A pottery studio in St Civran, France


Welcome to this blog about the quiet rural life in the Berry Province of France where I have tried to open a pottery studio to hobby potters.
Your comments will be appreciated.

30 November 2006

18. A TRIP TO THE AIRPORT

Meanwhile, one evening after work, I got on the road to drive to Roissy airport in Paris also called Charles De Gaulle airport (CDG). My village is 3 hrs drive by motorway to the south entrance of Paris named 'porte d'Orleans'. But Roissy is another hour to the north on the way to Lille.

My son and his family were arriving on a flight from Noumea at 4 am. I had plenty of time so I took the highway to save the toll fee on the motorway. And then by 10 pm as the light was dimming and I was fairly tired, I pulled up on a side road, sat in the back, kicked my shoes off and settled for a good rest.

I hadn't been there 15 minutes when a police van pulled up and two 'gendarmes' were asking me what I thought I was doing there. I explained. They didn't seem to believe me and advised me to move on.

So I got back behind the wheel and drove on.

But the thing was that for one I had been taken for a prostitute and second they didn't believe me. I left them a brochure... To this day no gendarme has been to my pottery studio to throw a pot on the wheel.

When I pulled up to park under of the 'arrivals' sign at CDG airport in the dark of the night, a police car appeared out of nowhere and pulled up beside me. Eerie.

The plane arrived on time. After a long time waiting for the passengers to be cleared, all 4 of us now headed back for St Civran. It took what remained of the night to drive on the motorway back home with my precious cargo on board.

Me and my old Ford

28 November 2006

17. Summer 2002

Well then things happened. Ladies came with their friends, their husbands and family, from the north of France, Belgium, Germany and Britain. There were only 2 guys among them wanting to be a hobby potter. The very big majority of my customers are ladies between the age of 25 and 50. Up until the middle of the 20th century women were kept away from the potter's wheel in professional workshops. So, I guess, it is a revenge!

Meike and her boyfriend came from Hamburg... on a motorbike.

Isabel was my first enrolment in March when she came with her partner at the Open House day.

Full house with customers from Germany, Paris and Tours.

Here's the back door pompously called 'Entree des artistes' (backstage door) with Regina from Germany taking a rest.

This is what Nick from England managed to make in a couple of hours having never done pottery in his life before.

27 November 2006

16. THE VILLAGE GIRLS

In July 2002 as soon as the summer school holidays started, a number of school girls came to the studio for a bit of a try. They were of the village or from Paris but visiting their grandmothers in surrounding villages. At first I was quite happy to have them around. Some of them didn't care much for pottery. They just wanted to try but didn't bother coming back for their pieces once they were fired.

The thing about clay is that you can't make it go faster! You do have to learn how to be patient.

Being used to subsedized leisure activities in this country, some grand-mothers claimed I was too expensive. So I cut in half my usual rate of €20.- for a half-day, i.e. for 3 hours of attendance. I invented a 'village girl rate' of €10.- only. This didn't cover costs and it made me sad but I thought I had to make people try my offer somehow.

Julie, a young girl from Brittany, was doing marvels. She had a talent and an interest for the clay. I am glad I was the one showing her how to use the potters wheel and throw a pot. In many years from now she might decide to take pottery as a hobby or even become a ceramist.

As it turned out after the first few weeks I decided not to have children or teenagers at all. Adult women and teenage girls together created a tense atmosphere in the workshop. And personally I did not have the patience...!

24 November 2006

15. A grand-daughter

In my life the year 2001 saw the end of a crazy relationship and 2002 the birth of my first grand-child.

At the beginning of 2002 my son and his girlfriend decided to leave Paris and return to Noumea, New Caledonia, in order to have their baby born there. I sorted out their debts as much as I could, paid for their rent until the end of April and bought their plane tickets. After they left, I rented a van and drove to Paris with my guest potter and a young fellow to help remove their belongings.

