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 10 to 19


10. A RADIO INTERVIEW (1)

In June 2002, I forgot how it came about, I was interviewed by a journalist for the local radio. There's a network of local radios called Radio France Bleue with a specific program for each province or region of the country. The local one here is called France Bleue Berry. Here's my translation of the transcript.

I was born here. I was born in Chazelet actually but I left France when I was 19 to go and see elsewhere, to travel around the planet. That's it, I'm back, I'm 58 now. It means I spent 40 years going around the planet. I lived mainly in the Pacific region, in Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.

Pottery... I've done it right through. At 20 I did a course somewhere. At 22 I did another I forgot where. It has always been my hobby, I've always done it in my spare time where ever I was.

At my age now I have been wanting to share this way of doing a hobby right through life. You never get to the end of it, it remains a hobby like going fishing. It's for fun.

YOU DID NOT ATTEND A PARTICULAR SCHOOL

No, not at all. I learnt whatever methods they had where I went and I compared them to other places where they did things another way. In the end I work now the way I see best for me.

For my students I do not want to be the guru saying something like: my way is the only way. I'd rather say: if you want to do it another way, that's alright with me.

In Australia where I lived for 12 years, as it is a country without much of a past, they are very much open to everything. They can't take refuge in the past by saying: that's the way we used to do it in the Middle Ages therefore we go on this way. They take different view from different sources. A fairly well known lady potter in Prissac told me just that. She recently travelled to Australia for a huge Open House event where potters from the whole world attended. They were sitting at their wheels, worked on it as people passed by and asked questions going from one artist to another. It is a fabulous 'melting pot' of potters ideas. You get out of it different from the way you came in.

IS CLAY WORKED THE SAME WAY?

Basics are the same. It's very physical, you know. You get your hands in it and you work with your whole body, not just the tip of your fingers. Like with play dough, but heavy. It's like play dough, or patisserie if you like, but with earth, clay. You have to beat it, work it. Some people like finding clay on the ground. A friend of mine not far from here actually goes around hunting for clay. She makes things with clay she's found on the ground. Not me. I start much further down the line. I drive to Limoges and I buy my clay from a wholesaler called Ceradel. I buy a tone worth of it in 10kg blocks. It keeps very well in my little clay cellar.

Everyone has a habit of doing things in a certain way and has a tendency to declare that it is the one and only way. I dislike such an attitude. True, people have different ways of making bread, say. It's a bit the same. Mrs Btown makes her bread this way and Mrs Smith that way. Everyone has a little secret. But overall we all work the same way.

YOU ARE SEFL-TAUGHT BUT YET YOU HAVE SOMEHOW GATHERED A COUPLE OF LITTLE IDEAS. YOUR KNOWLEDGE IS INTERNATIONAL NOW ANYWAY.

Sure but... yes sure but... I am not a professional. I haven't done a 5 year course in a school. I haven't got the practice. It remains a hobby. I just go fishing!


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.

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.  

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.     

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.

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. 

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 get people to 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...!

17 Summer 2002

Well then things happened. Ladies came with their friends, theirs 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.

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.  

19. Water supply and drainage

When I first bought the place in September 2001 I knew I would have to renew the drainage system. So next to the concrete closed tank that had become obsolete, I had a brand new sewage tank installed at the back with a sand filter dug in the front garden. It worked perfectly well for the house. 

The barn turned pottery studio had no water supply or drainage at all. The water supply was to come from the kitchen and a plastic pipe was run along the ditch dug for the sand filter. I also had a sink put in with a tap on it. But...

We could not use the water at the tap as it didn't exit anywhere. In July 2002 finally, as the project had been approved and financed by the village 'mairie' (townhall), a ditch was dug across the road. It enabled the water supply at the studio to exit and flow onto an already existing sewage system.

Here are men at work to allow the pottery studio to be connected with existing drainage across the road.

Camille washing her hands the first time we were able to use the tap in the workshop.

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