First encounter of the outsider kind – meeting Danielle Jacqui

About 10 years ago, I was driving along a rural road in Pont-de-l’Etoille in southern France, near Marseilles. We turned a corner and whizzed past a house, completely covered in mosaics.  I shouted at my partner to stop the car and ran back to see this peculiar row house – a sparking treasure chest on the side of the road. As luck would have it, a woman was standing inside an open studio door. That’s when I met Danielle Jacqui. The top banner of this blog is posted with the deepest respect for “She Who Paints.”

The mosaic house

Danielle was somewhat wary as I approached, no doubt wondering who this unannounced stranger was. Using my partner as a translator, I babbled on about the magnificence of her house, nearly genuflecting at the front door. Still reserved but gracious, she invited us into her studio. To describe it as a studio is not really accurate – her whole house, inside and out, is a work of art. The “studio” double doors open onto the narrow sidewalk and let light into the grotto-like space. A work table was covered with the tools of her trade – paints, buttons, ceramic pieces, a collection of colourful bits and pieces. Hanging on the wall were heavily textured paintings, hand-made cloth dolls, and over-sized white shirts, which she embroiders with patterns and decorates with vintage buttons.

Nothing could prepare me for the magnitude of Danielle Jacqui’s project. When I say that the entire house is covered with a colourful mosaic of mirror pieces and ceramic chips, I mean the entire house. Every wall, inside and outside, every ceiling, every surface, tables, chairs… you name it – it’s covered with mosaic. It’s breathtaking and dazzling. Some of the patterns are decorative, some are faces, animals, or fantasy themes.  Every single inch of it is gorgeous.

Danielle's button

I stopped to look at her pile of vintage buttons. My mother had a metal box of buttons that I used to play with as a child. It is a battered blue metal box, labelled “Edgeworth extra high grade sliced pipe tobacco.” I assume that it belonged to her father, a pipe smoker, who died before I was born.  I would dump the buttons onto the floor, examine the shapes and colours, and marvel how something so ordinary could be so beautiful. That box of buttons is a treasure that I still keep in my closet. It is a container of personal history. Danielle  offered me one of her buttons. I picked out my favourite and promised to send one of my own to her in return – a strange, but meaningful acceptance ritual. I suppose one of my  mother’s old buttons has been sewn onto one of Danielle’s creations and a happy collector is oblivious to its origin. What an extraordinary fate for a simple button.