Thursday, March 11, 2010

From Earth to Clay with David Louveau de la Guigneraye

For a potter, clay is THE fundamental ingredient. Like a chef can't cook a good meal without fresh and tasty vegetables/meat, a potter needs high quality clay to make his wares. Most tea drinkers know this, because they understand how intimately the teapot and cup react with the brew. And because tea is a natural product, it reacts best with materials that have been obtained naturally.

David Louveau de la Guigneraye is a potter in La Borne. This village in the center of France has a pottery tradition that can be traced back to 1260. In those times, transportation was slow and costly, so potters and ovens were located close to good sources of clay.

In the nearby woods, we can still see holes where the clay makers would dig 3 meters deep and make galleries.

Here, they would extract a rich yellow earth that has a plastic feel. Even on the surface, we could easily spot such earth during our walk (near the water). The basic material for clay seems to be readily available under our feet!

A little farther, David showed me a place where he had digged clay for his workshop. This is very hard work (and very few potters do so nowadays). But one can imagine how satisfying it must be for a potter to know where his material come from. What was a necessity in the past has become almost a luxury!

David also turns to quarries, open-pit mines, that extract minerals, stone, sand. These unrefined materials are mostly used for construction material. The important point for him is to obtain ingredient in their original state, without any industrial additions.

This soil isn't ready to use clay yet. I played with some in my hands, but couldn't make a smooth shape. It contains small stones and organic material. It need to be crushed, filtered, and refined. David also uses traditional methods for these steps. The variations of weather are a good tool. The natural change of weather and temperature, (sun, wind, rain and ice) help to slowly decompose the soil.

David regularly flips his various soils with a shovel in order to expose all of it to the air. This process can take several years. He has one heap that is even 40 years old! (It is the one in the middle on the right in the picture above).

Continuous drying and humidifying is how the clay is naturally refined.

Next, the clay is placed in big pools with water. There, it will rot (!) and continue to improve. It will become more plastic.

In Chapter 3 of A Potter's Book, Bernard Leach writes that this slow, traditional step makes the clay better than if it were simply processed through a press filter.

In the last step, David will place the clay in a big fabric. Once it is just dry enough, he will knead the clay by stepping on it with bare feet. Then he obtains a big cake that looks like this:
The natural and powerful feel of David Louveau's bowls and other wares comes from the direct link their clays have to the earth. His genuine materials and his traditional processes create clays that are alive and completely natural.

Thank you David for all the hard work and dedication it takes to follow this difficult path!


Wojciech Bońkowski said...

Amazing! Thank you for sharing. Even when you have some experience in using various clay pots for tea it is surprising and very revealing to learn about a potter's hard and intimate work with the clay.

Michel said...

here the cornish call guys like him

'A legend'- salt of the earth.

Petr Novák said...

Dear Stephane,

I would like to give you thanks for your posting about pottery background. As you have written about David’s approach to clay that “very few potters do so nowadays“ so also only few tea drinkers have so deep and enthusiastic approach to exploring pottery and relations between tea and pots as you have.

Clay From La Borne is famous all around the pottery world- real treasure of the France and David’s way is fantastic and everyone can feel it from his pots.

Jacob Ross Bodilly said...

You have my respects, would love to see some of these clays. When I first saw traditional liborne saltglaze pottery I fell in love with every aspect of its being. It is true David is following the hardest most rewarding path, laughs. Jacob Bodilly

TeaMasters said...

I'm sure these comments will make David very happy and will boost his confidence. I hear that during this cold winter there were very few visitors in La Borne, so it will comfort him to read that he has the respect of his peers.