The Museum’s History : an inheritance of more than 400 years old
The town of Méru, located about 50km from Paris, in the north and close to the borders with the Ile de France region, has long been the cradle of an important Tablet-making (in French: Tabletterie) activity.
From the 17thcentury, peasants in the surrounding countryside produce Tablet-making’s objects at home during winter months, this season being fruitless for agriculture.
They work on natural materials such as mother of pearl, bones, ivory, tortoiseshell and ebony.
Thus they make luxurious objects such as fans, dance cards or more useful items like buttons or dominoes.
In the 19th century, Tablet-making knows a spectacular development. In the 20th century, it becomes industrialized and the Pays de Thelle is known as one of the most important European centre of buttons’ production with more than 10 000 people working in the buttons’ industry in the 1910’s.
Tablet-making has become the prominent activity in the region. Its production used to supply the international market, this earned Méru the nickname “World Capital of the Mother of Pearl”.
The Mother of Pearl Museum ‘s creating
In the seventies, a small group of people fond of local history, aware of the coming disappearance of the Tablet-making, begins to think of establishing a museum. They are rapidly joined by several associations concerned with culture. Together, they save a great numbers of machines and items sprung from this traditional industry.
They do interviews, collect testimonies and photographs, thus allowing to keep an important memory for the regional identity.
The project of museum takes concrete form in 1992 with the founding of the District des Sablons (Today: Communauté de Communes des Sablons).
With the support of the region, of the State and of the department, in 1999 the Mother of Pearl Museum is established after three years of construction work.
AMuseum in a factory of the 19th century
The Mother of Pearl Museum is situated in a huge building, a typical example of the vast installations born from the industrial revolution.
Initially owned by M. Fessart, merchant of wood, mother of pearl and dye in bulk, who initiated the construction in 1859 and ended it in 1887, the plant became the property of M. Dégremont in 1892.
After 1920, under the appellation “Méruvienne industry”, the factory changed several times of owner.
In 1965, The Desmarest and Co settled there but used it only as a warehouse.
The building closed in 1972 and was only re-opened in 1999 as The Mother of Pearl Museum (Musée de la Nacre et de la Tabletterie).
Meanwhile, it had been registered in l’Inventaire Supplémentaire des Monuments Historiques (Historical Monuments Supplementary Inventory).
About a hundred blue-collars used to work inside the 1200 m² of the Dégremont’s factory. The functioning of the workshops was possible thanks to a steam engine located in the centre of the main building.
A lively Museum"
One of the originalities of the Mother of Pearl Museum is the reconstruction of a part of the workshops with the original machines.
In its workshops, where the traditional bone and ebony dominoes were made, the museum has rebuilt the workplace of M. Tartare who used to be a bones cutting machine operator and dominoes driller from 1940 to 1970.
All the gestures that need to be carried out in order to design a dominoes game are showed and explained during guided tours.
Similarly, in its reconstructed and truly steam-driven workshop, tour guides show visitors the traditional steps of the mother of pearl buttons’ production.
Multimedia devices and an audiovisual montage complete the visit.
Beautiful fans and many other tablet making’s objects are also presented to the sight of the visitors.
Finally, with the purpose of preserving and passing on the know-how that has been acquired for centuries, the museum keeps producing varied items sold in its free shop access and offers a restoration service for objects made of mother of pearl.
The expansion of the Mother of Pearl Museum
The rehabilitation and the fitting of a former wing of the Factory Degremont made possible in 2010 the creation of new spaces.
Thanks to a new area of 200 m² divided into modular volumes, temporary exhibitions can be welcomed: they present original collections or masterpieces.
Besides, two rooms are reserved for school or extracurricular groups.
The running of educational and entertaining workshops is designed to make their visit instructive but also enjoyable.
A seminar room entirely equipped welcomes groups in a pleasant setting as well.
Eventually, the tearoom, benefiting from a view over the landscape behind the museum, offers a cosy and gourmet relaxing space.