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 20 to 29


20. MOTHER-IN-LAW

Becoming a grandmother is one thing. It is a landmark in a life time, a point of no return. But somehow it has a pleasant public image and it triggers the motherly string again hugging babies and all that.

Becoming a mother-in-law is like having a car accident. You thought it could only happen to others. The public image is appaling. Whatever you do or say is taken down as evidence against you! You've not been warned. You're not prepared.

I was not prepared for what happened when my son, his girlfriend and baby grand-daughter came to live with me in the one room house attached to the pottery studio.

It lasted four months. In October 2002 they moved out to their own premises in the nearby provincial town.


21. Hadrien

At the end of the summer 2002 I realized that the trickle of customers coming to the workshop would soon dry up. As local interest in hobby pottery was none existant it looked like I would have to close down until the following summer.

I couldn't resign myself to that. I asked the young fellow who used to help me with my garden if he was interested to learn how to throw a pot. He shrugged his shoulders and said 'why not'. The idea was to have an apprentice to be able to start a production. I enquired with the employment agency who had a special contract to offer. I was to train him for 6 months at no cost provided I would employ him at the end of his training. It suited him as he would keep getting social security allowances all the while.

His progress was amazing. After a couple of months he seemed to have been a potter all his life.

Here's Hadrien in October as he started at the potters wheel.
And here's the same guy two months later throwing a vinegar jar like a professional.


22. INSULATION

The barn where I set up my pottery studio was covered in clay tiles. Ideal for ventilation of hay or grain underneath and cooling in summer. But not for potters shivering under as the cold weather was setting in. I soon realized that the roof needed insulation.

A quote from a builder was astronomical. It needed high scaffolding and quite some time to be done, he claimed. I simply couldn't afford it. The threat of closing down was on again. Then Hadrien said he could do it no trouble... He turned up with a long ladder. I borrowed a gun stappler from a cousin of mine. He went to the local Do-It-Yourself shop, got some insulation material,put the bill on a business account he opened in my name, came back with it and went up the ladder.

It took him two days. I did have an insurance but if anything had happened to him I would no doubt have ended up in jail... This job was not really included in his contract for apprenticeship.


23. A client's order

One day the phone rang and a lady from Paris sayd she needed hundreds of plates, beakers, mugs, platters, ashtrays and other things urgently... before Christmas, say. I blocked the phone receiver and asked Hadrien at the potter's wheel if he felt he could make a few hundred plates before Christmas.

He didn't choke as I would have. Just said: 'sure!'.

As the order was for white earthenware bisques some new clay had to be purchased and stored beside the red one I already had. Everything was cleaned and any red stuff removed from the shelves and instruments. The studio became a hive. The young lady came to visit to see how her order was getting on.

It looked like it wouldn't be ready in time. The winter weather was setting in and the clay just wouldn't dry. I took a lot of raw potteries inside my living room hoping to dry them faster in front of the wood fire. To no avail. The atmosphere was damp and cold everywhere.

Eventually the order was ready for delivery in January 2003. Packed nicely in the boot and on the backseat of my old Ford I drove with Hadrien to Paris. The young lady seemed happy. She was going to decorate all this and fire them in a kiln she still hadn't purchased...

The challenge had been fun but it didn't pay for the time and effort. The studio was simply not geared for production.


24. LIMPING

After the roof was insulated in the autumn of 2002 the gaz heater was still not heating the place properly. I borrowed an old wood stove from a friend on a farm. It was installed by Hadrien again slash hammering the wall to get the smoke pipes out. As some fire wood was needed I ordered a big heap from a forester I knew in another village. By the way wood is still measured in 'cordes' i.e. roughly the equivalent of 3 cubic meters.

It came one day cut in logs half a meter in length and split ready to fit into the wood stove. It was mainly oak. Good stuff really.

In my rush to open the gate and make ready to clear the front yard to have the wood delivered and stacked I put my right foot in a hole on the uneven ground and twisted my ankle badly. It hurt like mad.

For days on end I had to spend time with my leg resting on a stool level or higher than where I was sitting. First I used crutches to walk around and then I just limped around. It took 6 long months to heal and 2 years for the 'shadow pain' to subside altogether.


25. A training project

Through the employment agency, in October 2002, a contract was signed between myself and my 'trainee' whereby I was to train him for 580 hours at no cost for me while he was getting paid by the agency. I was formerly promising to employ him at the end of his training.

I had to produce a formal document stating how I was going to train him during these 580 hours. Here's my translation from the French of my 'Proposition for a training project giving access to an enterprise':

This is a training program targeted to the employment of a young person wishing to learn the potters craft.

The process of making a ceramic is rather simple but its mastering requires a good experience which you can only acquire progressively.

Like for any manual profession you must first and foremost have a taste or a talent for manual work. As for pottery, the taste starts with a liking for 'shape'. The potter's job is to reproduce a given shape into clay, and then make it solid and durable.

