August 18, 2022
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PARIS — Pedestrians on the boutique-lined Rue Bonaparte may pause at a bit of store displaying the discreet signal “Ivoire,” their curiosity piqued by the aged man at a workbench close to the window. He is likely to be repairing an ivory necklace that had misplaced a bead or the chip in an ivory jewellery field — working towards a dying artwork.

In Europe, Pierre Heckmann, 93, might be one of many final ivoiriers, “a sculptor who works with ivory,” he defined. He’s certain he’s the lone member, and due to this fact president, of the Chambres Syndicales de l’Ivoire and de L’Ecaille (tortoiseshell), certainly one of France’s many organizations for expert artisans.

Mr. Heckmann mentioned he discovered to carve ivory from his father, who discovered from his father. They used the exact same instruments that now muddle his workbench and the machines that stand prepared in his workshop, however then the instruments of this commerce, from steel recordsdata to jigsaw cutters, haven’t modified because the 1800s.

He would be the final of his household in the commerce, too. Whereas Mr. Heckmann’s grandson Nicolas, 39, now works with him, his duties are restricted to gross sales slightly than craftsmanship. And Nicolas’s son is simply 10, so his future is unknown.

Ivory, the laborious white materials of elephant tusks, has been prized since historical occasions in treasures like the 35,000-year-old Venus of Hohle Fels, one of many oldest identified sculptures of the human kind, and the scores of ivory bangles that the British transport heiress Nancy Cunard stacked alongside each arms in the early 1900s for her portraits by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton.

However as demand for ivory grew and elephant herds have been decimated, international locations took motion, and in 1989 the worldwide ivory commerce was banned, though authorities proceed to battle poaching and smuggling operations.

The restrictions in France modified Mr. Heckmann’s profession. “I made sculptures for probably the most a part of my life,” he mentioned, “however a regulation about 5 years in the past prevented that. Now you may solely promote ivory that’s been made earlier than 1947.” So his work now focuses on repairs, just like the broken crucifix that he was dealing with one vivid, crisp December morning. Christ’s toes have been lacking so “I’ve carved new toes,’’ he mentioned, fingering the person toes of the arched toes that he was attaching to the determine.

To make repairs — and he has packing containers stuffed with ivory items ready for his knowledgeable contact — he has dozens of chunks of ivory, items left from his grandfather’s and his father’s time. Each is a surprisingly uninteresting beige till it’s polished to a gleaming floor that exposes the creamy colour beneath.

Mr. Heckmann’s household got here from Dieppe, a port metropolis on the English Channel. When his father was younger town was nonetheless a middle of the ivory commerce, with ships bringing the tusks of elephants and walruses from Africa and Asia. Because the port metropolis started to lose its prominence, the household moved to Paris in 1910, residing and dealing at 57 Rue Bonaparte. “I used to be born in this constructing,” Mr. Heckmann mentioned with some pleasure. (Now he and his grandson stay exterior town, and Nicolas drives them to work. “I come each day besides Sunday; I by no means miss a day,” Mr. Heckmann mentioned.)

He studied sculpture on the Académie des Beaux-Arts close by. “I skilled on laborious woods and marble, as a result of ivory could be very laborious.” After courses, he would come to the household store for classes on ivory from his father. At age 18 he made his first statue “of Venus, nude” and have become a real ivoirier.

Because the bells of the church of St.-Sulpice, simply across the nook, chimed 12 occasions, Mr. Heckmann ready to go to lunch, locking the entrance door and grabbing onto the arm of his grandson, a necessity since he fell down some stairs a 12 months in the past.

The St.-Sulpice neighborhood has modified loads since his household arrived, he mentioned. “The outlets used to all promote spiritual objects,” he reminisced. “Now it’s all garments,” and anyplace not promoting costly trend is promoting costly candies and macarons.

However some issues haven’t modified. Turning onto Rue Guisarde, Mr. Heckmann identified the store Au Plat d’Etain, which has been promoting steel navy miniatures since 1775. Throughout the road is Le Bistrot de L’Enfance, a restaurant the place he has been eating for many years and the place younger employees members greeted him warmly, providing a glass of Champagne.

Over grilled fish he talked extra about enterprise, which appears surprisingly brisk for a store so small and a talent so specialised. He mentioned he acquired “about 5 – 6 clients a day coming in for a restore and 5 – 6 to purchase a chunk of vintage ivory.” Mr. Heckmann and his household have collected items over time that appeal to native clients, like Catherine Deneuve, and ivory aficionados from all around the world.

After lunch, two clients stood on the sidewalk ready for the store to reopen. One had a small statue of a Chinese language peasant with a damaged arm that wanted restore. The opposite was Salama Khalfan, a jewellery designer based mostly in Paris and Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. She loves the store, she mentioned, as a result of “I discover inspiration right here.” She was in an ivory chess set; the store has a half dozen or so on show, starting from about 2,000 euros to five,000 euros ($2,260 to $5,655).

Not all of the gadgets are expensive, nevertheless. A small beaded bracelet was €45, a modest quantity reflecting that “ivory jewellery will not be so in style at this time; it’s gone out of trend,” Mr. Heckmann mentioned. It’s why he additionally sells necklaces in lapis lazuli, jade, carnelian and different laborious stones, all displayed in the store window.

And the cabinets and cupboards have been stuffed with different ivory treasures: buttons, handles, the heads of strolling sticks and canes, belt buckles, door knobs just like the one on the store’s entrance door — all with their very own tales, which Mr. Heckmann was blissful to share.

He has no plans to retire. “It’s necessary to maintain working,” he mentioned, as he picked up a bangle with tough edges and gently started to file them clean. So he’ll maintain coming to Rue Bonaparte — each day however Sundays.

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