Heritage.  High school students plead to save endangered work of art

Heritage. High school students plead to save endangered work of art

Allocating 10,000 euros to a work of art in danger in order to restore it… this is the challenge taken up by a class of high school students from Montfort-sur-Meu, in Brittany. For a year, four groups each took up the cause of a treasure, before defending it in an eloquence competition.

DIn front of the whiteboard, suspense builds as the student designated as scrutineer records the voting results . The second 5 class, spread across the stands of the amphitheater, salutes the points scored: “La Baussaine is going to win, too strong! » “Montfort goes back: yes ! » Céline Morvan, their history and geography teacher, calms them with a discreet gesture of the hand. In the center of the arena, the officials get involved in the game, half-smiling, half-tense: to which of the four towns of Ille-et-Vilaine in the running will the high school students from Montfort-sur-Meu offer a check 10,000 euros? The mayor of La Baussaine knows he is the favorite: the group which defended the restoration of the 15th century double baptistery of the Saint-Léon church, located in the center of his town, has spoken well. Big boys of around fifteen, very comfortable, a little show-off, who pointed out, fascinated, the fact that Stéphane Bern had selected this church from the Heritage lottery list. They are also very happy to have found on the Internet, for their projection, a photo of the mayor accompanied by Emmanuel Macron… Laughter guaranteed in the room when it appeared on the large central screen.

“These, compared to the other groups, have not delved much into the issue,” however, whispered a representative of the Region to her neighbor during the presentation. Because if the operation “High school students discovering the largest museum in France” ends with an eloquence competition on April 15, 2024 at the René-Cassin high school in Montfort-sur-Meu, the oral is not enough ! Sitting on their stands, the seven girls and the only boy of the team defending the restoration of The death of Saint Joseph , a 19th century sculpted group located in the eponymous chapel in the very center of Montfort, are regaining hope as the gap with their candidate narrows. “Yet those who defended the tabernacle of Langouët or the baptismal font of La Baussaine were better than us,” thinks Océane, who almost changed her vote before remaining faithful to her own project.

Their presentation in front of the principal, his assistant, the vice-president of the Region, the representatives of the four municipalities, those of the Safeguarding of French Art, which carried the project, also in front of several journalists… was tough. Especially since the teacher had designated them to speak first! Dressed in an elegant black jacket, Mandoura played the mistress of ceremonies by unfolding the plan of the presentation before announcing: “We are going to tell you the history of the Saint-Joseph chapel and prove to you that repairing the statue would highlight. » Titouan continued with the history of the place then Anaïs took charge of the description of the work: “We see Joseph, the main character, dying. On the left, he is supported by his son, Jesus, on the right, by his wife, Mary. » She discovered the history of the Holy Family during this work and concludes: “It is therefore an important sculpture for believers and atheists. »

“It’s a shame that they read their file a little too much,” regrets Céline Morvan while observing them. Taking her turn to speak, Océane provoked smiles with one of her arguments: “The chapel deserves an extremely meticulous restoration and needs this money because the work will cost more than 10,000 euros, unlike other works that need less! » The young girl is well aware that she should look up from her text but, stressed by this first speaking in public, cannot do so. She concludes: “In addition, the sculpture has a major advantage: it is located near the high school, so we will be able to follow the restoration! »

While the groups follow one another, praising “their” work of art with pride, Céline Morvan reviews the stages of this long work. For half a day a week, the young woman, a relay professor at the Musée de Bretagne in Rennes, writes educational files linked to an exhibition, helps mediators respond to requests from school groups… In June of last year , she opens an email from the Academy explaining that we are looking for a volunteer high school to participate in a competition around heritage. This involves having a second year class work on four works of art belonging to as many municipalities, located around the establishment, before having them vote for their favorite which will then be awarded an amount of 10 000 euros paid by the Region for its restoration. The aim of the La Sauvegarde de l'art français foundation is to send students to discover their local heritage, to introduce them to the history of art and the issues of restoration. “What a good idea, very concrete, which will empower students and take their work seriously! » says the teacher, always ready to welcome a project that gives each school year a unique color. She immediately applies for the next school year.

On October 12, 2023, at the René-Cassin high school, the competition opens with a morning presentation in the second 5 class of which Céline Morvan is principal professor. When the amount of the check they will have to award is announced, the thirty teenagers, slumped a little on their desks, raise their heads, a spark lights up in their eyes: “Wow, so this is really an important project! ” asks young Anaïs astonished.

On November 20, early in the morning, the whole class met at the Saint-Joseph chapel, a few hundred meters from the high school. . Marcelle Le Guellec, first deputy mayor, in charge of Culture, ushers them in: “Welcome to this place that we wish to restore little by little and enhance by opening it for exhibitions and cultural events. » “Did you know this chapel?” » asks Yann Baron, heritage manager of the municipality. “No,” murmur the majority of the students, impressed, who remain crowded towards the door. Some, like Océane, have already gone ahead, but that's all. At the back of the chapel stands out a large sculpted group. “What feeling do these statues express? » says Stéphane Gautier, the department's curator of art objects who selected the four works in the competition. “Sadness” replies one of them. “Yes but still? » “There is affection,” adds a girl. Another nods: “Joseph died of old age, in peace. It's good. » Mandoura approves: she is one of the few to know the life of Joseph, because religions have recently interested her and she remembers reading this story in a book. But this is only the second time she has entered a church.

Examining the work closely, a high school student points out that it is dirty and missing hands. “We say “dusty”, corrects Stéphane Gautier, smiling. And yes, it will be necessary to redo – restore – or put back together the missing pieces. » The students, diligently, try to fill out their form intended to collect information. “What will happen if we don’t restore? » asks one of them. Yann Baron responds: “Unfortunately, it will deteriorate more and more, like the entire chapel. But we are working to have it protected by the State. We say “register” on the list of Historic Monuments. » Then the students board a beautiful red bus to discover the three other works, along a circuit of around thirty kilometers which will take the rest of the day. Their teacher reminds them that they will group together according to the work they most want to defend. Titouan, who draws a lot, has already made his choice in favor of these impressive sculptures whose realistic workmanship he admires.

The following April 12, in the bright documentation and information center of the high school, the chairs are rearranged in circles and the computers taken out for the last group work session. “Madam, can I open my laptop to retrieve images that I took during the visit? » “Madam, how do I print?” »… Calmly, Céline Morvan passes among them, answers questions, gives some final advice. At the table where the eight students who defend the colors of the sculpted group of Montfort have gathered, he is shown the ideas that must be put forward: “It is good to say that the restoration will cost more than the 10,000 euros, comments the teacher, but be careful, this argument can turn against you! Transform it into a positive: say for example that this sum, if not sufficient, can still make it possible to launch the project… And then don't write “building”, that means construction site. »

“We are going to replace it with chapel,” agree Océane, Anaïs, Mandoura and Titouan, the four of the group who will speak, while the four other girls take care of editing the images that will be projected. In fact, Yann Baron communicated by email with these young people and gave them large photos of details of the sculpture and its problems. The school bell suddenly rings to signal lunch time and growing teenagers rush to the cafeteria, even if it means finishing work at home this weekend. “Don't forget your USB keys on Monday with your presentation! » shouts Céline Morvan to them, as a last instruction before the big day.

This April 15, civic education requires, the teacher installed in the high school amphitheater a voting booth, a transparent ballot box and even blue envelopes . “All this material comes from the town hall,” she explains to the principal. Forcing the admiration of adults, a disciplined queue formed in front of the voting booth. “I joined the tabernacle group because there weren't enough people,” one of them openly admits. “But I prefer to vote for the baptismal font. Well… for my friends.” But most invoke the secrecy of the vote to refuse to confide their choice to the adults who came to speak to them while waiting.

The counting continues with the last ballots: “Montfort-sur-Meu wins by one vote, with ten votes! » announced the scrutinizing student in a loud voice while the applause rang out. Marcelle Le Guellec stands up and turns to face the students: “I am very moved that you are interested in our little chapel. Contrary to what your comrades seemed to say during the other presentations, it is not because we are a small town and not a village that we are rich! Especially since we have an important heritage. We will never forget your contribution to its restoration. »

While the students rush for the souvenir photo in front of the giant check which confirms their choice, Céline Morvan thinks about next year: too bad she won't be able to start again, with another second year class. Because the Region will choose candidate high schools in other departments. But a new challenge awaits her: she has just obtained the opening of an Art History option to further raise high school students' awareness of the beauty that surrounds them. Océane, Titouan, Mandoura, Anaïs and their friends, for their part, promise to closely follow, next year, the stages of the restoration of these large sculptures which now somewhat belong to them.

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