Maison Bergogne is in the heart of Narrowsburg, NY, a hamlet deep in the Eastern Catskills above the Delaware River. Its proprietor, the French artist Juliette Hermant, is particularly interested in discovery – facilitating interactions between people and things. “The way I work, and the way I perceive the world as an artist,” says Juliette, “is really through the experimental, and this is why starting a brick-and-mortar location at Maison Bergogne was very interesting.” What’s important to Juliette is a relation reciproque: what might happen when a door is opened wide, when a person peers inside a stereoscope, when objects are installed in relation to one another and when paint is applied to canvas.
“I don’t conceive of it as a store; it’s an experimental space,” says Juliette, referring to Maison. “We turn on the lights and offer certain things…It’s not about the show we put on, it’s about how it meets and allows people to mingle and about what we can create with one another.” Formerly a garage used by the local school district for woodworking classes, the cavernous warehouse now hosts thousands of personally-selected pieces of furniture, hardware, paintings, taxidermied creatures and other curiosities. “I’m not interested in new objects – I can appreciate their efficiency, their design, but somehow everything is just done about them,” says Juliette. “It’s so much more interesting for me to stay away from the production world and to care instead about how things were crafted. Almost 90% of our inventory is local to this area, from these homes here. That feels like a living source of connection, to me.”
The office at Maison Bergogne, heated by a pellet stove, is just one corner of the 4,500 square foot space. Through the back door you’ll find a small garden with a fire pit overlooking the river and bees residing on the roof pollinate the community garden nearby. All are pieces in the complex exchange of ideas, materials, and energy swarming around Maison Bergogne.
A list of the services provided by Juliette and her partner Anie Stanley is painted on a door in the office. They subtly point to the ways a customer can hire Maison Bergogne, but don’t begin to cover the big ideas that are at the heart of their work. The lamp is custom-made, and the painting is Juliette’s.
Juliette landed in Narrowsburg in 2012 when a friend of a friend invited her to come visit. Within a few days of her arrival, she had hung a clothesline, reined in the clematis that had sprawled over the woodpile, and built a compost pile. Impressed, the owner asked if she’d come back to watch his house a few months later while he traveled. Upon her return, she spied the future location of Maison Bergogne; on her second visit, it was for sale.
“People always want to know why I’m here,” explains Juliette. “Why America? Why here? But there’s work to do here – it’s wonderful. Home is where you are. The same discomforts are with me in Paris or here. My environment can support me, but it’s up to me to grow.”
Juliette painted the original brick wall of the office silver and added pieces of memorabilia: an invoice from her grandfather, Marius Bergogne; her aunt’s handwriting on the first mail she received at the building; the watercolor work of a dear friend; a photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe. She incorporates Feng Shui practices into much of her work and the gold frames on this wall are part of that tradition.
Among the items on Juliette’s desk are pieces of honeycomb. “People can see our bees at the library, or on their lawns five blocks away and suddenly everyone is talking about them. When you bring something alive, it affects people in ways you can’t imagine and likely in ways you’ll never know. It’s magic! In this small hamlet, you can revitalize one building, make relationships, and then there’s an overflow of consequences.”
As a part of this vibrant community, Juliette has been feeling the need to create a space where people can come to Maison Bergogne and stay a little longer. With that in mind, she and business partner Laura Silverman are working towards opening bar/cafe Fish & Bicycle next spring. Its focus will be on a cuisine that emphasizes sustainability, health and flavor, with the ultimate goal of promoting and supporting many local farmers and artisans. The kitchen garden will supply an array of herbs and vegetables for an evolving seasonal menu and the rooftop bees will contribute their offerings.
In this corner, salvaged decor and a mounted deer head mingle with a locally-raised Icelandic sheep pelt. “When you put objects together, you draw upon layers that people may not immediately perceive,” says Juliette. “And so it’s up to your own sensibility, your own filters, to construct an understanding of the story there.”
As an installation and exhibition, Maison Bergogne is constantly changing. “I am not interested by hyper-consumerism. I don’t carry anything that doesn’t feel like a truthful, genuine item. With antiques, once a piece is purchased the space changes radically.” She explains, “I do all of the cleaning myself, because of the complexity of this space, and it’s always an opportunity to remake the space.”
“People are moved by the space,” says Juliette. “They are stimulated, sometimes by an object but often by the space itself. That was one of the goals I set for myself when I opened the store: inspire people. And people reflect that back to me. For me, as an artist, this is what you do – you care, you engage.”