The spirit of the forest
On the fringes
In this valley tucked away deep in the Vosges, Gaston Bachelard’s words resonate: “Forest peace […] is an inner state”. Favoured by sixteenth-century itinerant glassmakers for its rich resources – silica sand, potash from ferns, firewood, and river water – the Saint-Louis forest is also fertile territory for the imagination. Unlikely fables abound, one such being the legend of Houdada, who runs between the trees crying “hoo-da-da”, his head wedged beneath his right arm.
Vosges du Nord
The forest is fundamental to the existence of the Saint-Louis Manufacture, on whose border it is built. It acts as both home and rampart, a space that must be traversed, like the frontier to a different dimension. The sandy soil of dark pink sandstone, rich in marine sediments, is used to build the foundations and decorate the facades of houses, creating a shared harmony between the forest and the surrounding villages, and evoking, under the low skies of the Vosges, the sunny golden hues of distant Italian towns.
Vosges du Nord
Although the Saint-Louis forest has not belonged to the Manufacture since the 1970s, the 500 inhabitants of the village of Saint-Louis-lès-Bitche continue to enjoy its riches; cutting firewood and gathering mushrooms in the chilly days of autumn, fishing for red crayfish and watching the migration of the black storks in the summer heat.
This strange character is linked to Saint Livier, who in the fifth century was beheaded by the Huns in Marsal near Metz, and is depicted on a pillar of the Saint-Louis church. He can appear at any moment without warning, like the White Lady who kidnaps newlyweds, or the demonic elf that rides on the backs of weary travellers. The stories from the Saint-Louis forest all share a similar fate, stumbling into an inaudible decline before the story’s end.
The sense of incompleteness offers limitless possibilities, from the absurd to the extraordinary and the creative. A breeze rustles the branches, the wind blows freely, sunlight flickers. In the Saint-Louis forest, some see bubbles of crystal taking on new forms.