TRAINING WITHIN THE ENTERPRISE

A. The idea of 'shape'(lasting 26 hrs):                          

Introduction to various shapes is done continuously throughout the training,

1) By reading books on the subject:
- "La poterie", J. Chavarria, Gründ edition 1994
- "Le modelage", D. Nour-Margeault
- "La poterie à la main", A. Riedinger
- any other book on the subject available at a public library

2) By visiting museums:
- the Argentomagus gallo-roman museum in Argenton-sur-Creuse
- Adrien Dubouche in Limoges
- the diocese museum in Limoges
- the Campana gallery at the Louvre museum in Paris
- the museum at the potters village in La Borne

3) By being aware of objects everywhere at all times:

Pottery being a traditional art, it is possible to be introduced to shapes by visiting antique dealers or even garage sales.

B. Reproduction into clay (lasting 300 hrs):

There are three techniques to shape an object from a ball of clay: throwing, handbuilding and casting. The training offered as 'A course of access to the St Civran Pottery studio' will mainly consist of throwing on the potter's wheel:

- kneading the clay
- how to center a ball of clay
- throwing a bowl, a plate, a cylinder
- throwing pots of various shapes
- the finish off

C. Firing in an electric kiln (lasting 54 hrs):

To make it solid and durable a given shape fashioned into clay must then be fired to a very high temperature in a special kiln.

The studio is equiped with an electric kiln, Ceradel C128, of a 128 liter volume and able to reach 1300 degrees Celsius. The trainee will learn to prepare and fire a kiln of earthenware pots,

- at first firing (bisque)
- and at second firing (glazing).

D. Glazes and enamels (lasting 100 hrs):

Glazes used at the St Civran Pottery studio are not made on the premises but are bought at a wholesaler's in Limoges. Learning to use these products to glaze the pots is a long process and requires a lot more knowledge than the throwing technique. Within the studio the following methods will be seen:

- glazing by dipping
- glazing by spraying
- glazing by painting

E. Computer skills (lasting 60 hrs):

The 'trainee' will have to be computer literate. Daily use of the computer will be recommended on the premises, using a HP Pavilion computer running a Microsoft XP system with free access to internet:

- learning how to use the keyboard with ten fingers
- read and answer e-mails from the pottery studio's customers
- regular visits to website related to the ceramic industry to keep in touch with new development.

TRAINING OUTSIDE THE ENTERPRISE

The 'trainee' will attend a course in Limoges (lasting 40 hrs) to be acquainted with the enamel on copper traditional techniques.




26. FAST FORWARD

I started this blog to tell the story of St Civran Pottery from its beginning in 2002 till now in 2006-7. As it is taking much longer than I expected, I am jumping to the present, i.e. January 2007, to make an announcement.

I have decided to let my pottery studio with furnished house attached for this coming summer, as of 1st July.

An ad for it can be seen on the FrenchEntree website at the following page:

http://www.frenchentree.com/france-indre-directory/DisplayArticle.asp?ID=15799

Pass the word!


27. Winter 2007

My workshop is but an old barn turned pottery studio. There's no ceiling and the tile roof has only been vaguely insulated. In winter the temperature inside the studio can go down to a couple of degrees above 0 Celsius, i.e. near freezing point.

In the winter of 2002-2003 I had a wood stove and a gaz heater on all day. However the temperature used to come drastically down during the night. One bisque firing came out with a crack under each pot in the form of an S like a Zorro sign with a spelling mistake! From then on I decided not to fire bisques during the winter at all.

This year, apart from a snow storm in January, the winter is amazingly mild. Some days I can fiddle, if not work, in the studio with just a wood stove on.

I've decided to try a glaze kiln.

Here with a paint brush I am putting a layer of a product called XE356B (61356) MULCORIT on the kiln shelves. It prevents pots from sticking for ever on the shelves if by chance a drop of glaze has run.

At first I put the stuff on both sides of each shelf. A bad idea. After a while, it gets hard and flakes of it fall down on the nice glaze of a pot on the shelf below.

Now I use one side of a shelf without any product for bisk firing and the other side with the stuff for glaze firings only.


28. RENT A POTTERY STUDIO IN FRANCE

Rent my pottery studio in St Civran!
fully equipped WITH 2 POTTERS WHEELS and AN ELECTRIC KILN

FOR 100 EUROS PER WEEK

over the 2007 season FROM MAY TO OCTOBER

See details of the area on the right column here

You can take a look at some of my flickr photos. You'll have to click on the set called 'BerryHobby Pottery Workshop' to view the studio and the set 'Province of Berry' to see the region.

If you wish to come and visit, try this Bed n' Breakfast in a nearby village.


29. In the month of May

At last the weather has warmed enough for me to start work in my pottery studio again. I will be able to use it until the end of October.

A young student in physics and chemistry contacted me recently and asked if she could come. At first I sent her off saying I wasn't giving beginners courses any more. But she said she had been trying to come for some time and she sounded like she meant it.

Like Jessica last year, she is actually staying with us in the house for a week or so and is using the studio for most of the day. I only showed her the tricks of the trade for the first day. She keeps trying and she's getting good. I hope she will come back regularly as I really enjoy sharing my studio.

While my assistant potter sweats on the wheel and my grand-daughter plays with earth, I break dried clay into bits with a big hammer. Put in buckets filled with water, this muck becomes workable clay again.









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