CHAPTER XIV

 

 

THE RENEWAL OF LA BORNE :

 LATE l94l TO LATE l942

 

 

      Before subjecting the  Guillaume - Lerat collaboration during this second stage to a detailed analysis it is appropriate to understand Guillaume's perception of La Borne at that particular time, a period when the country and the whole ceramics industry in the Berry region were beginning to experience increasing pressures, occasioned by the war and German occupation.  His role as the major retailer in Bourges, allied to that of editor of ceramics, with intimate professional and personal relationships with all the producers in the region, had placed him in a unique position to be able to evaluate the growing crisis which was adversely affecting both supply and demand:

 

                       '... La disparition de l'article courant est un

                       fait que déplore l'ensemble du commerce et dont

                       tous les consommateurs souffrent ; les causes du

                       mal sont bien connues: chute de la production,

                       elle même dûe à la pénurie de charbon et des

                       matières premiéres: souci du producteur de

                       maintenir sa main d'oeuvre en "sortant" le

                       moins possible de matière pour le maximum de

                       prix, fournitures à l'armée et à la Nation

                       allemande, difficultés de transport et enfin le

                       marché noir, ce cancer de notre économie ...' (l)

 

      The comment is contained in a paper entitled 'Project de Spécialisation dans une usine de poterie (Renault a Argent-sur-Sauldre) et, comme consequence, d'accroissement de la production artisanale à La Borne - d'Henrichemont (Cher)' which he prepared for delivery on l5 May, l942. (2)  In conjunction with the owner, M. Renault, he had subjected the declining production of the factory to an analysis, with a view to recommending a strategy for the future deployment of its available resources.  An old established firm, 'La Maison Renault' had progressively developed its one thousand, two hundred different models and sizes (!) to provide for specific local needs:

 

                       '... L'ensemble des fabrications comprenait

                       avant-guerre tous les récipients domestiques,

                       formes, matières, couleurs, consacrés dans la

                       région par un usage quasi-séculaire ...' (3)

 

      Two categories of ceramic wares were produced: (i) the high-fired 'gràs fin', appropriate for the storage and production of all kinds of dairy products, and for the salting and conservation of fats, meats and vegetables and (ii) low-fired pottery used for ordinary household and horticultural purposes. (4)  Despite the stringencies of the period, the factory was still striving to produce its full range of models and , in so doing, was dissipating its restricted resources to the extent that production had plummeted to such an alarming level that the full potential of its workforce, workshops and kilns was not being gainfully employed.

 

      The most significant element in the equation was the monthly ration of fuel, 'l0 tonnes de charbon et l40 stàres de bois'. (5)  The most significant expenditure of fuel was utilised in the firing of the de luxe product, 'gràs fin', where 'quelques dizaines de dégres vers l200 brélent autant de charbon que les premiàres centaines.' (6)

 

      Guillaume's solution was simple and logical and, as he was able to report, had met with the approval of M. Renault: to totally suspend the production of this category of ware, and to concentrate on a reduced range of low-fired pottery.  Such rationalisation should result, in Guillaume's estimation, in an output three times that achieved by the factory since the end of l94l, and place 50,000 articles on the market:

 

                       '... Cette production massive apporterait un

                       soulagement immédiat; sur le marché privé

                       totalement d'ustensiles de tôle émaillé et de

                       fer battu, d'abord dans la région et pourrait

                       ensuite rayonner sur un territoire plus étendu,

                       car un standardisation aussi poussée doit avoir

                       pour effet d'accroître au de là de prévisions

                       volontairement raisonnables, le rendement de

                       l'usine ...' (7)

 

      The consequences of such a measure were evident.  With households being deprived of recipients infinitely precious for storage and long-term conservation, it is in his sense of region that a solution is to hand: 'le BERRY, terre élue des céramistes nous fournit réponse au problème avec la production artisanale de La Borne.' (8)  It is ironic that a respite for the village was to be found in the shortage of those materials, enamelled and beaten metals, which had contributed so much to its decline.  Using figures he had collected from Armand Bedu in l934 (9), he traces its fluctuating fortunes to illustrate how its production had decreased from eighty firings in l928 to thirty-five in l934, falling further up to the period of the war.  Despite the interest that had been aroused in official circles, action has been restricted to the activities of the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires; more practical measures, achieved primarily as a result of the intervention of Marc Larchevêque and himself, may not have been made in time. (l0)  More recent figures, furnished this time by Jean Lerat, had shown that, since the beginning of the year, only seven or eight firings had taken place: (ll)

