FRANCOIS GUILLAUME &
RENEWAL AT LA BORNE
It was the conditions and course of the Second World War which created a backdrop against which François Guillaume was to play out one of his most cherished and important dreams for ceramics at La Borne. Guillaume's role at its simplest is described by Chaton and Talbot:
'... de nouveau les conditions sont changes, Les
contraintes sont multiples et pesantes, chacun, ˆ
sa façon, cherche ˆ les surmonter ou à y échapper:
c'est pour enrichir le magasin presque vide de
François Guillaume que Jean Lerat vient travailler
à La Borne en l94l ...'(l)
This perception of Guillaume's activity as being no more than a subsidiary, receptive one is modified in another publication on the village which Chaton compiled with the cooperation of Henri Talbot. Though the comment is brief, the emphasis is different:
'... François Guillaume voit son magasin bien démuni.
Il va alors profiter des circonstances pour tenter de
réaliser un projet ancien: reprendre la tradition
imagière bornoise, la renouveler sans la copier.
C'est qu'il va proposer à Jean Lerat, céramiste, ancien
élève de l'école des Beaux-Arts de Bourges, qui
travaillera à La Borne et lui livrera sa production...'(2)
Though succeeding in some small measure in defining Guillaume's purpose in embarking on such a venture, this passage is still misleading. At the time, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Bourges did not possess a ceramic section, other than a kick-wheel, and although he had made the head for the l937 Exhibition in Paris and collaborated with Guillaume in the editing of some industrial projects, Jean Lerat's artistic training and experience had been in painting and sculpture, not ceramics, thus the passage quoted leaves some doubt as to the importance of Guillaume as innovator and guiding figure behind this effort to resuscitate the village. Unquestionable, however, were the privations engendered by the defeat, and occupation by the German forces, of the French nation.
Guillaume's personal reflections on the future of the traditional craft industry of La Borne at this period are sparse, but one of his informative ones, prepared in l950, records his concern over with the constant diminution of the output of the village. But while helping to clarify his intentions for La Borne, the brief description of his own effort only partially explains the role that he had played, not only in the village, but in the region as a whole; not only for traditional pottery, but also for a large part of the ceramic industry:
'... La production de LA BORNE tend vers zero.
En l94l, persuadé de ce que la production de LA BORNE
était condamnée a disparaître, j'avais pris l'initiative
de louer un atelier et d'y installer un élève sortant
des BEAUX ARTS de BOURGES pour produire des objets de
décoration, essayant ainsi de renouer avec la tradition
de poterie folkloriques nées à LA BORNE pendant le siècle
dernier. J'esperais aussi que cette tentative attirerait
des émules ...'(3)
The Maison Guillaume, renowned in the region for the quality of its cutlery, glass, table ware and decorative objects had been cut-off from its principal sources. The German occupation had the effect of closing the frontiers to all significant imported products, this even embracing those of the 'Zone Libre'. Thus, Guillaume was immediately deprived of supplies from the manufacturers of porcelain in Limoges. Likewise, he could no longer rely on cristal from Alsace-Lorraine, and war-time restrictions had already reduced the transport system to a minimum and was inevitably beginning to impair the productive powers of local manufacturers.
The student of whom he was writing was of course, Jean Lerat, but it is important to record that, in this note of l950, he recorded two aims, namely, to produce decorative ware which might forge a link with that of the past, and to stimulate others to follow his example.
The employment of Jean Lerat
The 'Livre de Paye à L'Etablissement Guillaume' shows that Jean-Louis Lerat entered into the employment of François Guillaume in early l94l.(4) The only document that gives any indication of the immediate result of the relationship is a brief handwritten note, dated l8 April l94l, in which Guillaume has recorded a payment made to Lerat: 500 francs for an angel, l60 for two little ones and 80 francs for a king and a pawn, 740 francs in all. It would not be until early l946 that Guillaume would have the opportunity to produce, and advertise, the chess-set (Figs.154, l55) which he was having created at this time (5), but there is no doubt that Lerat's initial responsibility was the creation, in collaboration with Guillaume, of works of this nature. Still remaining in the possession of the family are plaster of Paris original for the figurine of the angel and two small porcelain ones (Fig. l56), recorded for payment. That all such pieces were reproduced in porcelain in one of the factories in Vierzon is suggested by one example of a figure of the Virgin (Fig. l57), an upright, slender, praying figure in which a slightly forward and vertical sense of movement is achieved by a sensitive use of the lines that evoke the sweep of the long white mantle.