In May my son flew back to France leaving his expecting girlfriend in the care of her mother. He was at a loss as to what to do. His former plan of settling back in Noumea did not seem to work. With the lump sum I had given him he couldn't set himself up. Before returning back again to Noumea he madly worked on his laptop trying to invent some kind of e-service that didn't exist in New Caledonia yet. When he left, I forgot how it went, but he actually forgot his passport in the house and phoned from the railway station in Chateauroux. I never drove the 50 odd kilometers to Chateauroux in such haste. I was worried. Why had he come back at all? What was wrong? What next?

In June around the time when I had the radio interview he phoned one day and said: mum, you're a grandmother! And then in July they all came back and settled with me.

Here's a photo of baby grand-daughter in July 2002 in the house attached to the pottery studio.

22 November 2006

14. A DILEMMA

I started this blog with the idea to tell the story of my would-be business venture started in 2002. So far I have given an account of what happened with the pottery studio, its set-up from scratch, and the first visiting potters.

Yes, but... Should I include details of what was going on in my life parallel to this business venture?

In History they prefer to pretend that characters in the play do not have a private life interfering with the grand history scheme. I think this attitude is fake. It gives a twist to reality. I don't agree with it.

Therefore I shall include facts and figures about my life outside my concern for the pottery studio.

05 November 2006

13. Crafts

I must qualify what I said in that interview about my interest for pottery. In fact I am keen on all crafts.

As a young married woman in Canberra, Australia, in the 60s I endeavoured to practice a few crafts. At the local technical college I took evening classes to get the basics on pottery. But I also bought myself a table loom and started weaving my own piece of woollen material. I also had an interest for basketry...

I don't know what became of that little loom I bought in 1968. It got stored under a house one day and I never found it again. But I had had time to weave a long piece of cloth, of pure Australian wool of course. Many years later I managed to cut it up and sew it into a long skirt. But, made of mad patterns and heavy woollen cloth I never wore it much. So that many more years later, I turned it into a rough looking jacket and took it sailing with me. I am wearing it on that newspaper cutting of a photograph taken in Auckland, NZ, in November 1997.

As for basketry I can only account for two things made with wicker. In 1965 living in Jerusalem I made a lamp shade. And another year somewhere else I made a small bread basket. I still talk about developing that interest... specially since my pottery students have asked me about it. Apparently there's a keen interest in wickerwork here in France at the moment.

02 November 2006

12. A RADIO INTERVIEW (3)

Here's the last part of an interview done in June 2002 by Radio France Bleu Berry. They kindly broadcasted it a number of times and then again a year later.

"HOW MANY STUDENTS CAN YOU HAVE AT THE SAME TIME?

Six at the most. I've planned it for 6. There's room for 3 wheels. At the moment I only have 2. You can see, in front of each wheel are 3 shelves. When you are ready to take a piece out of the wheel, you don't have to go far, you just place it in front of you on the shelf. There's one light for each potters wheel.

On the other side there's a 3m long concrete table, 1m per person, to beat and work the clay, if you want to do hand building. We're well set up.There's a 128 litre electric kiln. There's a set of shelves on wheels to be able to move them. There're here, they don't move much. They can take a lot of pots with shelves on each side.

YOU ARE WELL SET UP. IT WAS A FARM HERE FORMERLY.

Yes, that's right. As a kid I knew it as a farm.

THE VILLAGE OF ST CIVRAN WELCOMES PEOPLE TRAVELLING THROUGH IT.

yes, I'm lucky for that. All around here you find accommodation in farm stays (called 'gites') of all kinds. There's one 3km away in Chassingrimont. It used to be called 'the castle'. It is a very big mansion that belonged once to the lord of Chazelet. It has been transformed, I think they've been opened for the last 2 years, I'm not sure. It is now a 12 room accommodation unit. It is very pretty and above all quite affordable. It is a friendly place only 3km away. (...)

There are others places... in Sacierges. Plenty. You find bed-and-breakfast places too direcly with local families. And of course a 3 star hotel in Argenton which is splendid and that I recommend. That is top notch, lets say. There's also Luzeret...

TO FINISH OFF, FRANKIE, A WORD ABOUT YOUR WEBSITE.

