In one of our previous articles, we shared with you the history of Atelier Simon-Marq, one of France’s oldest and most highly-esteemed companies and one which has been preserving expertise in stained glass for almost four centuries.
A quick reminder of the facts. Atelier Simon-Marq is legendary. In 1640 Pierre Simon created ‘a corporate masterpiece’, a simple glass decorated with enamel that enabled him to become master glass-maker of Reims. His work earned him international renown but his story is inextricably linked to the history of Reims and that of its cathedral, with him having saved a large number of the building’s stained glass windows during the bombings of the First World War. The atelier prospered for three centuries before undergoing significant difficulties a few years ago. Faced with collapse, it was taken over by Reims-born Philippe Varin, chairman of the Suez group, and Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, chairman of the Coteaux, Maisons et Caves de Champagne organisation (Champagne hillsides, houses and cellars world heritage sites). Followed by a whole team and supported by numerous patrons, they bring to life what is part of the national and Champagne heritage. A story of passion.
Rescued from the brink of ruin, Atelier Simon-Marq had to find new premises after its ‘historic’ Art Deco building on Rue Ponsardin was sold, and the site that they moved to on Rue de la Justice was only provisional. The idea of a derelict church – a vast and light-filled space – quickly took hold in the minds of the company’s two buyers, who immediately made contact with Mr Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, the archbishop of Reims. The bishop suggested the Sacre Coeur Church in the Clairmarais district, an area of the city which is currently undergoing a period of rapid regeneration. The religious concrete building designed in the 1950s by architects André Gaston and Yves Michel was entrusted to them by means of a long-term lease. The rehabilitation of this church, which “authenticates the link which unites the art of stained glass and places of faith” – to use the words of Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger – is part of the symbol and responds to the wish expressed by the buyers to “be able to install long-term activities of the workshop, in a dream or even ideal way, in a suitable place, with a modern character.”
A fantastic opportunity in the eyes of Marine Rondeau, the general secretary of Atelier Simon-Marq. “A church is the perfect setting,” she enthuses. “Naturally, we need a fairly large space to be able to work effectively, but our main priority is to have somewhere bathed in diffused and stable light throughout the day. Sacre Coeur Church will give us this.” 750 m2 will be dedicated solely to the workshop, while a 400 m2 area will also enable the team to develop a completely different business activity, with a brand new project due to be built from scratch in the vast space here. For the very first time, Atelier Simon-Marq will give visitors the opportunity to gain a deeper insight into decorative glasswork and the work of the master glass-makers. The chapel will be transformed into a multimedia space, taking the visitors through to the workshop – where the compagnons are hard at work – before ending up near the baptistery, a place to admire the stained glass windows up close and in natural light. They can then view a collection of ancient stained glass windows. “The area is completely changing, and we want to make our own mark here, contribute to this new sense of momentum,” resolves Marine Rondeau. They gradually started moving their things in at the beginning of the year.
At the moment business is booming. “We just sent off a quote to New York,” smiles the general secretary. They have received a large number of orders from both companies and individuals, in France and further afield. Atelier Simon-Marq is also working on a vast building site after receiving an order of 18 stained glass windows from the Saint-Hilaire de Givet Church. The first pair of stained glass windows were installed in September, with the panels created by Catherine Roch de Hillerin, official painter to the armies. Two further windows will be installed each year until the order has been fulfilled. Other installations are also in the pipeline, including at Metz Cathedral in January 2022. While competitor workshops do still exist in France and are often primarily focussed on restoration, Atelier Simon-Marq remains the uncontested leader in the creation of contemporary stained glass windows.