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.

Posts 1 to 9


These pages are given here in the raw and in chronological order. They can be found listed in the archives in their blog form with photos and comments.

1. HAND WORK

Who said that hand work was not as noble as brain work? Whoever declared that hands have less value than brains?  The most beautiful human achievements until this day have been made with bare hands. Cathedrals, with bare hands. Pyramids too. Christopher Columbus' caravels were built with bare hands. And so were Captain Cook's vessels. Your wedding cake was made with bare hands. And the breams in the ocean are caught with bare hands. The potter, the mechanic, the surgeon, the hairdresser and the others... All of them get their hands dirty to create our world, to shape our planet on a daily basis.
Naturally, some manual tasks are dirty and repetitive. Degrading even. But some intellectual tasks too are repetitive and dumb. We slowly get rid of them through the ages by inventing machines. Should we deplore this?
This world of ours being in constant mutation, it may be a good idea to see the positive side of change. Less repetitive tasks means more time for creative work. A word to the wise!
Let's turn off our TV sets... !  And let's pass on to our kids the thousand and one thing we know how to make with our hands.
Past the kindergarten years where we get our toddlers to fumble with play dow and stick bits of paper together, there's no longer time in our schools and colleges for 'hand works'. The mere phrase with these two words together makes everyone pull a face.
Our school leavers have their heads full and their hands, withered.
It isn't very sensible, is it?


2. THE PROJECT

When I came back in 2000 to my native village in the middle of France, my intention was to develop some activity to get people to come and visit the area from the outside world.

I wanted to use an old barn I owned as a 'backpackers' hostel to induce travelling young people to visit the village. It meant a lot of renovations to the building and thus a permit to do so. After a while, due to rampant antagonism and a lot of blue print, I realized that it was not going to be possible.

In 2001 I bought a house with a smaller barn in another village called St Civran. I spent what I received from my mother's inheritance to turn it into a pottery studio. The idea remained to attract people to the area.

The studio was geared for six people working at a time, either handbuilding or throwing on the wheel. The problem remained the accomodation of those people likely to come and wanting to stay a week or so. Locally there are what is called 'gites', a French version of the Bed 'n Breakfast system. However, I haven't found I could rely on this kind of accomodation as I need it. I need to be able to offer a 'package' deal to hobby potters, a stay of, say, a week or 10 days with access to the studio and accomodation inclusive.

To this day, accomodation of visiting potters remains a problem.  

 3. Fitting the workshop

The area available was about 70m2. I decided to have a 3 meter long work bench of smooth concrete. It enables 3 people to work handbuilding at the same time. I also had a back door put in to a very small courtyard where to sit at tea break. And of course the electricity had to be installed to accomodate a professional kiln and a couple of potters wheels.

The meter had to provide for a three phase 380 volts power. As there was no electricity in that barn before, it was fairly easy to install it as required. I had it done allowing for 3 potters wheels although I only bought 2. It left room for expanding!

Water had to be brought in from the kitchen of the house some 20m away and a tap installed on a sink. As the whole building had to have a new drainage, I had a sceptic tank installed. The road had to be cut open to allow for the workshop drainage to join in with another system across the road.

The kiln I bought from a ceramics wholesaler in France called Ceradel, had been made in England by Pottery Crafts in Stoke-on-Trent. It had been delivered to me and left outside the studio until one day when a kind carpenter volunteered to help me with it. He used his machine with a telescopic arm to lift it and place it inside the studio nicely. I owe him a big favor.

4. CREATING A WEBSITE

While getting work done on the old barn to turn it into a pottery studio, I spent time in October 2001 figuring out a website. It was going to be the only way to get people to know about my venture and to invite them to come.  

I enjoyed doing that! I designed a few pages and then turned to a professional to launch it on the web. The difficulty was to find someone. Either there were terribly expensive professionals, or a long list of various names of would-be webmasters. Eventually I found a leaflet advertising such services on a local bar zinc top. I thought if a guy made the effort to come all the way to this bar to advertise for his web services, he must be believing in what he was doing. It turned out to be a webmaster from Orleans, the capital city of the Centre Region, who was trying to expand. His website, DataNet, is now hosting a number of local portals like Indre.net where one can find info in French on the area.

My site was called St Civran Poterie dot com   

5. Registering with the Chamber of Trade

In order to start work in my pottery studio I had to be registered as a business of some sort. 