What then were Guillaume's precise intentions at this time? Without substantiating evidence other than that uncovered, two possible deductions seem feasible. One is that he had employed Lerat to work specifically on projects such as this, only to find his plans thwarted by the growing wartime stringencies that were affecting the industry. An alternative deduction is that he might have wished to put Lerat's talent as a sculptor to use during an interim period in which he could negotiate his installation in La Borne, to work where he himself had worked, in the atelier of Armand Bedu.
La Borne: the arrival of Jean Lerat, May l94l
In either event, by May l94l, Jean Lerat was so established. Writing from Henrichemont he related to Guillaume the difficulty he had experienced when, on arriving in the village on the previous Monday with the understanding that a room had been reserved for him in the local bistro, he discovered to his dismay, that the proprietor, M. Dubois, no longer wished to lease the accommodation. Accordingly, at eight o'clock in the evening:
'... J'ai du reprendre le chemin d'Henrichemont
à pied, ou j'ai une chambre à l'Hôtel du Boeuf qui
ne peut me nourrir et je prends mon petit dejeunner
et diner à l'Hôtel du Nord ou toutes les chambres
sont louées ...'(6)
This enforced residence in Henrichemont would thus necessitate the following daily routine: arise at 6 a.m.; breakfast at 6.45 a.m.; walk the four kilometres to La Borne to commence work at 8.00 a.m.; lunch between l.00 and 2.00 p.m.; departure for Henrichemont, once more on foot, between 5.30 and 6.00 p.m. (7) There follows details of his expenses for a one-month stay in Henrichemont: hotel costs at 250 francs per month with breakfast and evening meal amounting to 600 francs. Jean Lerat first appears officially in Guillaume's payroll in July l94l when he received 5,82l francs. Subsequent monthly payments of l,950 francs for August and 2,000 francs per month thereafter suggest that this first amount was for the three-month period from the beginning of May. (8) The fact that Lerat's gross salary was similar to that of Guillaume's representative and his two 'chefs du service' may be taken as a measure of the importance he attached to his venture, as well as his estimation of Jean Lerat's worth. There seems little likelihood that Lerat was expected to pay his own accommodation costs and, having indicated such expenditure, he continues, 'En plus il faut prévoir mon repas de midi. J'attends votre décision pour savoir s'il faut continuer', an inference that Guillaume had accepted to underwrite the total expenses of the venture. Lerat himself has related that this collaboration was to continue on a month-to-month basis, and the fact that four existing letters of the period ( two written in May; 8th September; 9th October ) were all written from Henrichemont are evidence that, despite the cost involved, Guillaume was content with the initial results of his enterprise. It would not be until December that Lerat was finally domiciled in the village of La Borne (9), and his own recollection of this arduous daily routine was that he, who at the time was not particularly robust, had benefited markedly from the exercise.(l0)
Although faced with such difficulties, Jean Lerat was nonetheless able to report to Guillaume that he had already started working, '... j'ai commencé le calvaire en forme de croix. Je pense le finir après demain matin ...'(ll) A few days later, once more writing to Guillaume, he recorded:
'... Aujourd'hui j'ai decollé la croix de dessus la
planche, j'ai du réparer une cassure; je ne pense
pas qu'elle bouge maintenant. Je l'ai signée sur le
No.l ll - 5 - 4l
Je vous enverrai le fiche dès que j'en aurais
plusieurs à faire. En espérant vous voir mercredi...'(l2)
The Guillaume-Lerat collaboration - the significance of the primary documents
As has been shown, Lerat signed this 'calvaire' with his full name, that of the village, the number of the piece and the precise date. Except for the latter, this was a practice which was to be continued for all subsequent items produced until collaboration ceased some years later. Jacqueline Bouvet, who was later to become Madame Lerat, recalls how, in addition to the above details, each product also bore the 'tampon' of François Guillaume (l3) but, since all were produced for sale in the premises in rue des Arènes, only a very few have been traced, thus it has been impossible to verify this claim.
The 'fiche' of which Lerat speaks was a simple sketch of the finished object, (Fig. l58) bearing, in addition to the above details, its title, 'CALVAIRE' in this instance, and the dimensions of the piece. Each subsequent object, or group of objects, was recorded in this way, and in duplicate, one set being retained by François Guillaume and the other by Lerat himself. It was only from mid l943 onwards, when other artists collaborated in the venture, that Guillaume started keeping details of sales in a commercial ledger. Prior to this, no such formal commercial records appear to have been kept, the fiches themselves having the selling price of each item noted beside the relevant sketch of the object.