 

                       '... Quoi qu'il en soit les patrons qui restent

                       encore peuvent encore produire une trentaine de

                       fournées ...' (l2)

 

      In view of the fact that the potters of the village, adequately provisioned with primary materials and fuel in their own immediate environment, had been permitted to increase their selling price by l25%, 'alors que la céramique française s'étiole, imprisonnée dans une cage de 40% par rapport a l939' (l3), his disillusionment with their response is evident, and his proposal uncharacteristically authoritarian:

 

                       '... Il nous semble possible et utile à l'avenir

                                   des artisans d'imposer au village un programme

                       minimum de fabrication qui compense la perte

                       momentanée des resources d'Argent ...' (l4)

 

      Although Guillaume had a high regard for the history of La Borne and the quality of craft skills practised there, in his personal relationships he was generally reserved.  In addition to his friendship with Armand Bedu, he had seemingly enjoyed the company of Alphonse Talbot and the elderly Joseph Talbot, (l5) yet his concluding comment is enlightening, since it is a contemporary perception of those characteristics which were to be regarded by later historians as having contributed to the decline of the traditional craft industry in La Borne:

 

                       '... Il conviendra, naturellement, d'opérer avec

                       prudence car les potiers de La Borne sont ses gens

                       difficiles à mener et on risquerait de se heurter

                       par des mesures maladroites à une inertie

                       désastreuse pour le rendement ...' (l6)

 

 

The production of the Guillaume enterprise

 

      As has already been indicated, the work produced during this second stage of the Guillaume - Lerat collaboration has been taken as those represented on the fiches between nos. 8l bis and l62 Together they show that this production amounted to four hundred and seventy-five pieces, of which two hundred and fifty-seven are accounted for by thrown, decorated vases, the remainder being individual sculptural forms (Table 5)

      Given the sale and dispersion of virtually all the work produced, an evaluation of the total oeuvre is only possible when the small number of traceable pieces is examined in the context of the fiches.  Such a strategy has confirmed that the latter, with their dimensions and other occasional information, do give a reasonably accurate rendering of how the pieces would have looked.  Understandably, details of surface quality and the totality of their three-dimensionality are absent.  The survival of the black and white photographs, mostly corresponding to the work in question, has contributed to a more complete comprehension of the output.  Numerically ordered, as in Tables 6 and 7: an analysis of the fiches reveals, not only specific periods of concentration or the production of either thrown pots or sculptural forms, but in addition, the consolidation of techniques and experiences already tested and, of significance for the future of Jean Lerat in his evolution as a ceramic artist, the gradual integration of a growing expertise on the potter's wheel a factor which in time will open new avenues of exploration of sculptural form.

 

 

 

The thrown ware

 

      Though Armand Bedu had initially made all the thrown pieces, his responsibility as patron of an increasingly productive enterprise resulted in him not always being available to effect this task, it being left, on occasions, to some of his employees. (l7)  To such artisans, their seven-year apprenticeship had ensured that, when throwing the standard traditional utilitarian forms, they did so extremely well; years of experience ensuring that they fully comprehended 'le rapport entre la contenance et le mesure.' (l8)  But, confronted with the problem of interpreting new and unaccustomed forms, the result was different: '... si vous lui donniez un dessein, ils étaient secs ... ils ne savaient pas l'intérieur, ils cherchaient avoir les faits, l'apparence ...' (l9)  A realisation that his forms were never going to be made as he would wish, thus diminishing his control of form, led Jean Lerat to a determination to acquire the skill himself.

