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.

19 December 2006

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.

16 December 2006

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.

12 December 2006

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.

07 December 2006

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 2002 as he started at the potters wheel.

He would concentrate and absorb what I was teaching him like a sponge.

And here's the same guy two months later throwing a vinegar jar like a professional

04 December 2006

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 a nearby provincial town.


Here's me as mother-in-law half asleep in an armchair.

01 December 2006

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

30 November 2006

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.

Me and my old Ford

28 November 2006

17. Summer 2002

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

27 November 2006

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 make people 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...!

24 November 2006

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.

22 November 2006

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.

05 November 2006

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.

02 November 2006

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.

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.

29 October 2006

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 Bleu with a specific program for each province or region of the country. The local one here is called France Bleu 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!

06 October 2006

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 one day 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 later through the post.

Here are some of the pots made in 2002:

The new seal looks more professional than the old one.

The little funny jug is meant to keep ice cubes. It works well when you want to use the icy water from it.

A porous pot, perfect to keep the garlic dry.

This red pot plant holder has the studio's seal and Hadrien's mark H on it. It was thrown on the wheel in 2002 and glazed three years later.

04 October 2006

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".

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!

03 October 2006

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. Centering 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.

5. Registering at the Chamber of Trades

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

The Chamber of Trades 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 Trades 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.

02 October 2006

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 stcivran-poterie dot com

01 October 2006

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.

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 St Civran, another village in the same
province of Berry. 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.

26 September 2006

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 of these manual tasks are dirty and repetitive. Degrading even. But there are intellectual tasks too that 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?