Yes, the address is: stcivran-poterie.com
You will find several pages. The home page, a page for 'courses', one for 'accommodation', 'village' - under 'village' you will find how to get here from Paris for instance, and also details and four photos of the village. Then I don't remember, 'mail' where you can send me an e-mail, and a 'gallery'.

There's a virtual gallery. I'd like to make an appeal to the potters likely to listen to this, if they would allow me to take a photo of one of their pieces in order to put it in this virtual gallery together with their addresses. People tuning into the website from anywhere in France would say: I see, this is what local potters make in that area... I have one piece by Mr Ortega so far. I have the equipment and I put the photos on the net myself.

On my website there's also a page 'open house day'. I had a successful one on 24 March. It was on Palm Sunday, the weather was cold but sunny and we had a picnic outside. A folk dance group came to warm people up. It was very nice. Between 3 and 6pm a lot of people came to visit the studio and potters who had pieces on exhibition in the village hall sold their works. I'd like to have 2 in the year. The next one is planned for the 27, the last Sunday of October, on 27 Ocotber. That's it."


A few people told me they had heard me on the radio but strangely no one ever came to the studio because they had heard the interview.

11. A radio interview (2)

YOU DON'T LIVE OF POTTERY

No, not of my production. I'd like to live of having hobby potters come here to practice. I'd like to have this going all year round. That's my big idea.

YOU HAVE YOUR OWN TECHNIQUE, YOUR OWN PERSONAL WAY. WE CAN SAY THAT.

Yes, I have, but I don't want to pass it on at all cost. My approach to people who come, who will come here, is to leave them free - guiding them of course. Someone who doesn't know how to 'center', I'll advise, for instance as for Stephanie, to have her wrists at right angle with her arms. To have maximum strength onto a heap of clay, you must have your wrists at right angle with your forearms and your forearms leaning on your legs. That way you have a lot of strength because you can push with your back actually. I told her just that and now, have a look, she's got two shelves full of pots.

WHERE DOES YOUR CLAY COME FROM?

I buy it at Ceradel in Limoges. My good luck is to live so close. It is an internationally known wholesaler and manufacturer. They make all sorts of things right down to the tiny specialised paint brush. It's one hour's drive from here. I just take my car and load.

In the Berry province, I don't have to create the image. It is a traditional area for pottery. Clay tiles... Many places are called 'Tuilerie' of this or that... the tile makers have gone but not so long ago it was a natural place for clay.

Moreover Limoges is world known for ceramics. Pottery and ceramics are first cousins.

YOUR POTS HERE IN THE STUDIO HAVE THE COLOUR OF CLAY. THEY ARE RAW. DO YOU PREFER TO KEEP THEM THAT WAY?

That's right. People throw a lot with stoneware coming from St Amand-en-Puisaye. That clay is black when raw and white when first fired. I find it colourless and odourless. I like the clay for itself. I like throwing with coloured clay, therefore I have yellow and red clay. Here in the studio at the moment I only have red one. It is earthenware, not stoneware, i.e. it is fired at a lower temperature. I fire earthenware at 1020°C for a bisque, whereas stoneware is fired at a much higher temperature.

YOU DON'T WORK WITH STONEWARE

No, because of its colour. It is for my own satisfaction. I love putting my hands into coloured clay. I insist. It is for my own satisfaction, for my own fun. I don't mean to produce quantities.

I look for traditional things but without meaning to reproduce tradition precisely. I don't make reproductions of old things. In Berry it was common to use clay pots. I still remember my grand-mother putting her green beans into stoneware jars stored in the cellar.

Handles, for instance in Berry, are stuck alongside the pot. They're not sticking out like ears. So I reproduce that. I put handles stuck on the edge of the pot. I have found a piece of decoration. Thinking to myself: what could I add as a typical decoration, so that it would be obviously from Berry. We have the owl, but I couldn't really stick owls on my pots. So, I've found an oak leaf and that's my prototype. I make clay oak leaves that I stick on the edge of my pots.

And here I have made the button of the lid completely as an oak leaf. It is a very small detail. It can be recognised as coming from Berry.