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 30 to 39

Note: The six digit figure after the title is the date it was written, day month year.

30. FINGER MARKS-020607

In March I took a badly needed two week break and drove to Scotland to visit potters. I didn't visit potters really but I wrote a travel blog anyway.

Back in my studio in rural France with renewed inspiration and energy I'm now making a set of new pots that I expect to sell. I am getting inspired by a book called Country Pottery 'Traditional Earthenware of Britain' by Andrew McGarva, that I bought at the Museum in Stoke-on-Trent in England.

I'm also getting inspiration from other potters who put photos of their work on the net on a flick account in the Ceramics Group. This salad bowl in red clay has marks of my dirty fingers... I put my wet hands on some gritty sand and then placed them on the wet-from-the-wheel new pot. It stuck! Once it was a bit dryer I brushed some white slip on it . The next thing is bisque firing. After that, I don't know!

This is a view of a home made earthenware vase with home made flowers that I planted in my garden a couple of years ago. They are now in bloom and fit real nicely in my vase.

31. Try the potter's wheel-060607

Many people are made to believe that throwing a pot on the potter's wheel is teeerribly difficult. It isn't. It isn't that hard. I may have the knack to pass my bit of knowledge on the subject but all my beginner students so far have been able to make a pot on the wheel after 4 or 5 days in my studio... I have photos to prove this!

This summer, at long last, I will be able to offer accommodation together with my pottery course. As from 14 July next, a loft in an old house will be available to my students. Basic but comfortable. With big shower in nice bathroom and a fully equipped kitchen corner. Just bring your own linen or sleeping bag. You will be able to buy food at a small supermarket in a nearby village.

The package for 6 hr pottery in the studio, together with accommodation in the loft, is €100.- per day per person, payable when you start. No booking fees.

To enrol or ask for more information, send an e-mail to berryhobbyatgmaildotcom.


Each year on a Sunday in June is held a potters market in the nearby town called Argenton-sur-Creuse. Here are a few photos of the event this year.

I have found that all potters were master craftsmen and women. All ceramics on the exhibition were beautiful and well made and reasonably priced. I didn't buy anything but I did fall for an onion pot with small holes and a lid priced at €48 that I would have loved to acquire!

33. Marketing pots

I recently drove to Bourges as Fanny had told me about a pottery shop there that she likes visiting.

I was amazed. It looked like a million pots had been stuck on numerous shelves as if for storage. I didn't know where to look. Different artists. Various styles. Many colours. I really didn't know where to start looking. So I left.

At the potters market on Sunday it was the same kind of arrangement. Each stall looked like the potter had loaded his entire stock on the table.

Wondering how I could sell my pots at my own place, I thought I would rather put up a few things here and there to attract the attention. But I'm no specialist in pot marketing, or in marketing at all. So, if any one has advice for me, I'll take it!


Tips and hints
Clay used for ceramics is roughly of two kinds:
- stoneware, of high density and non porous, fired at 1300° Celsius;
- earthenware, more tractable and porous, fired at 1000°.
This last one remains a little porous even with a good glazing. Certainly, the bottom of pots is glazed with great care, but, even then, an earthenware pot still oozes a bit when you fill it with water. Awkward. It leaves marks wherever you put it.

A remedy?

I heard that you had to fill the said pottery with milk and let it stand for a few days. The particles of 'curdle' slyly filter through the minute pores of your ceramic and make it waterproof.

True, it works! If you don't believe me, try it!

35. Robert's story

Early last year I received an e-mail from a young woman saying her 70 year old father had had a keen interest in pottery all his life. She wanted to offer him a week in my pottery studio as a present. Was it alright with me? I said I would be delighted to show him what I knew about throwing a pot on the wheel.

He arrived with his handicapped wife and two old dogs at my gate one day in summer 2006. They were staying in their caravan at a camping site in the area. I remember taking them to the back of the studio where there's a patch of grass under an apricot tree and giving water to the dogs.

