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.

05 August 2010

47. Genesis of a dream

When I decided to write out the story of my pottery venture on a blog, it was mainly for myself to remember and perhaps also to analyse. It was also for those descendants of mine who would care to know in the years to come.

However having readers, and what's more anonymous readers, has made a big difference in the way I write. I don't say everything I'd like to say bluntly like when writing in a private diary. I'm going to write, this post at least, as if it was for my diary.

What got me into pottery?

There was no interest in pottery or potters in my childhood in my family. The province of Berry had plenty of clay tile makers but that was of no interest. The traditional pots used by my grandmother looked great, I thought. That is the only link I can find to my later interest... ah yes, now I remember that when I was a teenager in the late 50's there was a famous artist potter, Guy Baudat, in the nearby artist village of Gargilesse who was famous. But it never occurred to me that I could be a potter. And also I must add that I was a boarder for many years in a state school in Limoges which is the capital of ceramics in France. It rubbed off perhaps quite unconsciously.

My first interest surfaced in 1967 when I was a young married woman living in Canberra, Australia. I lived as if alien to my own life. It felt as if I had been hijacked from my own destiny. This married woman working as a clerk in an administration, sitting on a chair at a desk all day, then coming home and preparing dinner or doing the washing, in other words this domestic female was not me. I had lost my bearings and in the fog was trying to find something to hold onto to catch a grasp of reality again.

I looked around for an occupation to escape this alien life I was drowning in, something closer to my inner identity so to speak. On a list of hobbies I found pottery classes available to adults after work. I joined. I liked it very much. Working the clay oblivious of the passing of time was exactly what I needed to forget my new lifestyle. But as always, prone to making big plans, I started thinking of turning the wooden garage where we lived into my own workshop. Unfortunately we were tenants and the owners would not have approved of that.
 So after a term at the tech evening classes I dropped pottery and tried another hobby.

Years went by. I returned to Europe on my own in 1974 at the age of 30. This time I was not going to let anyone hijack my life. I wanted to learn how to sail on the ocean and I started pottery again. Did a summer course in a village where I was living in the province of Dauphiné between Lyon and Grenoble. I guess that is where I got the bug and the idea of having, one day in the grand future, my own workshop to welcome and teach the art of making clay pots.

At the same time I started studying ethnology at the university of Lyon 2 'Lumière'. One of my student research paper was about an old dauphinois potter. He was the last of his lineage working at his wheel making bowls and plates and dishes on orders. In 1978 this guy was saying there was no future in his trade. He was aware of being the last of his species. There was no future in manufacturing clay vessels by hand. It was the end of a trade that went back to the dawn of times. I wrote all this down with his interview and drawings of his pots and so on. I guess that propelled me further into thinking of a workshop for hobby potters. In my mind the art had to be kept alive. It was fundamental. Potters as providers of kitchen equipment could disappear... but not their art, their knowledge and know-how.

A lot more years went by. In my 50's in New Zealand I squinted at pottery shops and workshops, even went for a job once in one of them but was turned off. In May 2000 I flew back to France again. My mother had died and her estate had to be sorted out. The story of BerryHobby pottery in St Civran starts from there.

I knew I could not possibly start the business venture I had in mind, on my own. When I tried to tell my German partner of the time about it, he said: 'tell you hairdresser about it'. That's a german expression meaning that the subject is mean and of no consequence. I returned to France on my own but kept in touch by phone. I knew I could not live on my own in a rural village. At the best of time a single woman is frowned upon, at the worst is rejected. My partner arrived from New Zealand eventually but everything went to pot (ha! ha! ha!) and I found myself alone at my open house day when I started up my grand plan.

That's how I got into pottery.