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The Soul of French Invention

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An American woodworker’s love affair with “the best” (and perhaps least well-known) sculpture museum in Paris – and what the affair taught him.

By GARY ROGOWSKI


Museum of Inventions | Craftsmanship Magazine, Spring 2015

A 19th century aeroplane, designed by Louis Blériot. The plane was the first to cross the English Channel in 1908, powered by nothing more than a 3-cylinder, 25-hp motor. The wings are supported by wires and metal struts that are only 1/2

“Have you been to the best sculpture museum in Paris?” I asked the Québéquoise couple visiting my furniture studio in Portland, Oregon. Having been to Paris several times, they of course thought I meant the Louvre. “No,” I sighed. “Musée d’Orsay?” they asked. “No,” I countered, “the best is the Musée des Arts et Métiers, in the 3rd arrondissement.”

We met on an extra long flight from Paris to New York, a time when the volcano erupting in Iceland was delaying flights in droves. It seemed an impossible story, too good to be true, and we both fell for it.

They looked at me with the blank stares of statues having never heard of the place. But this is true for most of the museum-going crowd in Paris. La Musée displays the best collection of ideas and shapes in the city, yet few people know of it. It is considered a conservatory of inventions but is a treasure house of form. Forms so beautiful that I could not, as a designer, be unmoved by them. Here is how I discovered it.

It was because I was in love. No, not with Paris. Everyone falls in love with Paris. And how could you not? Her 19th century charm surrounds and beguiles you and yet she is still so insecure. Paris constantly checks her renowned beauty in the mirror. She is like a courtesan who turns to you every morning and bares her breasts and asks, “Am I not beautiful?” And you answer, mouth agape, “Yes, yes you are.”

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