For more than 60 years, strange eccentrics meet every summer in "Lurs-en-Provence" to redo typography in particular and the world in general. In a climate of camaraderie, under the Provençal sun, perched on a rock, all the faces of typography are disserted.
As an amateur, as a passionate person, these Rencontres ("Meetings", "Encounters") have attracted me for a long time. Essential in the small world of typography and graphics, everyone knows them, but few have been there.
From then on, a certain mystery reigns over these Encounters. Meeting Lure or Lurs? 61 or 63 in 2013? Who hides behind Maximilian Vox's pseudonym? What is a "Coup de bleu"? Here are as many mysteries to solve!
We therefore propose you an article to immerse yourself in the history of these Rencontres...
Above, a photo showing Justin Gregoire, Oppède's teacher, and his masks for the representation of "King Lure" (Caractère Noël 1963). For the detail, it is Justin Gregoire companion of the first hours who will draw the "hand of the Lure oath"... it will remind something to all the stomachs Lursiens who make the line empty...
The Rencontres Internationales de Lure always hold their main event in Lurs, every year, the last full week of August. Gathered in La Chancellerie, a building donated to the Association by Maximilien Vox in the heart of the village of Lurs, the Companions discover, confront and discuss the problems of typography, type design, layout, new technologies and, more generally, everything that will make the future of their profession.
Faithful to their tradition, these Meetings mix the most eminent professionals, the masters of their discipline, less renowned professionals, but in search of excellence and the young generations already in practice or still studying. From 1970, under the impetus of Gérard Blanchard, the association gradually opened up to everyone.
We invite you to discover their website to learn more: http://delure.org
A priori this question does not make much sense for anyone who has never sought to go to Lure.
But then, why do the Rencontres de Lure take place in Lurs?
Let's start by making a small detour to the news section...
On the night of 4 to 5 August 1952, three Englishmen, Sir Jack Drummond, 61, a scientist, his wife Anne Wilbraham, 45, and their 10-year-old daughter Elizabeth were murdered near their car near La Grand'Terre, the Dominici family farm, in the commune of Lurs (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence). Patriarch Gaston Dominici has been charged with the triple murder.
The trial began on 17 November 1954. Moving crowds, it has an international scope and mobilizes several French writers, including Jean Giono and Armand Salacrou. Gaston Dominici, rude and not very talkative, presents an awkward defense. During a hearing, Commissioner Prudhomme de Digne reluctantly concedes to have suggested the sexual motive to the accused. He will be sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 1957, President Coty commuted the sentence and on July 14, 1960 General de Gaulle pardoned and released Gaston Dominici. The case was followed by many journalists, both French and foreign.
Jean Giono as a neighbour of Manosque (20km from Lurs) will be very involved in this story, he will study in particular the differences between the language of the accused (30 to 35 words according to him) and that of the court of assizes (several thousand words). It is a bit like the trial of peasant France against city France. Giono will also write an essay on the case ("Notes on the Dominici case").
Above: Lucien Jacques, Maximilien Vox, Jean Garcia, Jean Giono (Photograph © R. Ranc, 1952)
Giono and Maximilien Vox have an old friendship. Indeed, after the war, Jean Giono was blacklisted for a publication ban. He is accused of having published in a collaborationist journal. Without getting into the debate of this troubled period, some printers, including Maximillien Vox, will bypass censorship. "A warm friendship for Giono" will bring Vox closer to Provence.
At that time, Lurs was one of those ghost villages that can be found in the Lower Alps (now the Alpes de Haute Provence). Giono is particularly fond of these places. Not having a car, he will take advantage of Vox's visits to go there. This last falling in love with the place will buy several houses. It is at the entrance of the village that he will settle. It will be the "Monodière" (Note this name, we'll come back to it!).
Maximilien Vox then had the idea of bringing all his friends, typographers, editors, photographers, etc. to Lurs to reflect on their professions far from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Jean Giono then assured him: You will succeed because you will speak profession!
The first Rencontres began in 1952 under the name École de Lure or École de la montagne de Lure or Entretiens de Lurs. Initially simple annual reunions between friends, the Encounters were quickly enriched by foreign participants, and were constituted in association on April 15, 1957 under the name "Associations des Compagnons de Lure. Founded by Vox and Jean Garcia (typographers) and Robert Ranc (director of the Estienne school), the association became the Rencontres Internationales de Lure.