Altogether, there are two hundred and fifteen such 'fiches', although they are numbered up to 206. The difference is accounted for by the fact that nine fiches are marked 'bis' following the number of the preceeding one. Each fiche records either a single object or a group of similar, but not identical forms, such as vases and cachepots. When examined, it was found that Guillaume had sometime later classified them into fourteen sections according to type. (Table 3)
Altogether they furnish a complete record of the total oeuvre of Jean Lerat between May l94l and the end of l944.
In addition, there remain six fiches, each containing a number of sketches by Andre Rozay and twelve by Jacqueline Bouvet, both of whom entered into collaboration with Guillaume in l943; Rozay remaining for some months, and Bouvet continuing until the venture ceased to operate in l946
Of the original production of these few years at La Borne, only a small number of pieces have been traced. An examination of these has helped in interpreting the sketches, and this task has been further facilitated by the fortuituous preservation of some old, amateur, black and white photographs of the period. All of this primary documentation, taken in conjunction with surviving letters and newspaper articles constitute the only means whereby it is possible to reconstruct with reasonable accuracy this aspect of François Guillaume's work for La Borne.
The above only acquires comprehensible form when Lerat's fiches are re-assembled in their original numerical order. This achieved, certain patterns of production begin to emerge, the most significant for identifying their year of production being the execution of 'crèches', Nativity cribs, for sale in Guillaume's shop at the end of each year. These, and some small animal forms, appear between fiches 66 and 8l in the first instance, followed by those of l47 and l50. Considering that the packing, firing and unpacking cycle of the 'grands fours' of the village required more than two weeks, and these were the only kilns available in the village at the time, it would have been necessary that Lerat made such pieces towards the end of October in each case, to ensure that they would be ready for display in rue des Arènes. Accordingly, one must assume that the pieces recorded on fiches l to 8l represent those made by Lerat between May and late October l94l, with the conclusion that those represented on fiches l47 and l50 were made approximately one year later. The preservation in the Guillaume home of a small figurative composition, recorded on fiche l66, (Fig. l59) and dated l943, assists in determining those works that were primarily made during the major part of l942. Fiches l53 to l59 depict a massive range of wheel-thrown vases and it seems reasonable to assume that these were similarly made either for the Christmas season or the following Spring. In consequence, for the purpose of analysis fiches 82 to l59 approximately have been taken as representing the output between late October l94l and a similar date one year later. François Guillaume's sales ledger records the prices, in January l944, of some of the vases on fiche l79 while his final entry 'Solde de l'année l944' notes 'coupes' made by Lerat which appear on the last fiche of all, number 206. Fiches l69 to l79 and l50 to 206 have accordingly been taken to approximate to Lerat's production for these two successive years.
The initial production: the letter of 8 September
On 8 September l94l, Jean Lerat dispatched to Bourges, 'les premiers objets sortis du four à Joseph'. (l5) In an accompanying letter to Guillaume, he comments:
'... N'étant pas fragiles il n'y a pas de
surprises et le résultat obtenu au point de
vue matière me semble celui demandé ...' (l6)
There can be little doubt that the pieces referred to are those illustrated on fiches l to l9 and, including the large cross already mentioned, they reveal a pattern of production which had earlier been negotiated between Guillaume and the owner of the traditional workshop. Armand Bedu, namely, the execution of (i) decorated thrown ware and (ii) sculptural pieces. Bedu had agreed to make all the former which Lerat would then decorate, and the sculpture would be produced by Lerat himself, relying entirely on those skills acquired during his training in Bourges. In using these, Lerat's initial pieces can be sub-divided into two distinct categories, flat slab ware and small modelled forms.
Fiche No. 3 (Fig. l60) shows the slab technique used at its most rudimentary; clay crosses bearing either engraved, impressed or applied decorative elements. Further elucidation of the totality of such pieces can be obtained from a brief note in one of Guillaume's papers where, in referring to cross No. 3.7 he has written 'Agneau au verso, Dominique au recto'. (l7) Thus, this piece at least was decorated on either side.
An examination of the sketch for the 'CALVAIRE' (Fig. l58) shows that it corresponded in conception to many of the traditional 'croix de carrefour', with the Christ modelled in high relief and applied to the crucifix, whose horizontal and vertical members terminate in decorated, circular motifs; that at the base supported two mourners, both modelled in the round. None of these slab forms would have been of such a thickness as to create significant technical problems during drying or subsequent firing.