 

                       '... Au bout du moment ... Jean a dit, 'cest

                       plus possible ...  Moi, je me mets sur le tour';

                       mais ... les potiers lui disaient, "Ce n'est pas

                       la peine de vous d'apprendre à tourner.  Il faut

                       longtemps" ...' (20)

 

      To the traditional potters, 'throwing' implied the acquisition of the technical prowess to constantly repeat specific forms but such repetitive work was not Jean Lerat's aim. (2l)  In Bedu's boutique he could observe a skilled craftsman constantly at work, 'il le voyait tourner tout les temps, a voir répéter.  Donc, il a appris trés vite, trés vite.  Il a su trés, trés bien tourner ... Il ne répétait pas les piàces ... ‚a ne l'intéressait pas ... (22)

 

      It was patently during this period that the decision was taken and, from an examination of the fiches, there is sufficent evidence to suggest that his initial attempts to master the skill occurred in late l94l, or early in l942.  Fiche 8l bis illustrates a thrown ash tray, l0cms in diameter and 5cms in height.  Whether commenting on its technical characteristics or not, Jean Lerat has recorded on the fiche 'trés épais' (Fig. l7l).  It is unlikely that either the skill of Armand Bedu or that of one of his experienced potters would have been employed to make an individual piece which has little to commend it in form.  After the refinement of the earlier pots, a similar reaction is evoked by the 'one-off' pieces illustrated in fiches 83 and 84, squat cylinders, respectively designated as 'Jatte'  and 'cachepot'.  The succeeding fiches up to 88, depict twenty-three such 'cachepots', varying between fourteen and twenty centimetres in diameter, and twelve to eighteen in height.  These are merely slight variations on the basic open thrown cylinder, of a form that one would normally associate with the early products of a learner. (Fig. l72)

 

      Thrown ware such as this does not appear again until fiches l08 and ll3 with, in each, a series of 'lampes' and 'coupes', most of which Lerat has embellished in his customary engraved or applied decorative style.  It is with the production of thirty tobacco jars (Fiches ll8 and l20) (Fig. l73) that one encounters pieces that are reminiscent of forms of the past, such as the 'Pots à Tabac' of Jean Talbot.  Lerat's tobacco jars are variations of the basic form of the cylinder or bowl, made more technically demanding by the necessity of fitting a lid.  At times swelling to full bellied shapes, each one is unique in both form and decoration.  His normal decorative repertoire has been augmented by sculptural additions, with modelled animal and human motifs functioning as decorative knobs on the lids.  It is particularly in the second series (Fiche l20) that the form deriving from the throwing process is seen not as a simple support for decoration but as a component of a purely sculpturally conceived idea.  Possibly with reference to the crèches made in preparation for Christmas of l94l, the thrown cylinder, with its modelled additions, is transformed into a scene from contemporary daily life, a tobacco kiosk with its awaiting customers, patiently queuing to buy the scarce commodity

.

      It is only in the second half of the period, from approximately fiche l30 onwards (Table 7) that one perceives a mere purposeful exploitation of this newly acquired technique.  More specifically, those between No. l5l and No. l62 reveal a production of one hundred and thirty five pieces, all of which are vases, except for the four coupes illustrated in fiche l58.  Understandably, the predominance of so many vases may have been determined by the need to stock the shop in rue des Arànes with an ample supply of such decorative ware for the Christmas season.

 

      Such a concentrated production testifies to a development, in a relatively short space of time, of an assured throwing skill.  Each fiche contains between six and thirty pieces and, except for No. l5l, where a series of six similar forms have been made, each is a unique piece.  Of normal dimensions, they vary between ten and thirty centimetres in height, and eleven and twenty-six in diameter, though Lerat might have perceived the repeated forms of fiche l5l as a technical target, each attaining the commendable height of forty-one centimetres. (Fig. l74)  By contrast with those made in Bedu's atelier at the beginning of the venture, the forms display not merely this technical competence.  More significantly, they offer evidence of Jean Lerat's development as a creative artist.  The vases no longer rely on preconceived ideas of form.  Becoming progressively more pure in form, with proportions carefully conceived, they achieve their character from a more sensitive response to those forms that derive from the natural interaction of mind, hand and material during the throwing process.

