Article écrit par Coll Minogue au sujet de la poterie Jacques Jeanneney dans la revue The LogBook. Très documenté, il présente le projet de l'ASPPP dans son contexte historique de la poterie Poyaudine et l'événement de la grande cuisson d'octobre 2003... Merci à Coll et Robert pour leur aimable autorisation de reproduction...

Article first published in The LogBook, The international publication for wood fires and those interested in wood-fired ceramics. N°16, 2003. Editors Coll Minogue and Robert Sanderson. All right reserved.

Poterie Jacques Jeanneney
by Coll Minogue

Wood-fired pottery has been produced in the Puisaye region of central France for over 500 years. While many of the workshops, with their huge traditional kilns (fours couchés), continued in production up to the 1950s, there was then a period of rapid decline which saw the majority of these potteries close and their kilns demolished.

In the village of Saint Amand en Puisaye a number of kilns survived, but were no longer used. One such kiln was at the pottery now known as the Poterie Jacques-Jeanneney, situated in Faubourg des Poteries, a short distance from the centre of the village. When St. Amand was at its peak as a pottery producing village around 1830, over 300 people were employed in the potteries there. The Poterie Jacques-Jeanneney has been in existence since 1820, with some of the buildings dating back to the 1700s. In 1906 it was rented by Paul Jeanneney, a sculptor from Paris who had worked with Rodin on some of his large sculptures. Paul Jeanneney later bought the pottery and employed potter Albert Jacques, from Saint Vérain to run it for him, so that his large clay sculptures could be fired in the 100m3 (3,530cu.ft.) woodfire kiln. Albert Jacques was a member of one of the oldest pottery families of the Puisaye region, and could trace his family back through nine generations of potters to the 1630s. When Paul Jeanneney died in 1920, Albert Jacques bought the pottery and worked there until the 1950s. By the time his son Roger inherited the pottery, he already had a workshop of his own, and the premises were subsequently only used for the preparation of clay. Roger Jacques died in 2001.

François Eve first came to St. Amand in the early 1980s when he was 30 years old, and was establishing a pottery not far from the village. Seeing all the old buildings, kilns and tools he became very interested in their history. Gradually a sense of determination and responsibility grew in François that the 500 years of pottery history of the Puisaye region should not be allowed to just fade away. He was conscious of the fact that his own career as a potter owed much to the skills and knowledge that had been passed down to him, and wished in someway to acknowledge and show his respect for the potters of the past. Subsequently he became passionate about keeping the pottery tradition of the Puisaye area alive and passing it on to future generations. François believes that to learn of the past makes one humble, it changes your whole perception of yourself and your work. He felt strongly that the pool of knowledge that still existed in the village of St. Amand should be utilised.

When François saw the Poterie Jacques-Jeanneney which had largely been lying dormant for almost 30 years, he felt that it would make an ideal location to fulfil his aims as there was plenty of space, with many buildings. While the historic spirit of the environment would be retained, contemporary work would be produced there. When François saw the huge kiln at the pottery, dating from the beginning of the 19th century, he felt that he would welcome an opportunity to participate in the firing of such a kiln one day - and that the tradition of firing these kilns should be kept alive. Inspired by this kiln, some years later he built a smaller version to help him understand the design and allow him to gain experience in firing this type of kiln.

François has been teaching glaze chemistry at the Centre National de Formation Céramique CNIFOP (A government funded College of Ceramics) in St. Amand, for the past 15 years. He bought the Poterie Jacques-Jeanneney in 2000. Since then it has been managed by L'Association pour la Sauvegarde du Patriomoine Potier en Puisaye (The Association for the Preservation of the Potters' of Puisaye Heritage), which was founded by François and his wife Yolaine in 1983. A contract exists whereby the Association is responsible for running the pottery for a period of 20 years. The long-term aim is 'to make the Poterie Jacques-Jeanneney a meeting point and work place that will allow potters of all ages and origins, professional and amateur, to explore together, discover and exchange ideas through exhibitions, workshops, firings and other events.'

The property in general was in a very bad state of repair after some 50 years of disuse. In terms of French bureaucracy, the existence of the association meant that it was now possible to apply for financial assistance to various Government bodies and consequently commence work restoring the pottery buildings and repairing the kiln. François was soon joined on a full-time basis by Linda Lid from Norway, who had initially come to St. Amand to learn the local traditional method of throwing large pots. (There were still some pottery workshops employing throwers to make large pots.) While many have come and worked at the pottery for various periods of time over the past three years, François and Linda have been the only ones working there on a constant basis.
The first task was to repair the kiln and replace the huge clay-tiled roof on the timber framed shelter in front of the kiln (Loge des potiers - see map on page 14). The association had decided that the kiln should be fired as soon as possible. This would be the first firing in over 50 years, since the pottery had last been a working pottery in Albert Jacques time. In fact there was a considerable number of raw pots dating back to Albert Jacques production of the 1950s to be fired, that would now form the nucleus of the inaugural firing of the newly restored kiln. During the past year the association ran two courses - the first in spring, to make large pots and the second in the summer, to make large sculptures. Work produced at both of these courses was to be fired in the kiln. By July more than 100m3 of pottery was ready to be fired to stoneware temperature, and 250m3 of seasoned wood had been prepared and stacked in the yard.