The same would apply to the small sculptural forms illustrated in Fiches 2, 4, 5, 6, l0, ll and l8. These were farmyard fowl - 'dindon', 'poule', 'coq' and 'canard' - modelled in the round and measuring on average llcm in both length and height. Though some, like the duck, are rendered realistically, it is significant at this early stage to note the high level of stylisation that is used in creating the others, two in particular, the cocks (fiches 4 and l0), showing how the distinctive characteristics of such bird forms have been interpreted as formal shapes. (Fig. l6l)
A third category in this initial batch were thrown pots. Being unable to throw on the potter's wheel, Jean Lerat provided the designs or ideas which Armand Bedu had been commissioned to produce. Such a practice had a long tradition in some European countries, and notably in France, where major figures such as Auguste Delaherche were accustomed to having their ideas given form by skilled artisans. Bedu's earlier industrial experience, his background as a patron-potter in La Borne, in addition to his own sensitivity to the ceramic art of the East (l8) had admirably equipped him to work in such a collaborative manner with Guillaume himself. Though normally accustomed to the repetition of the standard utilitarian forms, he was being called upon, in this instance, to execute individual pieces which, when analysed by means of the relevant fiches, display no similarity at all to the traditional bornois pottery. (Fig l62) On the contrary, it would appear that Guillaume's emphasis on renewal was being followed through, with the creation of pieces that would provide suitable vehicules upon which Lerat could explore the viability of the restricted decorative techniques at his disposal.
The letter of 9 October
By the 9 October, Lerat was once more in written contact with Guillaume, this time commenting on the results of a firing which Armand Bedu had recently unpacked - 'Le cuisson des pots en general est bonne.' (l9) Most likely he was referring here to the standard La Borne ware since, when describing his own pieces, those between fiches 20 and 40, his reactions are mixed:
'... Il y a une quinzaire de pièces crapaudées qui
me paraissent bien reussies (pôts à tabac, petits
vases, cendriers carrés). Le reste en gris est
plus banal, le ton étant trop blanc ... Les croix,
les cendriers, les petits animaux placès à la voute
du four sont normaux. Des coupes qui j'aurai voulu
plus chaudes de ton, sont restées un peu fades ...' (20)
A succinct but comprehensive account of the glazes and the different results obtained in the varied temperature zones of the traditional 'fours couchés' is contained in a handwritten document of the period. It had been compiled by the Vierzon porcelain manufacturer and close friend of Guillaume, Marc Larchevêque, at the behest of the Inspector General of Industrial Production at Orléans, and submitted to that authority on 25 September, l94l. His description covers both the traditional use of local materials and the more recent practice of utilising industrially prepared bases:
'... En principe grès cérames ne sont pas émaillés,
mais simplement lustrés par l'operation dite du
"salage" - Toutefois, les potiers de La Borne
engobent puis mettent en couverte les intérieurs'
de certains de leurs produits et pour d'autres se
contentent de leur mettre une couverte (sans les
engober). Autrefois, ils utilisaient comme couverte
les cendres de sarments de vigne, cendres riches en
carbonates, alcalins et alcalins terrieux, mais
depuis des années, ils utilisent des couvertes
speciales qui leur viennent du Limousin, Les "potiers"
ajoutent aussi du minium (Pb3 04) (ou de litharge Pb0)
(oxydes de plomb) pour donner plus de fusibilité
aux couvertes ci dessus pour mettre en couverte les
grès tendres qui cuisent dans les parties froides du
four ...' (2l)
It is to the kiln placement of his pieces that Lerat is alluding when, in the same letter, he states, 'Pour mes pièces c'est suivant l'endroit ou elles étaient'.(22) As has been seen, those 'placés à la voéte du four' had been to his satisfaction, but such had not been the case with others, as can be seen from the following passage:
'... Dans les jaunes, l'émail est joli, seulement
il y a des coupures aux collages bien que les
morceaux restent collés, en outre le verni à formé
de petites bulles à certaines places ...'(23)
It is evident that in this instance he is referring to one of the commercial glazes to which an oxyde of lead has been added, the defect he describes, 'petites bulles', being one to which such glazes are susceptible when not protected from the direct impingement of the flames.(24)
The passage is also of further significance, in its reference to another defect which was impairing the quality of some of his decorative elements. During the firing, some of these had been partially detaching themselves from the main form. This problem had often been experienced by the latter generations of the Talbots when they had started using applied, moulded motifs, and it is a common occurence when this 'embossing' or 'sprigging' technique (25) is used carelessly or by inexperienced craftsmen. Lerat's final passage reveals his anxiety to have Guillaume's advice as soon as possible.