      

Likewise, his approach to decoration shows signs of a similar intellectual and aesthetic modification.  Though it is understandable that he would remain wedded to those forms, motifs and techniques with which he was familiar, it is evident that where these are used they are conceived as a supplement to the forms, such that the finished pieces achieve a sense of integration more satisfying than that previously attained.  In addition, an interpretation of the fiches shows that new possibilities had been perceived.  Some of the schematic renderings suggest that Lerat was relying less on natural sources to explore the decorative potential suggested by the material and its forming and finishing processes.  Other examples on fiches l57 and l59 (i) show a restrained but varied use of engraved or applied point and line (Fig. l75), while twisted coils, enlarged and modified rims and bases, such as those illustrated in fiches l37.7 and l53.5, are the kind of motifs that begin to be used with greater regularity.  The photograph of the latter piece is also a good example of the surface enrichment attainable by the dependence or the quality of a richly modulated glaze. (Fig. l76)

 

The sculptural pieces

 

      As was the case with the thrown ware, an analysis of the sculptural pieces of this second period suggests that it too can be broadly sub-divided into two distinct sub-periods, with fiche l30 providing the demarcation.

      Before treating the main body of the works it is useful to briefly examine two types of product made in the early part of the period.

 

l.  Slab Forms

 

          Forms made by this procedure appear to have their precedent

    in the crosses and 'cendriers carrés' of l94l.  A stylised lion  (fiche 67)

    in turn seems to have resulted in the slab technique being used to              make  six 'canards' of varying size (fiche 76) (Fig. 177)

         On his copy Guillaume has commented 'Mauvais' and, except

    for one further piece in which flat slab sections are utilised to

    construct the main body, the technique disappears from the

    repertoire of skills.

 

2.  Couverts à Salade

 

          A specific functional form is depicted in fiches lll and ll5,

    'couverts à Salade' which were commonly manufactured in the

    industry, largely using a low temperature range.  That only seven

    sets were made could be attributed to the fact that either the

    forms were incapable of withstanding the high temperatures of the

    kilns of La Borne, or were, when finished, too fragile.

 

Coiled Figurines

 

      One other forming technique merits attention at this point, since only two examples, where it is used to make independent sculptural forms, appear in the fiches.  In producing his range of tobacco jars, it has been seen that Lerat had incorporated small figurative groups which recall those of Jean Talbot.  That Lerat could have been influenced by these earlier models remains a distinct possibility.  An alterntive is that he, like Jean Talbot, had responded to this almost ludic use of clay as his familiarity with the malleability of the material increased.  The proximity of the tobacco jars to his 'Lutteurs' (fiche l22) (Fig. l78) suggests that he had perceived here a sculptural potential which was only to be repeated much later with the production of his 'Catcheurs' (fiche l52) (Fig. l79).  In it, he has exploited the linear flexibility of coils of clay to explore the mass and void of figures intertwined in physical action.

 

Modelled Forms

 

      Prior to the Nativity groups of l94l, Lerat had executed a number of animal pieces, unrelated to those of the cribs.  Depicted in fiche 80 are bears and giraffes, upwards of twenty centimetres in height, which, on account of their slender members, suggest that one aim in the production might have been that of exploring the technical problems of making and firing models so constructed.  It is to this theme he returns early in the period, with nine fiches altogther being devoted to fowl and animals encountered in his own immediate rural environment.  Geese, pigs, ducks, goats and deer; they are all realistically modelled and, in their varied forms, display an effort to extract the maximum sculptural quality from acutely observed subjects.  The distinction between this sculptural intent and the selection of such models as representing a response to the political ideology of the period must be made.  Lerat's motivation was 'pas du tout campagnard':

 

                       '... La campagne n'intervenait pas, elle

                       intervenait simplement parceque il pouvait y

                       prendre ses modàles, parce que il y avait coqs,

                       il passait des chevaux ... comme a, ce n'était

                       pas le retour à la campagne, parce que la question

                       s'est posée pour aller travailler la terre, modeler

                       la terre.  Il fallait aller à La Borne parce que,

                       il n'y avait pas d'autre endroit.  Comme il

                       connaissait l'histoire de l'Art, il s'est logé

                       trés simplement ... Aucune intention de faire un

                       oeuvre, simplement l'intention de travailler et

                       d'en vivre ...' (23)

