One of the most fascinating and quaint little museums I have visited this year is Le Musée de la Boissellerie (traditional wooden box industry) in Bois d’Amont, in the Haut-Jura. Housed in an old disused sawmill / une scierie, with walls charged with history, this large museum is situated in a small village, surrounded by magnificent forests of tall spruce trees. In fact, for many centuries these forests, along with the local dairy farms / fromageries, were the main source of income in the valley. Today, these have largerly been replaced by les sports d’hiver, especially by way of popular ski resorts / stations de ski and a stunning golf course / terrain de golf in the neighbouring town of Les Rousses.
La Boissellerie was mostly active in the 19th century, with the confection of pretty but practical wooden boxes/ boîtes de bois destined to contain shoe polish, medecine, or even cheese. The museum houses a large collection of these amazing little boxes, as a whole area is dedicated to the very first machines invented for curling thin strips of wood before glueing them by hand. The activity was usually conducted at the mill during the day time and carried on at home, each night, by women and children.
Each room contains equipment (hydraulic and steam / à vapeur) that has been brought back to life –after laying dormant, or broken, for many years after the factory had closed- by a local group of passionates. For years the team gathered funding and collected first-hand information on how to use each machine, as well as artifacts, photos, anecdotes, etc…. and all these are carefully exhibited in themed rooms and commented on by extremely engaging and knowledgeable guides. The visit is educational, fun and as interactive as can be, with little quizzes and demos along the way.
Other rooms show how the invention of further machines enabled the sawmill to diversify into ski making and –another local specialty- the tavaillon (wooden shingles).
The tavaillon (photo), usually positionned on the south side of buildings and farms here –to protect from both rain and wind- can be traced back to 850 BC, in neighbouring Switzerland. It’s presence here makes sense, partly because it is said to last at least 100 years, despite the harsh weather conditions –much longer than any other coating- but also due to the abondance of spruce trees all around, which would have made the use and transport of tiles or other covering materials less convenient and more costly. This was true at least until the 19th century, when a change in use of farm buildings (housing grain as well as animals) meant the material was deemed too flammable and was thus partially abandonned. Today, it is slowly making a comeback –although very costly- but many beautiful, old examples, can still be admired throughout the valley.
If your skiing, golfing or hiking holidays ever take you to that beautiful, unspoilt area of France, make time to visit this lovely little museum!