The Shirley-Jones Gallery continues its winter exhibition schedule with photographs and an installation project by French architect Mireille Roddier. The subject of the entire exhibition is Lavoirs, the historical communal rural laundry washhouses of France.
Dating as far back as the 1500s, lavoirs take a wide range of architectural form based in part on the wealth of a community or region, but more significantly on the source of water to be used. Some occur along rivers, while in drier climates they are dug into hillsides or into the earth to access the water table.
In the 19th Century, with an emphasis on hygiene, the French government issued grants to villages to build wash houses for the control of cholera. Thus, the lavoir became as important as schools or the town hall. Architects, schooled or practicing in Paris were commissioned. They drew from Egyptian, classical and Neo-Palladian sources for their designs.
In active use through the middle of the 20th century, lavoirs were displaced by the advent of running water and the emergence of home appliances. In active use only 70 years ago, the lavoirs are now mostly abandoned and in various states of disrepair.
Mireille Roddier is an architect currently teaching at the University of Michigan. She trained at the University of California at Berkeley. In 2000, with assistance of the Gabriel Prize and a Graham Foundation grant, she traveled throughout rural France to study and document lavoirs.
Roddier found that, while these structures are often simple and unassuming from the exterior, they often sheltered breathtaking interiors. Through marvelously composed black and white photographs Roddier documented the lavoirs' quiet beauty: the play of light and shadow, the interplay of stone, wood and water, and reflections of elegantly simple spaces in the now still surface of water once used for washing.
This body of work was published in 2003 by Princeton Architectural Press in a book titled Lavoirs, Washhouses of Rural France. In the upcoming exhibition, over 50 photographs will be presented along with a site-specific installation project in the gallery which draws from Roddier's musings as an architect on the lavoirs she studied and documented.
The exhibition runs from March 11 through April 23. The gallery is open Wednesday-Saturday 2-6pm and by appointment. For further information call (937) 767-1711.