In 1935, Giono and some friends are accidentally stuck in the hamlet of Contadour during a hike on the mountain of Lure (They decide, captivated by the beauty of the place, to meet regularly there: thus are born the Rencontres du Contadour. During 4 years, Le Contadour becomes a place of well-being, we live outdoors, we discuss, we read (from poems to sketches of Giono's future works), we listen to music, we walk on the deserts of the plateau by remaking the world.
In these Encounters, "The only point on which it is impossible to compromise is the love of Peace" (Pierre Citron, Giono, Le Seuil, 1995). Threats of war lead to reflections on what to do if conflict breaks out. We think of entrenching ourselves on the low-alpine heights, of living in autarky, we wish for actions, but Jean Giono avoids giving ready-made answers. He does not want to be the director of conscience of his friends, even if he is deeply pacifist. His first job is to write...
In September 1939, the meeting was interrupted by the declaration of war. It will be the last, with ultimately disenchantment and strong disillusionment.
This story of Rencontres sur la Montagne de Lure, will strongly mark Giono, and when Maximilien Vox and his friends land in the ruins of Lurs, 20 km from the Lure mountain, it is as much to avoid the infamous name of "Lurs" (with the Dominici affair) as to please Giono that the name "Rencontre de Lure" will be chosen.
Others more qualified than I will speak of the worker: for no one more than Maximilian Vox has added to the nobility of this word; I will simply speak of a quality of man. A picture shows us both, from behind, walking along a small canal that enters the hills. We are passing under aspens.
It's a path on which I have my habits, I've been walking there almost every day for forty years. I know every stone, every plant. The aspens under which we pass, I saw them coming out of the grass. A chestnut tree which is further away comes from a chestnut which I pushed with my foot. I've seen the acacias grow. The area that is overgrown with elder trees was once quite clear, and from there you could see the distant Alps and Mount Viso. I planted acorns for fun, which are now trees with trunks as big as my thigh. In some years, the banks of this canal have been invaded by wild carnations. A long time later, the wild carnations disappeared and it was on a carpet of immortals that I passed. Around 1912, all this canal was buried under brown rushes. At the very spot where we are photographed, I unravelled for several late fall on soft ground the prints of a fox that was teaching her little foxes to jump. I mean, this road is more than my property. Everything he has brought me over the past forty years gives me, when I go through it, a certain look made of all my enrichments.
Maximilien Vox had been in Manosque since the day before this photo was taken. He was coming to this country for the first time. He has to walk in my familiar places the same pace as me. It comes from a grace I know. It is a liveliness of mind that makes him understand everything at the very moment when he approaches something new for him. He is not the only one to have this quality, but where it becomes a grace is that his intelligence alone is not employed there and that quite naturally he employs at the same time his heart. From there an ability to participate in perceived sensations or actions performed by others, but to such a degree of sympathy that others always feel increased by themselves and never shared between them and him.
If he goes the same way as you on the first day he accompanies you under the trembles you have known for more than forty years, he goes the same way as you in your feelings and in your research, but since he does not abdicate his personality, on the contrary, you see better what you saw badly. The symbiosis is so perfect and so tactful that you never have to say: "He made me see": and yet that is what he did. He's going the same way he is.
At this point, we can obviously no longer talk about modesty. But I would like many of those who still believe they are going their own way to read my modest homage.
In 2012, the 60th anniversary of the Encounters was celebrated. The birth of the meetings is thus officially fixed at the year 1952.
Now, the special issue n°13 of December 1960 of the magazine Caractère (published every "Christmas" from 1949 to 1964 by Maxilien Vox) celebrates Year X of the Encounters ! The meetings would thus be 63 years old in 2013 and not 61 years !
I must admit however that I am not qualified enough to judge this question... I would let Lure's specialists correct me in the comments! I invite you to read the extracts below (or in fax-simile pdf version) of the magazine Caractère de Noël to get an idea of my allegations... :-) This will allow you to immerse yourself in the "spirit of Lure", as it could be presented by Vox himself...
On Monday 22 August, at 10 a.m., the Chancellor opened the sitting and said...
The other evening, we left at dusk, and in the early morning, we saw daybreak over Provence. We had camped in the ruins of an abandoned town without a soul, on a wild ridge; eaten under the abalone, drank the water from the well, sang around the campfire - between the moon and the lightning - slept in the deserted church, and broke my car. It is a beautiful memory; we were five - a maquisard, a sportsman from the sanas, two Hungarians, and the person in charge of this retreat. Something to understand.