'... J'attends avec impatience votre critique qui
me permettra de mieux juger et de faire disparaître
à l'avenir certains défauts ...'(26)
Though the emphasis here appears to be on a question of technique, the tenor of this and other letters suggests that, in the collaboration, Lerat's perception of Guillaume was that he was the more knowledgeable and dominant partner. In discussing certain aspects of the production, Jean Lerat indicated that he had made them simply because he had been asked to do so by Guillaume, (27) but the letters contain no evidence which helps in determining who was responsible for the aesthetic quality of the operation.
It has been seen that the fiches were made as records of work completed. It can also be taken for granted that Lerat provided Armand Bedu with some form of design or idea for the thrown pieces, but neither these nor any other form of preparatory sketches have come to light to indicate the means whereby Guillaume and he arrived at decisions about their individual projects. In his earlier ventures as an editor of ceramics, working in conjunction with artists and craftsmen such as Jean Chièze and Armand Bedu, Guillaume had always identified himself as the creator of the objects while, at the same time, showing himself more than willing to acknowledge the contribution of his collaborators. His most important successes had invariably been with those, like Chièze and Bedu, with whom he had been able to establish both a personal and professional relationship
The same can be claimed for his interaction with Jean Lerat, whose letters have a tone and informality of address which suggest more the presence of friendship and mutual respect than a formal employer - employee relationship
Following their joint project of l937 and the production of the plaster originals for the Virgin, the angels and the chess-set, it is evident that Lerat's proven ability as a sculptor had been instrumental in his selection as the figure to whom Guillaume would entrust one of his most cherished visions for the future of La Borne. Though it was patently a risk, it can only have been a calculated one, given that there was already a significant precedent in the region. In l884, when Jean Carriès arrived in neighbouring Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye, he, like Jean Lerat, had come from a background in sculpture. He had acquired an understanding of the essentials of ceramic practices and skills in the traditional workshop of Armand Lion, welding them to his own extensive artistic experience before opening new avenues of exploration in his own studio at Montriveau, near Arquian. His intensive productive life, before his early death in l894, had stimulated the activities of numerous emulators, many of whom had been nurtured in disciplines other than ceramics, to create the 'Ecole Carriès', the legacy of which was still a potent force in the early nineteen forties in a reinvigorated Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye. Was it such a precedent that provided the historical model for François Guillaume? We shall now never know, but it is irrefutable that he had many reasons to see in Carriès a 'père spirituel' for his own activity in La Borne. Whether consciously using it or not, and there is no evidence to substantiate the claim that he did, the precedent of Carriès, and his role in a renewal at Saint-Amand was part of Guillaume's understanding of his region; except for the fact that Lerat's installation in La Borne had not been a personal decision, but one made at the behest of François Guillaume.
The renewal at La Borne - the Forms
Though there may be discernible similarities between the Saint-Amand of the late l9th century and La Borne of the nineteen forties, the one distinctive difference is that the needs were not the same. While Jean Carriès, swept away by his enthusiasm for the Japanese ceramics seen at the l879 Exposition Universelle, was committed to exploiting the new medium for his own artistic purposes, François Guillaume had two fundamental aims, one of which was undoubtedly to supply his shop in Bourges. The second was to ensure that such products were decorative in character. Of the two basic types of ware produced by October, the sculptures have been seen to have been bird forms, at this stage patently perceived as trials. Jean Lerat's existing skills were adequate to execute these and, as has been shown, they were of such a scale as not to present problems during firing. The thrown pieces present a different problem. Without the evidence of preparatory designs, one is left to making a deduction of the character of the forms, as displayed in the fiches, in order to determine the nature of the underlying aesthetic.
At the time of writing his letter of 9 October, Lerat had already completed a number of jugs, or 'pichets'. In the fiches, they are numbered 36 to 40, each recording six items. A close examination of these (Fig. l63) offers some pointers as to the person mainly responsible for their conception. Firstly, they bear no resemblance to the traditional jug forms of the region. Secondly, and this is of greater significance, they show little affinity with forms which develop organically as a result of the exploitation of the throwing process. That on fiche 39 best illustrates this point; the form beginning to narrow immediately on rising from the perfectly flat base, leaving the impression that its source may have been in either another material and forming process or in a jug produced by industrial methods. Similar characteristics are to be found in fiches 36 (bis) and 37. In addition, two other festures suggest that they may have been designed by one not personally accustomed to practising the craft. Firstly, the handles illustrated in fiche 39 do not have the fluency of those pulled by hand, while they and those of fiche 36 (bis) are of a form more commonly made in press-moulds. In both examples, the size and form of the pouring lips, as depicted, do not have the fullness of those made by hand. A comparison of the forms of these two pichets and those designed before the war by François Guillaume must lead one to the conclusion that he was responsible for all original designs at this stage.
