulds. In Saint-Nectaire he starts digging into the granite and harnesses the thermomineral calcium-rich springs. He carries out his own experiments and invents an ingenious waterfall system, the Petrifying Fountains. From then on the next generations will endeavour to maintain that invention.
The history of petrification takes root in Bagni San Filippo, a Tuscan village with similar geological features to those of Saint-Nectaire. From the thermomineral springs Leonardo De Vegni, an Italian inventor and architect, creates the first fabric of Plastica dei Tartari or encrustations on moulds. Jean Serre will draw his inspiration from that technique to turn calcium into an artistic purpose. In Italy that production will be stopped in the 19th century.
The Atelier is awarded the state label EPV - Living Heritage - by the French government, a distinction honoring French firms holding an exceptional handicraft and industrial know-how. Like his ancestors, Eric Papon carries out experiments to explore the limits of calcium carbonate. His contributions with artists, creators and designers offer him opportunities to develop new application spheres. Intricate creations are being achieved and enrich the artwork collection of over 400 patterns.
The Atelier Fontaines Pétrifiantes de Saint-Nectaire celebrates its bicentenary. Over two hundreds years since it was established, its craftsmen have kept the original values: respect for the ancestral heritage, innovation and transmitting.