The next day after getting some clay balls ready we sat each at a potter's wheel and I started my demo. I usually rave about the cosmic experience it is to 'center' 700 grams of wet clay in the middle of the wheel. Yes, I state that throwing a pot is a spiritual happening... after all it is said somewhere in the bible that god is a potter, isn't it?

Anyway, it worked on Robert. He produced a number of great items within a week.

But the weather was very stormy and I didn't want to start my electric kiln in an electric storm. So he left with his stuff in green clay nicely packed. He promised he would come back to glaze and fire.

As things went, I could not have him in October when he could come. Some time later he could not come when I was ready to welcome him back. In January 2007 I received an e-mail with new year greetings. Later in March or so I sent an email to his daughter which was returned to me as 'unknown correspondent'.

Yes but... Robert hadn't waited 70 years to learn pottery and forget about it so soon. In July this year he turned up at my gate again saying he and his wife (and the dogs) were parked at the camping ground in Argenton-sur-Creuse. When could he glaze and fire his pots?

So we worked for about four days and then he got his stuff out of the kiln! Hoorey Robert! Bravo...


Here are three articles of interest about potters in Asia that I found on the website called 'CERAMICS TODAY' :

- in China  From an article by Steve Brousseau, 'Throwing Classical Porcelain of Jingdezhen' :

"Jingdezhen classical porcelain is unlike any other clay. (...)

" Kaolin clay, gaolin, was discovered around 500 years ago during the Ming Dynasty in the mountain village of Gaolin. This addition of white gaolin clay to the petunze gave a structure to the porcelain and made possible the throwing of large forms, both as complete pieces and in the sectional cylinders of the body-height vases. (...)

"Jingdezhen is the home of nine of the 26 Masters of Art and Craft of China, the highest national accolade. This title is generally reserved for the decorators. The unsung craftsmen throwers are hidden away in factories and one stumbles upon them to watch in awe at their tremendous skill and humbleness."

- in Korea
From an article by Ron du Bois, 'Ongi Potters' :

"Korean pottery today is still largely produced as it was in the past. (...)

"The complexity of the ceramic process is taken for granted, as is the necessity for a division of labor. Chopping wood, mixing and decanting clay, slicing, stacking and firing are assigned to specialists. The authorship of the pottery when it emerges from the kiln is diffuse, since it is the result of the coordinated effort of many hands." (...)

"But, for the present, at least, the Western potter is still able to observe the traditional skills of the Korean potter.

- in Cambodia
From an anonymous article :
"The National Center for Khmer Ceramics Revival is aimed at the revival of Cambodian ceramics. (...)

"Serge Rega established NCKCR in Siem Reap-Angkor, renowned for the Angkor temples. Tourists abound, creating substantial incomes, but paradoxically Siem Reap remains one of the poorer provinces of Cambodia. Siem Reap is emerging as a developed city, but geographically, poverty is displaced by about only 2 kilometers.
NCKCR is involved in Vocational training, which helps the poor rural population and will decrease poverty. Training is provided free of charge. Students are given an allowance to compensate for 'lost' time, which would otherwise be spent earning a living."

37. Functional pottery

The urge in making a pot, as far as I am concerned,  is to produce a vessel I am going to use. The shape is ruled by the function, by the way I am going to use that pot. If it is a beaker, it has to have a spout that does not drip and a handle easy to grab. And, as far as I am concerned,  'functional is beautiful'.

Here's my home made functional jug...

Comments welcome!


For this coming season, May to October 2008, the St Civran pottery studio will remain closed. I have to face it. My little venture has not been a success. 

When I started it in the spring of 2002 with an open house day, my vision for the future was to attract tourists, for six months of the year, to this quiet rural area in the middle of France only three motorway hours from Paris. For two reasons: 
a) to bring people and new ideas to my native province, and 
b) to earn a living for myself.

I may have been naive and/or arrogant in thinking I could change the world all on my own! The local dwellers have not shown any interest in my plans. They carry on their routine lives as cattle farmers without apparent qualms. 