 

      Concurrently with the animal forms he was making figurines, once more approximately twenty centimetres in height, which have as subject matter specific types encountered in the same context; fiches 89 and 9l (Fig. l80) showing a 'gardeuse d'oies' and a 'bergère' respectively.  At this stage his sculptural technique was that which he had always been accustomed to using, with the necessary refinement of hollowing the heavy mass of clay before firing.  Interspersed with other demands, this technique was to be used on increasingly larger forms until, with fiches l09 and ll0 (Fig. l8l), one encounters two tall, imposing sculptures which are evidence that Lerat felt that he had the technique, and all its attendant problems of drying and firing, completely mastered.  If his earlier figures had been generalised berrichon types, there is no doubt that the Duc du Berry and Sainte - Solange, the patroness of the region were the kind of regional theme so favoured by François Guillaume.  Both are approximately sixty centimetres in height and are modelled realistically.

 

      From the contemporary photograph of the Sainte - Solange (Fig. l82), it would be difficult to distinguish its material and process from any other sculptural technique.  Nevertheless, both it and the figure of the Duc du Berry had given evidence that he was beginning to forge links with the tall, figurative fontaines of Jacques Sébastien and Marie Talbot.  In fiche l4l there is a return to a statue on this scale, a fifty-seven centimetre figure of Saint Vincent, the patron of vignerons. (Fig. l83)

 

      In addition to these large figures, two other pieces are an indication of the way in which Jean Lerat, in assimilating the technicalities of the ceramic process, had been able to modify his sculptural skills to produce works which could withstand the stresses imposed on clay at very high temperatures.

 

      The 'galère' represented in fiche l04 is based on a high-relief in 'la chambre des galéres' of the Palais Jacques Coeur in Bourges. (24)  Evoking the mercantile activity of its fifteenth century owner, Lerat's sculpture (Fig. l84), sixty centimetres in height and forty-three in length, is composed of a repertoire of clay usages in both its structure and decoration.  The varied masses of the hull, forecastle and poop, the small figures of the crew and the fragility of some of the elements such as the flat, thin slabs which represent the sails, all create a complex of forming problems that could only have been undertaken by a master craftsman familiar with the properties and potential of his medium, and assured of his own technical competence.  In the fiche, Guillaume has recorded a selling price of 5000 francs, but it was not until later in the year that Lerat was called upon once more to develop such a complex structure, this time another galley, but based on the coat of arms of the city of Paris. (Fig. l85)

 

 

Religious Art

 

      It will be recalled that in François Guillaume's later ordering of the fiches into different classifications according to type, that of 'Art Religieux' had been one of the most numerous.  This might be accounted for by the possibility that it was such objects of piety that his clients had wanted during the period of war-time stress.  A more likely reason might be that François Guillaume was himself a devout, practising Catholic.  Perhaps it had been precisely this piety which had made him so receptive to the Art Religieux of the Talbot dynasty, the croix de carrefour with their accompanying mourning figures, drawing from his pen a comparison with the sculptors of Gothic France. (25)

      The Christ of Fiche l33, schematised and suspended from a simple crucifix, is rendered in a style that recalls the sculpture of the Gothic period.  Not only had Jean Lerat's studies in the 'Beaux Arts' in Bourges equipped him with a comprehensive knowledge of the history of art, but one of the treasures of that city was its magnificent Gothic Cathedral, Saint-Etienne which, by its stained glass and statuary, is a veritable compendium of the art of the period: The existing photograph is of such quality as to make total interpretation of the form of the figure a difficult task, however in conjunction with the fiche (Fig. l86), one observes a rendering of the figure which is at a significant remove from the more realistic treatment of his other figurative pieces.  On his fiche Guillaume has pencilled 'Ex' - presumably Excellent as an evaluation - and the piece was to be soon followed by the production of three others varying in scale from twenty seven to thirty five centimetres.  In a return to the theme of the crucifixion, this stylisation of the figure of Christ is once more apparent, (Fig. l87) while seven small angel figures, possibly a reference to the flying virtues, are additional compositional and emotional elements to that produced immediately before.