Table 4 gives a breakdown of the types of forms produced; vases, coupes, cendriers, pichets and other, porte-parapluies (fiche 2l) and lamp-bases (fiche 55). It can be seen that initially the pieces were made as 'one-off' items, to be followed at a later stage by throwing in series, usually five or six of any one object being produced. It is also evident that relatively prolonged attention was devoted to the throwing and decoration of these pieces, obviously interspersed with the sculpted ware.
As far as these are concerned, the forms are mostly shallow and cylindrical. Decoration is either on the inside of the base or outer wall. In instances, the rim has been modified to provide a support for a cigarette. (Fig. l64)
For those of the latter part of the period, fiches 57 to 6l, and 63, they fall into two categories. Those of fiches 57, 60 and 63 are bowls that one might readily make on the potter's wheel. Those illustrated in fiches 58 and 59 might easily be taken as originals for production by slip-casting. Their decoration, when executed by hand, whould be laborious and time-consuming, and it is significant to note that in each instance only two were made. (Fig. l65)
Produced in series, fiches 3l to 33, 42 to 49, and 56, they also suggest that, in most cases, their forms emanated from sources other than normal wheel thrown pottery. Those of fiches 32 and 33 (Fig. l66) have similarities with some of Guillaume's pre-war pieces; those depicted in fiches 42, 48, and 49 (Fig. l67) look as though their forms were influenced by industrial porcelain, particularly the quatrefoil piece in fiche 42. This apparent reliance on factory shapes is also detected in the series of vases made for fiches 3l, 46 and 47. (Fig. l68) For these, an effort might have been made to translate the forms, decoration and handles of locally produced faience or porcelain.
Since Jean Lerat was at the time unfamiliar with the potter's wheel, the evidence suggests that all the forms were determined by François Guillaume alone. In his own personal work with clay, he had relied almost exclusively on modelling, although there are a few pots which bear his signature. As an editor of pieces produced both in La Borne and in the Renault factory in Argent-Sur- Sauldre, his designs were largely representative of the period, that is, where 'geometry' was a keyword. (29)
It has earlier been seen that, given the range of materials and firing procedures to which this was limited, Jean Lerat could only rely on engraving and impressed or applied motifs. On one fiche, no. l2, he has indicated these as 'dessiné au trait' and 'lezard modelé'. It had been these that had also constituted the decorative vocabularly of the Talbot dynasty, and Guillaume had been the first to attempt to analyse such characteristics in his 'Notes sur La Borne'.
Lerat's letters of this period do, however, indicate that on-going progress was discussed in meetings between himself and Guillaume. Normally ending 'cordialement à vous' and 'à bientôt', etc, he also refers to such anticipated encounters, either in La Borne, or in Bourges when he would return home to visit his family. A few fiches bear comments in Guillaume's hand, mostly 'Bon en grand' on the first sculptural trials, a comment that suggests he found them appropriate for production on a larger scale. A vivid boyhood memory of Etienne, Guillaume's second son, is one of the two men sitting in his father's office, working on, and discussing, designs on paper. (39)
THE EVENTS OF OCTOBER,1941
That Guillaume had reason to look to the future with confidence can be seen in the fact that, early in October l94l, the venture was brought to the attention of the public, through the local and regional press. Since this, in turn, coincided with decisions taken at a national level and which were intended to have far-reaching implications for the craft-industry of La Borne, it is important to examine them in some detail at this juncture.
The Marc Larchevêque Document
Although the war had initially appeared to stimulate activity in the village by generating increased demand for its utilitarian ware, it had likewise created other problems which, if not effectively addressed, would seriously threaten its future. Fuel shortages had led to a three-fold increase in the price of wood, and being the most important factor in production costs, such an increase was adversely affecting profits. (3l) It was to this problem that Marc Larchevêque had addressed himself when preparing his document for the Inspector Général of Industrial Production. Entitled 'Les "Potiers" et Grès Cérames de La Borne, Commune d'Henrichemont (Cher)', he described in some detail the materials and technical procedures used in the village, but the main thrust of his argument is to convince the government that this craft industry was essential in providing for the needs of the population of a country suffering from war-time stringencies:
'... leurs produits; saloirs, pots à beurre, terrines,
articles pour laiterie etc, sont nécessaires aux
fermiers et agriculteurs de nos régions, et aussi
pour certains tels que: saloirs, pots à beurre,
bouteilles à huile etc. sont nécessaires pour
conserver : le porc, la beurre, les fromages, les
oeufs etc. donc nécessaires au ravitaillement du
Pays ...' (32)
It was also a period when the government, encouraging a 'retour à la terre', was offering significant support for craftsmen in general. (33) In such a context, Larchevêque was at pains to stress the inherited skill and excellence of the potters of the village.
