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 has the appearance of a throne, contrasting 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 “feel the full dignity of his person”. “They need to realize that his opinion counts more than that of my grandmother!” », jokes the engineer, trained in cabinetmaking on the job.
A unique manufacturing method
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, during an internship with a cabinetmaker cousin, 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, using a small electric saw. Then comes a second armchair, for which he uses his engineering skills: he designs the pieces of wood on software, and an automated machine cuts them.
“People didn’t look at me the same anymore”
Sitting on this beautiful object, which is “not just medical equipment”, Paul de Livron feels like he has regained his “dignity”. “When I went out with it, on the transport in Paris, I realized that something was happening,” he testifies. People no longer looked at me the same way, and asked me where I bought my chair. »
What was only a test then turned into a professional project. The craftsman aims, ultimately, to set up production of low-cost wooden wheelchairs “in and for developing countries”. To prove the value of his wooden manufacturing method, he decided to create an armchair for a person with needs different from his own.
“I wasn’t his biggest fan”
Catholic, the former scout then chose the pope, more out of conviction that his current chair is not suited to his stature, than out of admiration for him. “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 likes his chair,” enthuses the craftsman. And above all, I hope that he will be able to help him for the rest of his pontificate! » On his new chair, the Bishop of Rome will be able to rest his arms on armrests made from wood rescued from Notre-Dame, and therefore contemporary with his patron saint, Francis of Assisi.