Dreaming of French Country Pottery

A book I often take down from my bookshelves and reread is The French Country Table: Pottery & Faience of Provence by Bernard Duplessy with photos by Camille Moirenc. I never tire of looking at Moirenc’s photos of rustic French pottery in tiled kitchens. I dream of flying to France to see these pots for myself. I want to pick them up and run my fingers down their sides. I sit at my wheel and wonder; can I infuse my own work with such vigor?

Duplessy, though his writing is a little too snappy for me, gives us a brief history of pottery in Provence, going back thousands years. Then he takes us on a tour around the kitchen, describing the various culinary vessels. Moirenc’s lush photos of these wares grace nearly every page. We see the sartan (skillet); pignate (stew pot), tian (bowl or gratin plate); oule (stew pot) pégau (potbellied, one handled pot with a pouring spout); plus storage jars; cheese strainers; and even roof tiles. I skip past the highly decorated faience at the end of the book. It’s the partially glazed pieces that call me.

I love the section on skillets in which Duplessy tells us that experienced cooks “’baptize’ the skillet with hot water and ‘anoint’ it with oil before each use, as well as to allow it to gradually grow accustomed to the heat.” I think the fat bodies and thick rims of the large storage jars (doliums and jarrons) are just the right proportions. And oh, the pitchers! Splashed with green or yellow glaze. Deep orange ones. Best of all, wet ones, fresh off the wheel!

Interspersed with all the photos of pots, are photos of potter’s workshops and well-stocked showrooms, potter’s hands at work, boards of drying pots, and glimpses of the potters themselves. Since the book is written for decorators and collectors more than potters, it is all presented in the most romantic fashion.

We are told that we must visit the potters’ festival in Cliousclat in June. Duplessy assures us that there are so many potters in the region it is a “republic of potters.”

There are lists of potteries and their addresses and phone numbers at the back of the book. Since it was published in French in 2002 and in English in 2003, just as the web was really taking off, we are not given websites or email addresses. That’s ok. The photos in the book are enough clay porn for me.

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