Cave dwelling and the silk road in Provence

An Artist’s home in the Luberon

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Installation of silk robes in the Cave of Joanna Staniszkis

Among the incredible things that happen everyday in Provence, especially in the Luberon, meeting Canadian artist Joanna Staniszkis was a tour de force. At the time we met we were both hatching projects. My husband and I were about to renovate a house in a small hamlet near Lacoste in the National Park of the Luberon. Joanna had begun the restoration of a prehistoric cave in the village of Bonnieux. The project entailed excavating an abandoned cave in the walls of the village for the  creation of an exhibition space and living rooms that include a salon, dining room, kitchen, guest bedroom and en suite bathroom. As daunting as our project was for us, by comparison to Joanna’s it was ‘hair and make-up’.

Since that first meeting in November of 2013 we have become collaborators in projects inspired by a mutual love for the bounty of the everyday phenomenons that rural Provence bestows. Among them: foraging for antiques in flea markets, enjoying  luncheons under an umbrella of perfumed wisteria, sniffing for truffles at the January truffle market, making delicious preserves from the bounty of spring and summer’s fruits and vegetables and documenting these observations through art works, photography and words.

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Bonnieux

 

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Joanna in her cave January 2014

 

The Story

The setting is the village of Bonnieux in the Vaucluse department of Provence where Joanna comes to spend time to work on textile projects that include art works and haute couture for international clients. Bonnieux is a layer cake of tile-roofed, stone houses clustered and terraced around the spires of three churches. It was a prominent town during centuries of religious and political struggles in Provence. In the 13 century it was owned outright by the Avignon popes. Former bishop’s houses are still lived in across the courtyard from the cave.

The cave’s earliest history goes back to Neolithic times when it served as housing for cave dwellers. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, first taking Provence in 58–51 B.C. During the Roman occupation, Bonnieux caves were used as quarries for limestone blocks used to build roads, bridges and monuments as the Romans tried to Romanize Provence.

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Pont Julien crossed the once navigable Calavon River

Pont Julien is an example. It is a perfectly preserved Roman bridge just west of Bonnieux on the Via Domita, the road from Rome to the northern parts of the empire. The Via Domita serves today as part of a236 km long bicycle path through villages and towns of the Luberon.

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Restauration underway

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Joanna poses at the back of the almost finished exhibition space waiting patiently for the Concrete to be poured over underfloor heating coils.

Not an everyday renovation…

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View from cave interior

The ceiling was entirely intact. The openings in the walls in the top two photographs were for beams that once supported upper floors. The nooks on the left and right of the new underfloor heating network, were used in olive oil production.  Albigensian Crusaders in the middle ages lived there and the last inhabitants were Provençals who used the cave for olive oil production at the height of the silk industry in 18th and 19th century. Joanna stands at the back of the cave on the eve of the celebration of her 70th birthday.

The Bedroom and ensuite

The vaulted bedroom ceiling  was plastered during the renovation as were the windows with views over the Luberon framed by antique ironwork…

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Follow the kid glove road to sleep in romantic iron bed…

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Sleep in antique linens after bathing in the mineralized water of Provence, sink lit with indigo blue LED light. The wc and shower were designed behind half walls to maintain privacy without imposing on the space.

Joanna found the mirror and decorative pieces while travelling in the far east. The jewellry on the table are unique pieces by made by Joanna.

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Shower spa on the left and and stairs to down to the kitchen on the right. Candles tucked in nooks from former floor supports light the way… A custom wrought iron spiral staircase leads to a kitchen with all the modern conveniences and abundant daylight from new south facing windows.

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Candle lit stairway

The Kitchen

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Art works in the Exhibition space

The black and white jackets in the photograph below were cut from antique linens Joanna buys in the ‘brocante’ markets in the neighborhood. The stands, made by a local blacksmith, are imbedded in petrified wooden beams found in the cave during the restoration. The iron gazebo in the background houses giant silkworm eggs made from twigs and were part of the installation for Joanna’s May 15, 2016 exhibition, “La Vie en Soie”. The black and white jackets are part of a collection that Joanna showed at the International Women’s Forum last year.

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Indigo blue spot lights the silk installation

Below is a view from Exhibition space towards the living salon and dining areas. All the fabrics in the salon and were designed and silkscreened by Joanna herself. The antiques are part of a large collection purchased on voyages to Southeast Asia, India, South, China, Bhutan and Tibet. The fire bowl burns ‘smoke free ‘in a corner of the living room.

The Salon

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Dining

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Please see the exhibition catalogue to the show “La Vie en Soie”. Below is a detail of one of the white silk organza gowns, printed with the leaf alphabet Joanna created from Mulberry leaves. Mulberry leaves are the only food silk worms consume and then spin into their luxurious cocoons.

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Mulberry leaves, from food to luminous fabric

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