However, I keep thinking that nothing is given for ever. Cattle breeding is great but what if it failed to feed its farmers one day? Sure, meat production is a valuable element in agriculture. But, what about vegetables? There's next to no horticulture in the area. And hardly any tourist activity. 

My pottery studio was geared to attract city people with an interest in pottery as a hobby. With the adequate internet facilities nowadays, it is quite possible to get city dwellers from the north of France, Britain and Germany to come and spend a week or two in the area. What I had in mind, moreover, is that my pottery activity would bring other such folk art as traditional dancers or wicker basket makers. It didn't. In fact my feeling is that my 'new' activity in the village has been seen as a disturbing element. I have now left and the pottery barn will be closed this summer. But this is not my last word.

I am expecting a miracle!... As someone said one day: "People who do not believe in miracles are not realistic"... A miracle whereby some bold entrepreneurs would come and settle in the area with that same vision. I need help to pull that cart forward! I know France is not an easy place to be bold. Numerous rules and regulations send shivers down the spine. Above all, the general idea that being successful and earning 'profits' are sinful, sends any business minded person running. I'll give it another go... next year. 
my French translation:

Pour la prochaine saison, mai à octobre 2008, l'atelier de poterie de St Civran restera fermé. Il faut que j'admette que ma petite entreprise n'a pas été un succès.

Quand j'ai démarré au printemps 2002 avec une journée porte ouverte, ma vision de l'avenir était d'attirer des touristes pendant six mois de l'année dans ce coin du centre de la France, rural et tranquille, à trois heures d'autoroute de Paris. Pour deux raisons:
a) pour amener des gens et des idées neuves dans ma province natale, 
b) pour gagner ma vie.

J'ai sans doute été naive et/ou arrogante de penser que je pouvais changer le monde toute seule! Les habitants locaux n'ont pas montré d'intérêt pour mes projets. Ils continuent leur vie routinière d'éleveurs sans soucis apparents.

Pourtant, je continue de penser que rien n'est jamais donné à jamais. Elever des troupeaux, c'est génial, mais que se passerait-il si cette activité ne nourrissait plus ses fermiers un jour? Bien sûr que la production de viande est un élément essentiel de l'agriculture. Et les légumes alors? Il n'y a pratiquement pas d'horticulture dans le secteur. Et guère d'activité touristique.

Mon atelier de poterie était prévue pour attirer les citadins qui s'intéressent à la poterie en tant que hobby. Avec les facilités de connection internet d'aujourd'hui, il est tout à fait possible de faire venir des citadins du nord de la France, de Grande-Bretagne et d'Allemagne pour qu'ils passent une semaine ou deux dans la région. Je pensais aussi que mon activité à la poterie attirerait d'autres arts populaires tels que la dance traditionelle ou la vannerie. Ce ne fut pas le cas. En fait j'ai le sentiment que ma 'nouvelle' activité dans le village a été un élément de dérangement. J'en suis partie maintenant et la grange de la poterie sera fermée cet été. Mais je n'ai pas dit mon dernier mot.

J'attends un miracle!... Comme quelqu'un a dit un jour: "ceux qui ne croient pas aux miracles ne sont pas réalistes"... Un miracle qui ferait que des entrepreneurs téméraires viendraient s'installer dans la région avec la même vision. J'ai besoin d'un coup de main pour tirer la charrette! Je sais bien qu'en France il n'est pas facile d'être téméraire. Les nombreuses règlementations font frémir. Et surtour, l'idée généralement admise que le succès en affaires et le 'profit' sont un péché, renvoie chez lui toute personne tant soit peu intéressée. Je retenterai ma chance, encore une fois... l'année prochaine.  
German translation by Horst:

Für die kommende Saison vom Mai bis Oktober 2008 wird mein Töpfer-Studio in St Civran (Frankreich) geschlossen sein. Ich muss es gestehen, meine kleine Werkstatt war bisher nicht erfolgreich.

