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Jura museum is a testament to peasant life

Pictures made from the hair of the dead are one of the museum curiosities swissinfo.ch

In the unassuming village of Develier in canton Jura, lies a cache of some 10,000 objects.

This content was published on December 20, 2001 - 17:54

The Chappuis-Fändrich museum boasts objects which tell the story of life on the farm, local crafts and religious rites over three centuries - from 1650 to 1950.

The collection - housed in a barn - includes furniture, iron objects, religious artefacts, pottery, metal utensils and agricultural tools. It is the result of the painstaking efforts of Marc Chappuis, a native of Develier, and his wife, who are both descended from a long line of small farmers.

The former locomotive mechanic collected and preserved most of the objects himself. He says many were found in second hand shops or were given away by local inhabitants who were renovating their farmhouses.

Chappuis describes the museum as testimony of daily life in an era of Jurassian life marked by poverty, starvation and subsequent mass migrations.

The museum is divided into sections representing different professions, such as blacksmiths, farmers, cheese makers to name but a few.

There are also exact reproductions of rooms, typical of 18th century Jura, such as a bedroom for twin babies, containing a larger-than-usual handcrafted crib and handcrafted toys.

Another reconstruction, which draws a few smiles, is that of a general store, stocking every necessity that local villagers would have bought then, including large blocks of sugar and medicines in corked bottles.

The museum is a private establishment, which does not receive any help from the government. It is open only by appointment, mostly for visitors from other cantons or North America, who come in search of their ancestors' heritage.

American interest

Chappuis says that, during the Potato Blight crisis, which began in Ireland during the 1850s, several Jurassians left the area for a new life on the other side of Atlantic, to escape an acute shortage of food and resources during the harsh winter months.

"The big problem then was to feed oneself, first of all, and for that reason, it was necessary to work long hours, because without working for it, one had no right to food," says Chappuis.

"We had villages of artisans who worked with wood, iron and other materials. Even when I was young, we still had to plough the fields with the help of cows. It was only when I was 20 years old that we got a tractor to work the land."

Among the migrants from the Jura were the legendary Chevrolet family from the village of Bon Fol, which is also known for its unusual pottery, several pieces of which are stocked at the Chappuis museum.

Cadres de cheveux

However, in a time and place where interest in the paranormal has undergone something of a renaissance, an area of the museum, which provokes a lot of interest, is that of death and religion.

This part houses a collection of so-called 'cadres de cheveux' or pictures made from the hair of dead persons, dating back to the 19th century. At first sight, the pictures look like a collection of black, gold or brown silk flowers that wind intimately around each other, but it is the photographs of the deceased within the pictures, which give them a sense of poignancy and eeriness.

According to Chappuis, the cadres de cheveux are particular to Jura as there are no similar art forms in other parts of the Western world. He said that the morbid though beautiful collection could be described as "objects of life from the dead".

Across from the collection is a glass cupboard containing the diaries of priests detailing their exorcism rituals along with wooden crosses and semi-musical objects, known as "takias", which are shaken to create a noise loud enough to frighten evil spirits.

One religious object, which is difficult to avoid in this corner, is a long chain of dried, varnished water chestnuts, full of devilish spikes. Chappuis said that the object belonged to his wife's family and was probably worn by those seeking to exhume their sins.

Love trinkets

One of the prettiest sights at the museum is the array of carved wooden boxes, made by prospective bridegrooms as pre-nuptial trinkets for their fiancées.

Chappuis says the boxes, like several toys and painted cupboards on display at the museum, were cut from cheap resinous wood, mostly of local fir trees, often steeped beforehand in the cold waters of local rivers for several months to rid them of parasites, and to increase their resistance to wear and tear.

The museum also contains a vast collection in the basement of characters of door handles, wrought in black iron in intricate designs that recall the feminine form.

Since the nearby city of Délemont is also home to the world-famous Wenger knives, an assortment of old-fashioned barbers' razors, resembling the classic cutthroats, and early versions of the Swiss army knives are exhibited for the interest of younger visitors to the museum.

by MaryAnn Mathew

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