Images of guild members
One quite frequently comes upon designs made by “Companion” carpenters, joiners and stonecutters after the 1840s, following their completion of the Tour de France. They were learning the Trait – how to draw geometric figures on to wood or stone to determine how it is to be cut and assembled to form a whole. Such classes, which usually took place in winter, were given by qualified craftsmen in their own homes. Guild members painstakingly preserved these often complex dotted-line drawings and sketches for later use by both employers and workmen in the trade. They were often signed and dated, and accompanied by a guild member’s nickname, either spelt out or initialled.
Beware, however: the drawing schools also admitted non-guild workers, and some of them were owned and funded by the municipality (at Tours, Blois, Bordeaux and Montpellier, classes were offered as part of the School of Fine Arts curriculum or, in the case of Bordeaux, by the Philomatic Society).
What might one hope to discover among old family possessions? Watercolours or lithographs acquired by a guild member in the course of his Tour de France; books (especially songbook collections); newspapers (the Guild press appeared circa 1880 with such titles as Le Ralliement des Compagnons du Devoir, La Fédération Compagnonnique, L’Union Compagnonnique, and later, Le Compagnon du Tour de France, Le Compagnonnage, etc.).
Photographs also form part of these paper-based aids. From the 1860s, and sometimes earlier, it became a custom for guild members to commemorate the day of their initiation by having a photographic portrait taken showing them wearing their “colours” and holding their cane. Such small cardboard photographs were widespread. Also frequent were group photographs taken during a particular trade’s patron saint’s day festivities. Companions posed with all their attributes, in the presence of the “Mother” and her husband, and sometimes with a masterpiece in the middle of the group. What a windfall it is when a Companion has placed a cross next to his face or when he’s written the names of all those in attendance!