 

Stylised Sculpture using wheel thrown elements

 

      If the modelled forms represent the accommodation to the demands of the kiln of conventional modelling techniques, an analysis of those in this category is particularly significant, in that one can perceive the gradual assimilation into his sculpture of his recently acquired potting skills.  Inevitably this could only lead to a new direction appearing in his work.

 

      It has been observed that, in many of his early pieces, Lerat had shown a marked tendency towards stylisation.  This reappears at the beginning of this period with the production of a small number of pieces, where he returns to the theme of 'Poules' or 'Oiseaux'.  It is one of those in particular which merits special attention.  The rendering of the 'Poule' in fiche 95 (Fig. l88) suggests that the form of the hen may have been composed of a number of wheel-thrown components.  Since neither the original piece nor a photograph are available to provide confirmation of this claim, the latter can only be speculative, but should such be the case, two deductions are feasible.  Firstly, it would suggest that Lerat was exploring the possibility of using forming techniques more usually associated with pot-making for the realisation of some of his pieces.  Secondly, and deriving from this, his work must inevitably move closer to that of personalities such as Jacques Sébastien and Marie Talbot, in process if not in content.  If an understandable uncertainty arises in relation to this piece, some further support for the thesis can be gained from fiche l06 (Fig. l89), where the swirling full-length ballroom dress of the 'Danseuse' appears to have been made from a wheel-thrown conical form.  It is not until the second half of the period, from fiche l30 onwards, that such a procedure reappears, to offer incontestable proof that the potter's wheel was progressively being absorbed into Lerat's vocabulary of sculptural techniques.

 

      Both the photograph and sketch of the 'Calvaire' (Fig. l90i),(Fig.190ii) clearly show that the horizontal and vertical members of the cross have been thrown.  Such had also been the case with the traditional 'croix de carrefours', though, for these, the sections had been squared after making.  A comparison of the 'Croix Montigny' in Guillaume's collection, and that by Lerat, shows that the latter is an interpretation, in modern style, of the traditional form; the thrown crucifix bearing a simplified Christ, surmounting a decorative base on which are placed two mourning figures.  There seems little doubt, following his experiences with making the tobacco jars, that the possibility of using the wheel as a means of producing forms, circular in section, had opened the way to a new range of subjects for his sculptural projects.  The 'Pressoir' (Fig. l9l) and the 'Cuve' (Fig. l92) are two such examples.  Lerat, having thrown the wine-press and vat on the wheel, has incorporated them into compositions in which the dominant forming process still remains that of modelling.  It is, however, from this point on that a perceptible transition begins to make itself evident.  In an earlier work he had modified a thrown bottle form to produce a figure, a 'Cantiniàre', and it is to this idea that he returns in his 'Bouteilles à Liqueur' in fiche l45 (Figs. l93,194).  As functional objects they, like the Cantinière, had to be hollow thrown ware and, as the fiche shows, his eight bottles fall into three categories.  The two models of No. l and that of No. 3 are slender, thrown shapes to which modelled inebriated stereotypes have been added.  In Nos. 4, 6 and 8 the originals have been deformed to approximate more closely to conventional modelling, but in Nos. 5 and 7 the purity of the thrown form has been retained and requires few modelled additions to endow it with character.  It is noteworthy that both the Vigneron (fiche l45-6) and the Cantinière, though eventually sold, had initially been marked 'reservé' by Guillaume himself.  One is led to the conclusion that this choice may have been determined by factors other than the possibility that he may have deemed them to have been the most aesthetically successful.  In the first place, of all the figures these two had assuredly been based upon images drawn from daily life in the region but, perhaps more importantly, it also seems reasonable to propose that, in them, he could perceive in their technique a modern interpretation, though lacking the irony, of that which had earlier motivated Marie Talbot's range of 'bonnes femmes'.  Though it was at this time that Lerat was to embark on the production of the extensive series of vases already discussed, some more of these wheel thrown figures were to be made before the end of the period.  Many still retain evidence of marks made by a tool or the fingers of the potter as the soft clay was still revolving on the wheel.  One piece deserves special attention; the Virgin and child of the large 'Crèche' (Figs.193, l94) are neither figures nor poses associated with the conventional Nativity scene.  Here they are attached to form one sculptural element, the throwing process imposing its own simplicity of form and surface finish.  Almost a quarter of a metre in height, in subject matter, as in composition, it had sufficient autonomy to be able to develop as an independent theme, and it was one to which Lerat would return many times in his evolution as a ceramic sculptor.

