A small cardboard box rests on the shelves next to my easel at home. The austere container belies the treasures that lie within its drab confines. Only the mysterious black-winged dragon and the singular message "depuis [since] 1720," that emblazon the top hint at the potent contents: spectacularly colored pastels produced by the Paris-based company, H. Roché.
These perfect little sticks wield as much enchantment in my world of art and design as any magic wand. In tandem with water colors, acrylics, and inks, they turn white sheets of paper into riots of pattern, color, and narrative. Not only do they allow me to dress up my home with my own artworks, they connect me to generations of acclaimed artists who depended on the unique pastel hues to create their masterpieces—icons such as Edgar Degas, Edouard Vuillard, Alphonse Legros, Jules Cheret, and Alfred Sisley, to name but a few of the long-departed artists; and Sam Szafran, Pierre Skira, and Irving Petlin to cite some of those among the living. The pastels, which are sold in kits of varying sizes, are still handmade in accordance with the original formulas. In 1999, the trade secrets were passed down to Isabelle Roché, the great-grandniece of Dr. Henri Roché, a chemistry student of the famous scientist Louis Pasteur and a pharmacist, who in 1878 left the profession to purchase a then-158-year-old art-supply shop.
Like Roché, Pasteur was passionate about pastels and worked with him to perfect his production methods. The company, renamed H. Roché, then devoted itself exclusively to making pastels that satisfied the exacting standards of its clientele.