It was through Hiram Manning, of Boston, that the art of découpage was “discovered” and brought to the United States. Around 1928 he and his mother, Maybelle Manning, a renowned fashion designer, courtier and widely read magazine columnist, were invited to a friend’s home in Normandy. The friend was a schoolmate that Hiram met while studying in Switzerland. The host family were découpeurs, a family hobby for generations. Maybelle Manning was collecting old Venetian furniture, and they were astonished to find what they thought was “painted” Venetian furniture was really covered with cut and colored paper, glued on and lacquered.
In his book, Manning on Déoupage, Manning writes that they “had retained all the original techniques and formulas for glue, protective varnish, etc. exactly as used in the 18th Century. This family offered to teach us all they knew provided we would agree to pass it on and not let it die. I was like a piece of blotting paper, absorbing all that our Norman friends could teach.” World War II came, and the Mannings lost their Normandy friends. The Mannings then knew it was up to them to carry on the “priceless heritage bequeathed to us.”
And so, the Mannings introduced découpage to the United States. The Hiram Manning home was a museum itself, housing their incomparable découpage with its very classic design. Teachings of découpage techniques spread from the Mannings to their students, and their student’s students. While the Mannings were more interested in the use of black and white prints which they hand-colored with oil pencils the ‘Victorian découapge; made use of pre-colored pictures. Contemporary découpage makes use of all kinds of prints and papers, ranging from gift cards to wrapping papers, and for the more enthusiastic, creatively cut designs from plain paper stock, or papers which have been marbleized, grained or stained using anything from paints to dyes.
Styles of découpage furniture actually refer to styles of the prints used. The eras of engravings and etchings and the popularity of decorated furniture range from Baroque and Classic to Rococo, Chinoiserie, Biedermeir, Victorian and so on, from the 17th through the 19th Century.
It was not until the 1960’s that découpage began to spread across the United States, limited in its growth only by the number of qualified teachers available. During that period a group of découpeurs met in Little Rock, Arkansas to discuss the possibility of a United States Guild for interested découpeurs. The National Guild of Découpeurs formed in 1970 in Louisville, Kentucky, with Hiram Manning present to lend his considerable knowledge. Standards of découpage were established and the first Annual Meeting, Convention and National Exhibition was held in Chicago in 1973.
The primary purpose of the Guild is to promote the art of découpage in its finest form and to educate its members and the general public about its many variations. The organization is modeled after the Renaissance guilds, in which work is judged through a series of progressively difficult steps, from layman to journeyman to masterscraftsman. Many members create pieces solely for their own pleasure and never submit them for judging. Other members like the challenge of passing all fifteen categories and having the privilege of being called mastercraftsman. The work is always done with great skill and attention to technique and design.
Every two years the members of the Guild meet for a convention. The convention lasts five days and is held in different countries. Members arrive from all over the world with their latest efforts. There they greet old friends, praise each other’s work, and share methods and sources. The novice as well as the mastercraftsman receive encouragement and answers to questions. Nowhere else will you find a group of people so warm and willing to share their expertise.
The Guild publishes two journals “The Dialogue” and “Focus on D.A.W.” four times a year, offering an abundance of sources, including how to instructions, videos slides, and a list of teachers and supplies.
Each Chapter plans its own program, workshops, exhibits, projects, lectures, and demonstrations for the various types of découpage. Some Chapters meet monthly or quarterly, lasting for a period of one to three days.
The world of découpage is limitless, interesting, and challenging. We would be delighted to have you join us in this wonderful art form, either as a member or as a admirer. If you have any questions, we have the answers.