Publication: Essay of social transformation in the Picassiette disctrict in Chartres

30 years of social and urban transformation of a popular district in the French city of Chartres thanks to the practice of the mosaic by its inhabitants.

Inspired by the work of Raymond Isidore, known as Picassiette, the district development committee (in French “Régie de quartier”) of the Hauts-de-Chartres — an insertion structure through economic activity supported by the State services — has been applying since it was established a particular approach of social accompaniment and urban development.

Picassiette, the sweeper who turned artist …

When the district development committee was set up in 1989, its inhabitants evoked the memory of the cemetery’s sweeper, a waste-bin collector who had decorated the walls of his house with broken plates. The locals still kept in mind the history and example of Raymond Isidore, a.k.a. Picassiette, the sweeper who freed his creativity to become a mosaic artist.

His work gave Patrick Macquaire, responsible for supporting the district’s rehabilitation, the inspiration for a singular structure, that of a district development committee, kingpin of a reconstruction of the zone and its people.

Patrick Macquaire told the story in his book “Essai de transformation sociale dans le quartier Picassiette à Chartres” . The French version is published by L’Harmattan Paris in the collection ‘Educateurs et Préventions’. Also available in Italian under the title “Il quartiere Picassiette, arte del mosaico e transformazione sociale a Chartres”.

From a transit city to a ghetto

“The history of the Hauts-de-Chartres and its district development committee, is the story of time and slowness: that of the mosaicist who tirelessly cuts each of his tesserae to obtain a unique creation; that of the ethnologist who rebuilds a neighborhood and gives it a soul” Renée Malaval, Mosaic Magazine.

The district of the Hauts-de-Chartres was a post-war transit city that turned, in 20 years, into a ghetto, a no man’s land left to its fate, and whose population suffered a high rate of unemployment and delinquency.

In order to enable the inhabitants to rebuild themselves socially, it was necessary to involve them in the rehabilitation of their neighborhood. Solicited to decorate the streets of mosaics, the population adopted the approach of this local mosaic artist sweeper.

Repairing through the mosaic

Today, the district development committee has 6 social integration workshops (households, interviews, green space, mosaics, wood and maintenance). These workshops are aimed at an audience estranged from employment and society.

The realisation of artistic and rewarding activities, such as mosaic, and the organisation of cultural events related to this practice, makes it possible to repair their conception of labour and nourishes their need for recognition.

Among its achievements, the mosaic workshop of the district development committee counts the decoration of the stairwells of the new buildings of the Hauts-de-Chartres, the installation of megaliths partly covered with mosaic and the signposting of the pilgrims’ route of St. Jacques de Compostela.

About the author:

Patrick Macquaire was born in 1953 in Germany. As an educator and ethnologist, he mainly focused on street work and urban social development. During 25 years, he managed a social center, set up a district development committee, created the International Meeting of Mosaïque and the exhibitions of the chapel Saint-Eman in Chartres. He is the author of “Le cercle des homards”, prize of the Insular Fair for Books of Ouessant (Ed. Petra, Paris 2013).


Learn more:
  • Pictures of the neighbourhood and its mosaic streets and walls
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Below, the mosaic portrait of Patrick Macquaire by Gérard Brand, an artist from Obernay.

Publication: Essay of social transformation in the Picassiette disctrict in Chartres