 

 La Borne - the arrival of Paul Beyer

 

      The consolidation of the government's policy for 'l'artisanat et le retour à la terre' was, in l942, to be directly responsible for the injection of a new factor into the creative life of La Borne.  Although it was not to exercise any immediate and perceptible influence on the plans of François Guillaume, it would eventually do so, helping to determine the role that the village was to play in the renewal of French ceramics following World War II.  The factor was the installation in an atelier in La Borne of the noted Sèvres based ceramist, Paul Beyer.  An account of this move was given in the foreward to a catalogue of a retrospective of his work, held in the Musée Alsacien, Strasbourg:

 

                       '... Dàs l942, on lui confie une mission délicate

                       qui va demander énormément d'énergie.  On lui fait

                       croire - dit Michel Faré - que lui seul peut

                       redonner vie au village de La Borne, près de

                       Bourges, vie à une cité de potiers endormie et qui

                       manque d'esprit de création ...'(26)

 

      Michael Faré's account, written two years after Beyer's death in l945, paints a much more dramatic picture:

 

                       '... Les idées d'artisanat et de retour à la

                       terre vont alors troubler sa quiétude ... Sa

                       fidèle compagne, qui toujours écarte les ombres

                       du chemin, ne parvint pas cette fois à le faire

                       renoncer au dangereux projet qui lui est proposé ...' (27)

 

      Ageing, he was almost seventy in l942; of poor health, his First World War experiences had left an indelible mark, 'Lui si sensible, si nerveux, si brusquement transplanté sur un sol que l'horreur dévaste, va mal résister. Blessé, il subit un choc terrible.  Ses mains, jusque - là si obéissantes, sont inquiètes.' (28)

      Beyer was raised in Besançon, where his father had established a prosperous stained-glass workshop, following a move from Strasbourg, Paul's birthplace in l873.  A career in the family business seemed assured, following his studies in the prestigious school of Art in Munich.  Convinced, however, that the profession would be menaced by the separation of Church and State (29), he resolved to pursue the mysteries of ceramics, 'cet autre art du feu.' (30)

 

      Initiated into the craft in Vallauris, he worked elsewhere in France and Switzerland before settling in Lyons where, having abandoned faïence as being little more than a support for decoration, he concentrated on making stoneware in a markedly japonising style, somewhat close to that of Jean Carriàs.  Devastated by the prospects that his war-time injuries might lead to a permanent loss of mobility, it was by dint of tenacity and exercise that he was able to overcome his impairment.  In l92l, a critic writing in 'La Vie Lyonnaise' was to comment:

 

                       '... Que d'années de rude labeur, que d'efforts,

                       que de patience représente cette exposition,

                       mais aussi que de joies à voir s'epanouir ces

                       harmonies de teintes, ces mouchetures vertes, ces

                       gammes de bleus de de jaunes ...'(3l)

 

      It was during the nineteen-twenties that his work was to achieve that simplicity of form which was to characterise his art throughout the rest of his life; bowls and vases, pure in line, and bearing little or no decoration, small sculptural pieces based on animal forms, and striking statues, mostly images of patrons of the crafts and trades - "saint Antoine du Desert, patron des charcutiers, saint Crepin, celui des cordonniers, saint Bon, patron des potiers et saint Vincent, celui des vignerons'. (32)  Such sculptural realisations were typical of one of the traits which marked the development of French ceramics in the inter-war years. (33)

 

      Exhibiting regularly at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs and the Salon d'Automne de Paris (34), his position in the world of ceramics was regarded as being beyond question when, in an extensive review of French ceramics in l928, Ernest Tisserand was to write, 'Nous n'hesitons pas à dire que l'oeuvre céramique de Beyer est parmi les plus importantes du temps.' (35)  Though conveying an initial sensation of an austerity which derived from a rigourously restricted range of primary materials, it was only on holding and caressing one of his pieces that their full sensuosity was experienced. (36)  All of his forms, whether functional or figurative, derived from the discipline of the potter's wheel, 'Mes figures, comme mes autres objets, sont formées d'autant de petits pots juxtaposés.' (Figs. l95i.195ii) (37)  The simplification sought in form was brought into a perfect equilibrium by his constant reliance on salt-glazing, a technique that still survived in many provincial potteries.