The Chamber of Trade in Chateauroux (the prefecture town of my area) put me down as a potter, i.e. a craftman or a craftwwoman making clay pots. I tried to explain that my plan was to have hobby potters coming to work for their own purpose. That would have been 'teaching' pottery and I didn't want to be registered as a teacher. So I left it to that and I was then issued a long ID number. I also had to attend an obligatory 4 day course, in November 2001 prior to opening my business, within the Chamber of Trade building. It meant travelling 50km to attend.

The group of people attending the 'business opening course' at the same time as me was wide ranging, from a mechanic to a builder. Some were old hands in their business who had to attend for some administrative reason. The teacher was a bored lady who didn't seem to have started a business ever in her life. 

I don't remember what I 'learnt' in that course, except that the paper work and administrative side of running a business was going to be time consuming and depressing... and it was. There was no joy! No spur! No enthusiasm of any kind. And we were well warned that a great deal of the money we would earn (if we did) would be used to pay 'charges' of all sorts, social charges, taxes, and what not. 

A number of people from banks or accountancy agencies came to explain their role in a business venture. At the end of each hour we were issued a pile of printed sheets with diagrams and things. I weighed the whole pile at the end of the course: it came up to 3 kilograms. 

I was downright bewildered.

6. OPEN HOUSE

My pottery studio was officially registered as from 1 January 2002. I had a website running and workmen in the building. With the idea to attract people for the Easter holiday I decided to have an open house day on the last week-end of March. 

A few hundred 'invitation' cards came out of the printer. I distributed them with my car and my son's help within a radius of about 20 km, delivering one card in each letter box in remote hamlets and villages. I also put up posters in strategic spots and with local shops and supermarkets. The usual. 

The 'mairie' (townhall) of St Civran let me have the community hall for free as well as tables and benches. The plan was to have a grand barbecue outside in front of the pottery studio with a tarpaulin bar stand. It worked alright given the fair weather on that day of early spring 2002. The community hall was used to have an exhibit of pottery and ceramics from various potters. 

As a feature I hired a Berry traditional dance group called 'Les Treteaux du Pont Vieux'. See: a similar group. They performed all afternoon in the streets of the village in traditional costume. They invited people to join in their dances and that was quite a success. A disc jockey standing on the village square with a microphone made the whole show sound like it was a major event!

And it actually brought quite a number of people curious to see what this new pottery studio was about. A few of them tried their hands on the borrowed potter's wheel with some dark spare clay. Centuring 1Kg of clay is not such an easy game... Here a young guild carpenter is trying his skill in front of other visitors watching on. 

 7. A guest potter

I didn't feel confident to open up to the public on my own. After all I'm only a hobby potter, a Sunday potter as I call it, and there's a huge difference between professionals and amateurs, the latter being a rather derogatory adjective in the public eye.

So, I had been looking around for a 'proper' potter to work with me. At a refresher crash course in the South West of France in september 2001 I had met a lady ceramist who was interested in my venture. She wanted to get closer to Paris but when she came to visit, she didn't like the village and the area at all. With her I visited a pottery studio in a nearby town and she suggested I asked that potter.

Eventually he came to work in my newly set up studio for an hourly fee. He worked there for about a month and then got bored with it. Also I couldn't really afford paying him any more as I hadn't had any customers yet.

My very first visitors were members of my Belgian family. Isa sat at the wheel and, tutored by my guest potter in residence, she made two beer mugs... That really launched my studio into business!   


8. heads and hands

The first customer to come and sit at one of the potters wheels at the St Civran workshop in June 2002 was Stephanie from Paris. She was a young woman engineer, a graduate of 'Polytechnique', and a young mother living in the French capital. Her job in a big administration involved a high degree of responsibility and a sustained use of her intellectual capacities. 
But, albeit the accepted opinion that an intellectual person cannot be manual as well, she possessed a definite talent for ceramics. For this reason she was following night classes whenever she could. 

In full rebellion against this wrong idea giving her withered hands because she was clever, she came to spend a whole week full time throwing on the wheel very nice looking pots.

Here's what she wrote about how I managed to: "...share a know-how without giving the impression of revealing a secret. What I also appreciated is the fact that you placed the pleasure of making before the need to acquire a technique to reach eventually the pleasure to master".

9. The studio's seal

I used to sign my pots with a huge inscription dug into the clay stating 'St civran' and the year. Mentioning the year of make is to the attention of the future archaelogists of the 3rd millenium... I'm an anthropologist after all... and to the posthumus would-be collectors of stuff made in this village.

In June 2002 a friend came to visit from Germany. He designed a proper seal that I liked. A brass one was ordered at a traditional seal maker in a town near Frankfurt and I received it one day through the mail. 

Here are some of the pots made in 2002:

No comments: