Traditional handicrafts include ceramics, earthenware, wrought iron, costume jewellery, and artistic glassware. Many of these locally produced items can be found at markets as well as artisan workshops & boutiques.
Glassblowing was developed along the Mediterranean coast of Syria and Palestine and then brought to Provence by the first century AD. The first commercial workshops were producing blown glass vessels and window panes in Aix-en-Provence.
Glass blowing has sine then been a part of Provence, with the need for vessels to store first of all olive oil & wine and later on, perfume. The main centre for glass blowing is in Biot, towards Antibes on the coast. There is a factory that you can visit to watch the glass blowers in action, alongside the showrooms of brightly coloured products for the home, and more artistic pieces for those with deep pockets. Each piece is hand finished, ensuring the quality of the final products. The style tends towards the colourful and the sturdy, with plates, vases, bowls, light fittings and ornaments - something for everyone!
You can find locally produced glassware on sale at most markets as well as some larger outlets.
The history of fabric production in Provence lies back in the 16th century when colourful printed cottons were shipped to Marseille from India. Hugely popular, they were banned in 1686 as French linen, silk & wool manufacturers complained about the competition. Canny textile merchants then moved their factories to the Comtat Venaissin (Papal enclave not subject to the ruling) to make replicas of the Indian materials. Once the ban was lifted, more factories emerged, using similar patterns to the original Indian prints, but with little Provencal emblems being introduced.
Today, the textiles are as popular as ever, with Provencal tablecloths being the quintessential souvenir for many a family. These fabrics can be obtained at many of the Provencal markets, and stores in the main urban areas.
Painting & drawing
Provence has a special mix of unspoilt landscape, beautiful villages & monuments, and an amazing clarity of light brought about by the nearby Alps and the fierce Mistral wind, that has been attracting artists for centuries.
From prehistoric cave paintings near Marseille, to biblical paintings inside the magnificent medieval churches, art has played an enormous part in shaping the Provence we know today.
The Impressionists were brought first by Gustave Caillebotte & Paul Signac, and Vuillard, Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh and Chagall all lived or spent long periods of time here. Paul Cezanne was born here, in Aix en Provence, and he had a lifetime affair with the nearby mountain of Mont St Victoire which feartures heavily in his paintings. Today, major art centres include Nice, St Paul de Vence, Vence, Aix and Arles, although you will find art almost anywhere.
Pottery & ceramics
With prehistoric inhabitants, and Greek & Roman influence, it's no surprise that the creation of clay containers for serving & storing food has a long history. The abundant clay soil, hot climate and plenty of wood to burn in ovens has meant that the production of ceramics has been well established for generations.
Terracotta tiles, earthenware jugs, brightly coloured plates and bowls are all synoymous with images of a Provencal lifestyle. The towns of Salernes and Vallauris are major centres for the production of ceramics, and the town of Bonnieux hosts a large pottery market every Easter. A festival called the Printemps des Potier celebrates pottery and ceramics in Bandol.
As olive trees are abundant in Provence so the use of olive wood in crafts is also common. This rich and beautiful wood is hand crafted into salad servers, cheese boards, bowls and many more items and can be frequently seen for sale around the Provencal markets. Often you will find them being sold by the artist and creator themselves so they can tell you in detail about the wooden item you are purchasing, and the care required for it.