The kiln was fired to dry it out for a period of eight days before packing began on 10th July. Linda gave this account of the process on the 29th July 'There are now about 20m3 of pots neatly arranged in the kiln. It is a precise and time consuming job to find the right place for each piece, to make each stack stable enough to support itself, so that it will not move too much in the intense heat, over several days. Gaetan has joined us and is helping Yolaine and François who are packing the kiln. Valery and Sandrine are glazing and removing 50 years of dust from the ancient stock of pots. Justin and myself are still throwing, but as there are enough pots to fill the kiln in terms of volume, the pieces being made now are to specific dimensions, to fill the gaps as the stacking progresses.'

The preheat (bassinage) began on the 20th September and continued for ten days. On Wednesday 1st October the fire was gradually built up, creating a small but hot ember bed. It was Thursday night (2nd October) before the kiln was hot enough to allow the fire to be moved inside the firebox. During the weekend of 3rd - 5th of October the pottery was open to the public. All were welcome to come and see the progress of the firing during this memorable event. In addition to the firing there was food, drinks, music and pottery videos were shown on a large outdoor screen. Each day there were many, many visitors, including several groups of students and school children from surrounding areas, together with their teachers.

By Friday (3rd Oct.) the fire was now entirely inside the firebox and a good ember bed had been established. Large logs were stoked in the lower part of the firemouth until midnight on Saturday (4th Oct.). During this stage of the firing (petit feu) the temperature was increased very gradually. Early on Sunday morning (5th Oct.) the firing pattern changed. The metal sheet covering the top half of the firemouth was raised about 20 cm (8 inches) and stoking with finely split acacia commenced on top, whist the fire in the bottom was maintained using medium-sized split oak. On Monday morning (6th Oct.) the aperture of the top firemouth was increased by 10 cm (4 inches) and thereafter only the top was stoked. The ember bed had by now filled the lower firemouth to the extent that a 100-150 litre barrel-full of of embers had to be removed (debraisage) periodically to ensure an adequate air supply. The temperature at the back of the chamber was by this time climbing steadily. At 1.00 am on Tuesday (7th Oct.), the firemouth was completely opened and the 'big fire' (grand feu) commenced. The additional draught meant that the stoking rhythm had to be increased in pace; the flame was now travelling throughout the entire kiln, and for the first time a short flame emerged from the top of the chimney. Due to the huge amount of wood being stoked, embers had now to be removed every hour. At this stage the wood being used was a 50/50 mix of finely split birch and acacia. By midday a temperature of 1250°C was recorded at the back of the chamber. François and the rest of the firing crew were jubilant, as they had achieved their goal - to obtain a relatively even temperature throughout the chamber.

The same stoking rhythm was maintained for the remainder of the day, still removing embers every hour; waiting for nightfall before stoking the 400 faggots (fagots), bundles of fine branches 1.5m in length, that would produce a rapid increase in temperature and send a huge flame out the chimney.

It had rained for most of Tuesday, the last day of the firing, however, the firemouth was closed and the kiln clammed up under a clear, full moon-lit sky at about 10.00 pm. All those who had participated in the firing were exhausted, but very pleased and emotional. Two long tables were then set out under the shelter in front of the kiln. The end of the firing was toasted with champagne, and the crew and guests - some 50 people in all - continued to eat, drink and celebrate by candlelight in a magnificent scene (somewhat resembling a medieval banquet), until the early hours of the following morning.

The kiln was then allowed to cool (refroidissement du four) for four weeks before unpacking (defournement) began on Wednesday 5th November. The firing was very successful. One week later Linda wrote: 'We only remove a few cubic metres every day to make the pleasure last. It is so beautiful! The pots are nicely coloured right through to the back, with melted ash. The old pieces that remained from Albert Jacques' time are magnificent, traditional jars, jugs and storage pots in different sizes.'

Plans for the future of the Poterie Jacques-Jeanneney include having another firing in the big kiln as soon as possible. In the meantime several smaller woodfire kilns will be constructed on the site and a gas kiln will probably also be acquired. One full-time position will exist at the pottery for a person under the age of 30, with the Government providing a grant to cover 80% of their wages. It is intended that ceramists will come to work at the pottery for periods of between 3 and 6 months, in two different categories: i) experienced ceramists who want to take time out from their own studios, to perhaps take their work in a new direction, with an opportunity to exhibit their work at the end of their residency and ii) younger people to gain further experience with a view to establishing studios of their own. It is also hoped that there will be opportunities for some young people to avail of the facilities at the pottery, in exchange for doing work there. In addition the Association plan to organise specialised courses - some in the trad-itional pottery techniques of the area, and others conducted by guest lecturers from different countries.

It is very important to François that the pottery tradition of the Puisaye region be brought to world-wide attention. At Poterie Jacques-Jeanneney he is dedicated to creating an open environment where people can come to meet others who share their passion.


Association pour la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Potier de Puisaye

Espace Céramique Jacques-Jeanneney

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