Als ich im Frühling 2002 mit der Idee einer "offenen Tür" begann, war es mein Anliegen mit Besuchern aus der Nachbarschaft und von auswärts zu arbeiten. Ich wollte die Werkstatt für 6 Monate im Jahr öffen. Die Töpferei liegt nur 3 Fahrstunden (Autobahn A20) von Paris entfernt in einer ruhigen und ländlichen Gegen Mittelfrankreichs.
Meine Gründe waren:
a) neue Leute und Ideen in meine Gegend zu bringen und
b) etwas Geld für meinen Unterhalt zu verdienen.

Vielleicht war ich naiv oder arrogant, als ich dachte, ich könnte die Welt alleine verändern. Die Nachbarn rundum zeigten und zeigen keinerlei Interesse an meinen Plänen. Sie leben weiterhin ihre Alttagsroutine als Viehzüchter.  

Wie dem auch sei, ich denke nichts bleibt so wie es war und ist. Viehzucht ist zwar nützlich und gut, aber was ist, wenn eines Tages keine Viehzucht mehr benötig wird. Selbstverständlich ist die Rinderproduktion eine sinnvolle Sache. Gemüseanbau kann genauso sinnvoll sein. Demnächst wird es aber keinen Gartenbau mehr in meiner Gegend geben. Und kaum noch Aktivitäten für Touristen.

Meine Werkstatt sollte Stadtbewohner mit Interesse an der Töpferei als Hobby anlocken. Mit den Möglichkeiten des Internet ist es heute einfach, Städter aus dem Norden Frankreichs, aus Grossbritanien oder auch aus Deutschland für einen Besuch von 1-2 Wochen zu motivieren. Ich glaubte, dass mit meinen Töpfereiarbeiten auch Volkskunst mit traditionellen Tänzern oder auch Weidenflechter ankommen würden. Aber es war nicht so! Ich glaube nun, dass meine Ideen im Dorf als störend empfunden werden.

Ich habe die Gegend nun verlassen und die geraümige Töpferei wird in diesem Sommer geschlossen sein. Aber das ist nicht mein letztes Wort!

Doch ich glaube an Wunder!... Eines Tages sagt jemand: "Menschen, die an keine Wunder glauben, sind keine Realisten". Ein Wunder wäre es, wenn kühne Unternehmer kommen und sich in der gleichen Gegend mit Zukunftvisionen ansiedeln würden. Ich kann jede Hilfe gebrauchen, um meine Vision zu verwirklichen. 

Ich kenne Frankreich und es ist nicht einfach hier, kühn zu sein. Viele Regeln und Vorschriften verhindern unternehmerisches Handeln. Ich bin der Auffassung, dass unternehmerisches Handel für ein Land sehr wichtig ist und auch entsprechend durch Geld verdienen belohnt werden sollte. Erfolg kann motivieren. Im nächten Jahr werde ich es nochmals versuchen!

...Vielleicht werden bis dahin die Heinzelmännchen für mich arbeiten.

39. Pause publicité

Ce qui suit n'a rien à voir avec ce qui précède... Comme tous les grands médias de nos jours, voici ma pause pub!

Une machine à remonter le temps... si, si, ça existe! 

Un jour de l'an 2003 une dame se prénommant Françoise m'a mis dans les mains une longue liste de noms. En la lisant assidûment j'ai rencontré mes ancêtres jusque dans les années 1500 portant le même patronyme que moi. Je n'en revenais pas. Ce privilège de connaître intimement ses ancêtres était réservé aux familles de la noblesse d'antan. Ce privilège de savoir qu'on a un lien de parenté avec un brillant inconnu m'est désormais réservé.

Cette généalogiste a changé ma vie. Elle a travaillé d'arrache-pied toutes ses années pour arriver à la somme des connaissances sur la saga de ma famille parternelle. Cette étude hautement documentée de 250 pages est maintenant sous presse. J'ai hâte d'avoir enfin le livre en main.

FRANCOISE ROUET, géniale généalogiste devant l'éternel, attend vos commandes et vos travaux de généalogie coincés dans un tiroir. On peut laisser un message à l'adresse e-mail suivante:  fr.rouet-genealogie at gmail dot com    

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