And just now, on the eve of the dawn, your Chancellor came to meditate in this Chancellery which was the cradle of his hopes, of your effort, of our success. The myths here have a young life. On the Montagne de Lure, the pink fingers of the Aurora awakened in my heart, oh friendly faces, a need for recognition. To tell you, while the time is right, thank you.
Thank you for being here, and for being you. Thank you for being so numerous... and thank you for not being more so. Because we are in the country, as our Giono says, "of non-demeasurement" and your community has found its right proportions.
It is up to him to concentrate on his just ideal.
You will have a memorable session: the Rendez-vous de Lure, on the simplest call, has gathered its optimum figure: 80 entries for the title of Companion achieve the perfect quorum that for so many years...
By the way, how long has it been? You had, at the T.P.G., or at the arrival, the small brochure published by a foundry which is interested in us. She explains why, in order to align ourselves with the whole of the Graphic Movement of the Half-Century, this time we mark Year X on the Lurs-en-Provence calendar.
In those ten years, the city has lived again. They did not think folklore, regionalism, or archaeology, the pioneers who planted the graphics, like a bouquet, at the top of this city where everything was to be rebuilt. Today, it receives water, light, roads, authorities, publicity and subsidies. Artists, printers, papermakers, photo-engravers - are joined by prefects, bishops, deputies, generals, presidents and councillors, industry magnates. We're their strength too, at least, that they are ours.
For what cannot be replaced, what makes Lurs unique - it is you, my friends, your individuality. Your people. Your faces. This living community of living beings.
It would be imprudent to try to imitate the recipe before deepening the secret. I want to make it clear that you are home, here, in the legal sense of the word. The buildings of the Chancellery and the Community, patrimony constituted with various aids under the name of my family, are going to be constituted by it in contribution of the Association of the Companions of Lure in a Real estate Company.
You thus have the permanent disposition of your two buildings; more, during our retreats, the use of the Priory - which is the property of the other association of the same type that I direct: the Cultural Center of Haute-Provence, whose monthly sessions are devoted to the economy, sociology, means of expression.
That, let us hope, is clear. The École de Lure, I would remind you, has neither to fear nor hope to be relieved of its responsibilities by other industries, as it has apparently been insinuated.
What the graphic profession has done for the Graphic Retreat is, compared to some people and firms, considerable. With regard to capital and labour expenditures, time and money, it remains, to use a term that shocked, an obole.
At a time when a global movement is taking Lurs as its rallying centre - you have the right to consider another scale.
In any case, our Association - tomorrow of public utility - has, I do not hide, a priority of fact and a moral option on the financial efforts which remain to be accomplished on behalf of the graphic industries, on the territory of the commune
Companions of Year X, the Revolution of the Half-Century is under way.
You carry it inside you. It is a lively and healthy reaction between new technical and social conditions - and an eternal spiritual experience like the laws of thought.
Typography will live on, will continue on its momentum already half a millennium, because we make it - and all those around the world who think with us - the instrument par excellence of Mental Culture, which is the profound need of our time. This point of view dominates questions of art, craft and education.
At the forefront of man's struggle to remain himself, there is the Letter, printing, Graphics.
The Rendez-vous de Lurs 1960, let us repeat, marks the flood level after which it is no longer possible to recruit in quantity: communities, like everything else, are governed by the law of numbers, by a golden rule.
We can only improve quality within and between us.
We must share the tasks - and accomplish them; work individually in solidarity. The École de Lure is a community of people. We will set up "action commissions", not to talk about the issues, but to follow them. To mix the concrete. The communications that you will hear, the discussions in which you will take part, the performances that will be offered to you will have, between their own value, that of proceeding from a method: from a discipline of the mind.
Each one of us now bears his share of responsibility, in community, towards an outside world that is often out of line, anarchic, in constant conflict of individualism, of interests, of sentimental, pecuniary or purely stupid servitudes.
There is no doctrine of Lurs in the sense of dogmas and postulates; there would be one, if by that we mean an attitude of intelligence, a certain "curvature of the soul".
It is incarnated in buildings, acts, works. Joy and sorrow. In an organization built like our houses, stone by stone. And in men.
I will name only two, among this crowd of friendships, talents and loyalty. On your behalf, I greet the presence of an animator of the very first retreat, of the always youthful dean that is Pierre Oly, prince between the founders, Dutch from Brussels. And that of the great French writer, philosopher and academic Jean Guitton, who freely came to the call of his fellow captives Garcia and Bertrand.
You will discover each other, meet each other again: friendships are formed and re-soaked in Lurs. You are at work, Companions; you will, for the most part, see and do great things.
