Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Now to more a slightly more serious topic: Like many other countries the recession is affecting many of our trades and pottery is no exception. The pottery industry has long been a major employer in the Midlands especially around the Stoke on Trent area, but sadly now many famous name factories have gone into receivership: Wedgwood, Royal Worcester, Spode etc. Years of heritage are either at risk or lost! Skilled men and women have been made redundant and their skills lost to us, maybe for good - times changed and the pottery trade didn’t always change with them.
For example: In the past many families aspired to owning a complete dinner service, (the staple of many a wedding gift list). In grand English country houses of yester-year these sets were sometimes comprised of dozens of pieces: several sizes of plates, soup bowls, desert bowls, finger bowls, soup tureens, sauce tureens, vegetable dishes, platters, comports etc. Smaller homes would perhaps have a dinner set for six or eight. In today’s family, entertaining friends may involve a pasta set rather than finger bowls. Even our ‘cuppa’ is likely to be taken from a mug rather than a cup with a matching saucer and accordingly tea sets have declined in popularity.
Other changes in life style have also had influence; today’s women are less likely to want to be at home polishing and dusting and perhaps are more likely to work outside the home, so accordingly we have the ‘Ikea’ generation, jealously guarding their leisure by having houses that are easy to clean, less clutter and fewer ornaments.
Sadly England is not alone in losing potteries. Across the channel in France the big faienceries have also suffered: production in Desvres has all but disappeared; only smaller independent artisans remain. Malicorne too has lost one of its faienceries, and in Quimper it is strongly rumoured that HB Henriot is for sale once more, having already shed skilled workers and cut hours…so what will become of the pottery industry? How will future collectors view the first decade of the century? Have the best days of artistry in pottery gone? Where should we look for treasures of the future?

Fortunately in Quimper smaller artisans thrive, we have artists such as
Philippe Lalys, http://www.lalysquimper.com/ )
Olivier Lapique,
Valerie Le Roux, (http://www.valerieleroux.com/)
Marie Toulhoat
and the Taburets so we are already spoilt for choice.
In addition France is beginning to encourage small enterprises in a way it has not before, recently a new regime was introduced: that of auto-entrepreneurs. The French government may have been surprised to have been inundated with applications to register! The mood in France is more encouraging to small business than ever before when stringent rules and regulations as well as the dreaded ‘cotisations’ could discourage all but the bravest.
So……next time you have a shelf with a gap that needs filling, blank walls that simply need pottery to decorate them, or even a gift to buy, please think about current French faience production and smaller artisans – future generations may thank you in years to come.

PS. Some of you may know that for the past eight years I have been a member of an online forum for British people who are moving to France, have a ‘maison secondaire’ or even just holiday in France. One of my fellow contributors to the forum is Tim Hayward who lives in the Vendee
Like many older French properties Tim’s home has outbuildings and while ‘exploring’ one of these he found a pile of magazines ‘La Femme Chez Elle’ dating from around 1911. He has been kind enough to scan the front covers of the magazines and allow me to reproduce the images here through April.
Sadly there are no images of Breton ladies or advertisements for Quimper Pottery – I have already asked!
If you would like to read Tim’s view of life in France his blog is here: http://woolybanana.blogspot.com/
I’ll be listing other blogs at a later date.

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