'... Tous les articles des potiers de La Borne
sont obtenu par tournage, simple ébauche sur le
tour. J'ai vu travailler, ébaucher: des suedois,
des danois, des allemands, des hollandais, des
belges, des turnisiens, des limousins, des
berrichons, mais les plus forts tourneurs sont
ceux de La Borne (Cher), de La Puisaye (Nièvre),
d'Argent sur Sauldre (Cher) et de Verneuil (Indre)-
Ne serait - ce qu'à ce titre des meilleurs
tourneurs, les potiers de La Borne sont dignes du
plus grand interêt, l'honneur à leur art et à leur
Pays ...' (34)
There is reason to believe that his initiative had been taken in collusion with Guillaume since, on a duplicate of the original which he presented to his friend on 2 October l94l, Larchevêque had appended the following dedication:
'... amical hommage de l'auteur à Monsieur Guillaume,
membre de la Chambre de Commerce de Bourges qui le
l7/9/4l à Bourges Chambre de Commerce a si bien
presenté et defendu les "potiers" de La Borne, qui
sont tous nos amis communs.
Marc Larchevêque, 2/l0/l94l ...' (35)
It was with understandable satisfaction that he informed Guillaume of the response he had received from M. Thery, the Inspector General of Industrial Production:
'... Je compte bien par ailleurs communiquer ce
document à notre Service de l'Artisanat qui
s'intéresse tout particulièrement aux potiers de
La Borne ...' (36)
The results of the efforts of Guillaume and Larchevêque were shown to have borne fruit when, on 3 October, l94l, 'La Dépêche du Berry' in an article devoted to 'Les poteries de La Borne', informed its readers:
'... La guerre l'a ralentie, comme toutes les
autres, mais elle semble maintenant vouloir
reprendre, le Comité régional des prix d'Orleans
ayant accordé aux potiers de La Borne des
autorisations de majoration devant leur permettre
un bénéfice raisonnable ...' (37)
A detailed examination of both the text and illustrations used in the article, which had as its sub-title, 'Un art populaire berrichon qu'il faudrait developper', betrays the close collaboration of François Guillaume, if he did not in fact, write it! Firstly, the five photographs of traditional decorative ware illustrating the article are those that Guillaume had commissioned, on Joseph de la Nézière's recommendation, on the occasion of his l935 exhibition in rue des Arènes. Secondly, it is the text of the catalogue of that same exhibition, with some small additions, that forms the body of historical information. That having been described, the current situation is addressed:
'... Ces petits considérations historiques et
techniques exposées, quelle est donc la situation
de la poterie de La Borne ...' (38)
The answer develops two specific points. Firstly, there is a reiterated regret at the progressive loss since l875 - the terminal date of the l935 exhibition - of those who had endowed their work with 'ornements modelés et (de) ces figurines si amusantes de l'autre siècle.' (39) Secondly, the future of the normal production of the village seems assured as a result of the decision taken in Orléans. The latter fact might already answer the question with which the final paragraph is introduced:
'... La poterie va-t-elle renaître?