Let me now wish you a safe journey and a good hunt: for the time has come to remember that I was "born in the nineteenth century", and to remember the conclusion of the memoirs of the late Chateaubriand, a very considerable character..:
It's six in the morning. I see the moon pale and enlarged. It lowers itself on the arrow of the Invalids, barely revealed by the first golden ray of the East. Looks like the old world ends and the new begins. I see the reflections of an aurora whose sun I will not see. I've only got....
But you know the end. All I have to do now, dear Companions, is raise to you this glass that is not imaginary, and carry your health-
Maximilian Vox. August 1960. Christmas character 1960.
Lurs, this low-alpine village known the world over for a sinister affair, is also a high place of the Letter. For the past ten years, a community of artists, printers, engravers, inventors and type founders, united around Maximilien Vox, has gathered here.
Last month, I lived a few days with them in this strange village where you can see the sky of Provence through ruined windows, huge letters of an unknown alphabet, biting on the azure like the letter bites on white paper.
And I thought at length about the mystery of the Letter. What a curious invention Gutenberg made. With about twenty strange signs, small closed drawings, being able to reproduce all human thoughts.
A newspaper is never but one of the possible combinations (that an electronic machine in the infinity of time could produce) of a few letters: they compose the furtive image of the world called current events; they give it a black, immobile, monumental splendour, like a mourning woman. I remember my joy at being printed for the first time - and that would remain if I were no longer afraid to be read.
Cursive writing does not detach itself enough from my nerves and gestures. But when, through the detour of the Letter, your thought detaches itself from you and appears to you with such rigour and equality, especially when you feel that you are forever fixed, that no fault can be rectified, that your murmur has become sculpture - then you understand that the Letter is magic. In captivity, we had an exhibition of the Letter, asked for autographs. And Claudel had written to Garcia that if he had chosen the name Sygne for the hostage's heroin, it was because of the double curvature of the capital S.
But who tells me that the Letter will always exist? I see her threatened by the film technique, the LP technique. It seems that the black novel on records, which can be listened to while washing or cleaning, threatens the book. Perhaps we will see tiny sound films that will be shown on small screens and that will be the books of tomorrow.
Then we won't read anymore. We'll just see and hear. What spins will replace what flips, what spells. We will have done without the alphabet, this circuit by abstraction, this so complicated parenthesis.
In fact, to replace what we see, what we feel with little black signs; what we palpate, with arbitrary words, what subtle and useless substitution! Could we not return to sound and image, to elementary shock without this passage through the Letter and the School?
Wouldn't that be finding what was at the beginning, when things themselves entered you through the two open doors of the eye and the ear? Plato and Peguy (who wrote everything) did the writing trial. Scripture is idolatrous. She replaces the thing with the little god of sign, who demands interpreter and teacher and so many squatting scribes. Television, getting the miracle of direct contact, throws us the presence of the world and the face. It removes the middlemen and all masks. In her close-ups, she forces the man to be in front of you only what he is. It operates the return of the Letter to the image. It is really the opposite of printing, and undoubtedly, as André Brincourt says, a revolution as profound in its effects tomorrow.
In my opinion, the problem of culture is to make them compete. The Letter that the School teaches takes the spirit away from the thing to allow it to know its meaning and consequently to see well. Television brings back from the Letter to the Image, what happens in the flesh itself; and in this way it allows the thing to be placed under the gaze of the sign and thus to read well. Lettre and Télé should not oppose each other, but lead each other in a beautiful circuit.
Chronicle by Jean Guitton published in the Figaro of 6/10/1960.
The internal regulations specified in its first article: The Rendez-vous de Lure is an International Graphic Retreat, organized annually by the Association des Compagnons de Lure, in the houses of the Monod-Vox Foundation in Lurs (Basses-Alpes).
The Compagnons de Lure subscribe to the oath written by Maximilien Vox in 1953: "By the incarnate verb, by Alpha and by Omega, by the mountain of Lure, I vow to despise the lucre, to renounce the gloriole, and to serve the spirit". Maximilian Vox, 1953 (see the oath here).
For those (like me) who don't know the meaning of the word "profit", it is a pejorative term for gain, profit or profit. It's the same root as "lucrative"... If this oath, which may seem a bit outdated today, sums up well the philosophy of these Meetings. We are far from the elitist and Parisian agitation, no advertising, no boasting, the number of registered is voluntarily limited (~ 80 people). We must not forget that Maximilien Vox comes from an illustrious family of Protestant pastors. This family line goes back to Jean Monod (1765-1836), an influential Swiss pastor. Wikipedia presents the illustrious descendants of this "Jean Monod"... we meet some beautiful people!
