A place for fine craft

Like Jean Daum, other master craftsmen settled in Nancy and together in 1901 they founded the School of Nancy, an alliance of artists, architects and artisans who built and decorated the town’s homes and businesses, turning out works that transformed Nancy into an urban Art Nouveau gem. Today the most beautiful shrine to the period is the Musée de l’École de Nancy. It was once a private home built between 1900 and 1934 by a department store owner named J.B.E. Corbin. The house, its outbuildings and gardens are, like the Excelsior Brasserie, an unchanged time capsule of Art Nouveau. Corbin and his fellow aesthetes led a revolt against the culture of the time which copied the past but was unable to create a new aesthetic.

Japanese design, as it had with Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists, exJean Daumercised a great influence on the Art Nouveau revolution. Wandering around the Corbin home with its heavy handcrafted furniture, stained glass windows and luxurious finishes, I was struck by the solidity of the bourgeois environment decorated with turn-ofthe-century whimsy, as if a conservatively designed bank building had been converted into a living space for fairies and elves. Nancy is a shape shifting town. You can walk down medieval streets, glance into Renaissance churches, have coffee in 18th century hotels, or dine in Art Nouveau restaurants. At night, Place Stanislas glows with subtle illumination and, during the summer, the façade of its City Hall becomes a gigantic screen for displaying the most popular art form of the 20th century, moving light.

After dark, an elaborate light show is projected onto the City Hall façade, recreating the history and folklore of the town. Part Monty Python and part artistic wonder, a whimsical recreation of the story of Nancy unfolds. I watched children chasing the images of enormous multicolored fish as they moved across the walls of the building or tried to hitch a ride on a rising rainbow. Among Nancy’s many faces, there seems to have always been a place for make believe.