From our special correspondent
A little stroke of a file on an armrest, another on the edge of the seat… In search of the slightest imperfection, Paul de Livron had difficulty leaving his work during our meeting. In the old winery that serves as his workshop in Saint-Front d’Alemps (Dordogne), time is running out at the end of summer. The majestic wooden wheelchair he is making must be finished by September 23.
That day, the gift should be given to Pope Francis, on the occasion of his visit to Marseille for the Mediterranean Meetings. The Bishop of Rome showed his enthusiasm for the project when its creator gave him a model of it on May 3, after the general audience at the Vatican. With its high back, its massive armrests, and the fine sobriety of its curves, the seat looks like a throne, and contrasts with the Pope’s current wheelchair. A choice assumed by Paul de Livron, who hopes that, thanks to this object, the heads of state and dignitaries met by the Pope will be “impressed”, and “will feel the full dignity of his person”.
The thirty-year-old was himself able to experience this change in outlook. Paraplegic since an accident in the creeks in 2013, in the middle of his studies at Arts et Métiers, he has painful memories of his first outing in a wheelchair, after a year in a rehabilitation center. “It was terrifying. I even had a paranoia attack, because I had the impression that everyone was talking about me,” he confides.
Years later, while interning with a cabinetmaker, the engineer “clicked”. He came up with the idea of making a wooden wheelchair, using a so-called “additive” method: instead of cutting into the material, slices of wood are glued together, which leaves great freedom in the choice of shapes. The young man makes a test model for himself. Then comes a second chair, for which he uses his engineering skills: he designs the parts on software, and an automated machine cuts them.
Sitting on this beautiful object, Paul de Livron feels like he has regained his “dignity”. “When I went out with it, people no longer looked at me the same, and asked me where I bought my chair,” he testifies.
What was only a test then turned into a professional project. The craftsman aims to set up production of low-cost wooden wheelchairs “in and for developing countries”. To prove the value of his method, he decided to create an armchair for a person with needs different from his own.
Catholic, the former scout then chose the pope. “I wasn’t his biggest fan,” he admits. But since he started and knows Francis better, Paul de Livron is convinced that “he is the pope needed for our time: he is audacious, he breaks the codes and recalls the fundamentals of the Gospel “.
“I would be very happy if the Pope liked my chair,” enthuses the craftsman. And I hope that he can help him for the rest of his pontificate! » Thanks to this armchair, Francis will be able to rest his arms on armrests made from a wood contemporary with his patron saint, Francis of Assisi, and survivor of the fire of Notre-Dame.