(For the curious ones of "Monod" this site is made for you: www.famillemonod.com)
You will have understood, Maximilien Vox was born Samuel Monod. Perhaps his name would have spoken more to the general public if he had kept his last name. This is the case for his brother Théodore Monod, a great explorer, naturalist and humanist thinker who devoted his life to the study of the desert. Theodore's choice of monastic life in the desert is not unlike the spirit of simplicity and humanity that presided over the foundation of the Rencontres de Lure. Now you probably understand better the choice of the "Monodière" to name her house at the entrance of Lurs.
In this illustrious family dedicated to the "text", another Monod is going to get stuck for the image: Jean-Luc Godard ! He's Vox's nephew.
Then why a pseudonym?
You have to immerse yourself in Samuel Monod's youth to understand why. He began his career as a political cartoonist in the newspaper "L'Humanité" still under the direction of Jean Jaurès at the time. From 1914, he chose his path: journalism, drawing, and art. These choices are not to the liking of her conservative family, who ask her to change her profession or change her name! It'll be Maximilian Vox.
But why that name?
Maurice Darmon, during a conference in 1997 at the École des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, offers us some answers.
He tells that to this question Vox generally answered "The family name under which I was born was by itself too known, too widespread also not to impose to me to make another one; I moreover absolutely forgot what made me choose that of Vox.
With such a response, Vox obviously invites us to want to unravel the mystery of this pseudo! Here is the analysis proposed by Maurice Darmon:
"Maximilian first: the name means "the greatest." It was thus that of many emperors I, II and III. But, beginning to sense man, I would hardly be mistaken in assuming that only the Ist interested him and undoubtedly the greatest of the greatest, the prince and captain, sumptuous and erudite, protector of the arts and in particular of Albrecht Dürer, to whom every draftsman, engraver, page designer and graphic artist must exist, even if, by chance, he had never heard this name spoken, nor seen a single one of his engravings.
We must not forget that Vox was also a great specialist on Napoleon. He wrote many books about the emperor and owned over 1500 books about him!
Vox, for the voice. The voice of the one who has a vital need to express himself. Maurice Darmon to continue:
"But Voice is not Vox. Vox often entertained himself by removing the i's from the words, to reduce it to a point on the leg of the previous or next letter, and the joke was perceptible only to those who recognized it. So an i ostensibly disappeared, or Vox simply wanted a Latin name. And much later, long after being so called, reflection on Latin writing was one of Vox's major contributions to typographical reflection.
Maximilien Vox, a name of the alliance: from the longest and shortest, from the most clandestine to the most powerful of messages, from Northern Europe and Latinity. But probably also the game, the graphic possibility to have fun twice with the letter x, that of the unknown."
I won't mention all the names of typography that have passed through Lurs, except perhaps Roger Excoffon who was its president for many years. For the curious, I invite you to discover the article we had made a little while ago about it: www.grapheine.com/en/history-of-graphic-design/roger-excoffon.
Each year the meetings begin with a "coup de bleu"... a convivial aperitif at the northern tip of the village, facing the Lure mountain.
For having questioned some participants of this 2013 edition on the subject, I had difficulty in obtaining an infallible explanation !
The main explanation is the celebration of the reunion in front of the magnificent panorama, at nightfall, when the mountain of Lure takes on that "blue" complexion that distant mountains love so much!
That's where I found the explanation! In issue 19 of the journal Communication et langage (1973), Maximilien Vox tells us the story of this "Coup de bleu" in his memories of Giono!
"One entered the School of Lure as one enters religion; there was an oath renewed annually, passwords, formulas and mystical gestures... The "Chancellor of Lure" drank before the crowd the ritual "blow of blue", of pure water tinged with methylene - symbol of the powers of the ancient landscape, half Greek half Florentine, which received us in its bosom... Fraternally united: artists, printers, papermakers of all countries - thirsting for human exchanges, certainly: but especially, unexplored truths of the typographical doctrine to which I had dedicated my life.
You will have understood, meeting "Lure" is a mystical experience, and if today the vocabulary of the Encounters is largely demystified, it does not remain less that even atheist, I love this small annual Mass and its apostles of typography!
Long live the "Rencontres de Lure".
Finally, for graphic design and typography enthusiasts that you are certainly if you have read this article in its entirety, I invite you to discover the section History of Graphic Design on our blog!