Souhaitons - le ...' (40)
Instead it is Guillaume's own preference for the decorative ware of the past which is brought into focus. A brief passage is devoted to the utilitarian ware, 'devenue presque uniquement de la "poterie" utilitaire, produisant des ustensiles ménagers aux formes et aux proportions agréables et commodes.' (4l) By contrast, it is the use of the phrase - 'faiseur de rustiques figulines' - that reminds one of the aspirations that Guillaume had for the young Roger Giraud in l935. (42)
This hope for a rebirth of a decorative art within the village had obviously come to naught; Giraud's little horses seemingly had been nothing more than the playful instinct common to most children. Guillaume's own collaboration with Armand Bedu had resulted in decorative functional ware but, in the final paragraph, it is evident that this dominant theme of the mid thirties was now being more methodically addressed:
'... M. Lerat est sculpteur - modeleur. Il
essaie là-bas de renouer la tradition des
anciens faiseurs de figurines, en créant avec
la terre de La Borne de vrais objets d'art ...' (43)
The passage is most significant since it remains the sole contemporary definition of his intention in having Jean Lerat settle in La Borne, and it is one which is confirmed by Madame Lerat. Speaking of her husband's work in the village, she describes its purpose thus:
'... il a pris la suite que M. Guillaume lui
donnait ... c'est à dire, renouveler, parce
que, il avait vraiment été envoyé pour renouveler
une tradition ...' (44)
However, it is also significant to note that, by l94l, a second and, perhaps for the future, an equally important aim had been defined:
'... Espérons que son travail et son talent
susciteront des émulations et referent de La
Borne le centre d'un art populaire charmant et
bien berrichon ...' (45)
The theme is one which is taken up again in an article which, in a pen portrait, presents Jean Lerat more fully to the public, as a precursor of this renewal:
'... Sa présence pourra susciter des émules
et nous verrons avec plaisir nos générations
futures de potiers prendre goût aux creations
artistiques, sans nuire au développement de la
poterie en général...'(46)
The article, in 'Les Echos Henrichemontais' had been written by a journalist who had visited Lerat in La Borne, where he had observed 'ces différents objets inspirés à l'anciens', (47) the results of a recent firing, undoubtedly that discussed in the letter of 9 October. It is seemingly to that same firing that another article in 'La Dépêche du Berry' is making reference, in an account of a visit made to La Borne by a local youth group.
Throughout his life, François Guillaume had regarded it as his public duty to bring this aspect of the regional patrimony to the attention of the public. More specifically, some notes and scripts prepared for delivery to local schools show that he regarded youth as a significant part of his audience. The vicissitudes of war did nothing to still this ardour. If anything, it was precisely the conditions obtaining in l94l that provided the opportunity to exercise this role. On the evening of 29 September, a group from the Centre de Jeunesse Jacques Coeur paid an educational visit to La Borne:
'... Tous ces jeunes qui se préparent à
prendre un métier devaient voir ce qu'était
l'artisanat ...' (48)
These young embryo craftsmen were escorted by Guillaume, whose knowledge of the craft was by then acknowledged as unique (49): witnessing all the procedures of bornois pottery, particularly the operation of the tour à bƒton in the workshop of Alphonse Talbot, before observing the initial stages of the firing. Once more, the question of 'émules' comes to the fore:
'... Peut-être, quelques - uns d'entre eux
ont-ils pris la ferme décision de savoir un
jour tourner eux aussi un pot; ce serait un
succès complet pour les organisateurs de la
visite et nous l'espérons ...' (50)
It was just at this time that significant progress had been made in the nature of the work being produced by Jean Lerat. Reporting the progress of the venture, the journalist of 'Les Echos Henrichemontais' focussed on one particular piece, 'une allégorie de Jonas, d'un heureux effet, pièce gigantesque.' (5l)
At the time of writing Lerat was in the process of modelling it, but it is the reference to its scale which elucidates, not only Guillaume's role as the guiding figure in determining the future direction of the operation, but, and of major importance, how Jean Lerat in this short period in the village, had been able to adapt his sculptural skills to create large works which were capable of withstanding the stresses to which clay objects were subjected when fired to l300øC. Fiche No. 50 (Fig. l69) shows the piece in question, 45cms in height and 30cms in length. The following three pieces, a fish and two rabbits were each of a similar scale. In his early sculpture, Lerat had restricted the maximum dimension of the forms to ll.5cms, thus avoiding a thickness of the clay body which might explode when any residual moisture turned to steam when the kiln temperature reached l00øC, the boiling point of water. We have seen how Guillaume had written the comment 'Bon en grand' on his fiches, and it is evident that the possibility of making similar forms on a larger scale had been discussed. Fiches 34, 35 and 36 show the results, that of COQ (3) (fiche 35) (Fig. l70) attaining a height of 45 centimetres! In such a case, the thickness of the body at its maximum would be approximately ten centimetres, a dimension that would almost inevitably lead to disastrous results during the firing. Lerat's technique was to create his forms 'en modelage' (52), that is, as solids, but to obviate the potential problem, the form was cut in two, with each section being hollowed, to leave a clay wall of even thickness before the two shells were rejoined. (53) When carefully dried, peices so made could comfortably survive the slow, five day firing cycle of the 'grand four'. (54) The significance of the procedure cannot be underestimated in this context, since it opened the way for the exploitation of Lerat's skills in forms which were to become increasingly more sophisticated as he consolidated his position in the village.