 

                       '... il presente aux jeux capricieux de la

                       flamme les pièces qu'il a tournées, le feu

                       domestique obéit, il dore les flancs du vase.

                       Vers la fin de la cuisson, le potier, à pleine

                       main, precipite le sel marin.  Les pièces dans

                       leur fournaise réagissent ; une brusque

                       métamorphose s'opére; une féerie chimique modele

                       la terre banale.  Une oxydation la transfigure :

                       la voilà, colorée, irisée de mille reflets.  Les

                       poteries doucement refroidissent, dans leurs

                       robes matérielles brunes, beiges ou vert sombre ...'(38)

 

      In the context of the development of the formal structures whose role was to conserve 'art populaire' such subject matter and technique was bound to result in comparisons being made, and it was Ernest Tisserand who was to identify this salient character of Beyer's art, which many years later was to lead him to La Borne:

 

                       '... Il n'y a plus de poterie populaire, prétend-

                       on.  C'est juste, et c'est faux à la fois, nous

                       nous en expliquerons un jour.  Les potiers qui

                       ont le sentiment de faire de la poterie populaire,

                       visent à faire mieux et s'avancent sur un terrain

                       ou ils ne savent se conduire.  Par ailleurs, les

                       formes populaires de la poterie sont exploitées

                       par des ateliers industriels où l'accent et le

                       sentiment, sauf hasard, se perdent bien vite.  Mais

                       nous avons en revanche des céramistes qui ayant

                       tout appris, tout vu, tout étudié, conduisent leur

                       art, de simplifications en simplifications, vers

                       des formes très proches de ce que le génie des

                       vieux artisans leur avait fait essayer.  Le précieux

                       tend vers l'humilité, non par affection, mais par

                       raison et par goût.  Les grès de Beyer en résultent,

                       qui se classent parmi les oeuvres maîtresses de la

                       céramique éternelle ...'(39)

 

      It was after settling in at Sèvres, in l932, that he produced some of his most renowned work.  Installing his workshop in 'Le Vieux Moulin', an outbuilding of the National Ceramic Factory which had been placed at his disposal through the efforts of President Herriot, (40) Beyer laboured quietly at the production of his customary forms:

 

                       '... des pichets à large panse, des coupes

                       élégantes, des cruches robustes, des figures

                       d'une humble grandeur.  Il stylise avec humour.

                       Il modèle dans le style populaire et rustique

                       des nobles artisans, imagiers romans et

                        gothiques ...' (4l)

 

      From l936 he played an active role in exhibitions of the group 'Temoinage', which had been founded by the Lyons anarchist poet and gallery owner, Marcel Michaud.  Other participants in the group exhibitions which took place in Lyons, Paris and Grenoble, between l936 and l940, were Albert Gleizes, Le Moal, Manessier and Raymond Cogniat. (42)  In its manifesto, published 22 December l936, and various numbers of its revue 'Le Poids du Monde', the revolutionary policy of the group was propagated:

 

                        '... Une vie ardente, seule, nous intéresse ...

                       Nous pensons que notre civilisation occidentale

                       contemporaine comparée aux civilisations occidentales

                       du Moyen Age et aux civilisations orientales de

                       toujours, est lamentablement médiocre.  Nous voulons,

                       dans l'humilité, reprendre le fil des grands courants

                       spirituels ...' (43)

 

      Michaud described the group as being born of a revolt against materialism in art, and exhorted artists to stride away from the brilliant but hopeless game of contemporary art:

 

                       '... Comment?

                       En retournent aux sources, en "déchirant le voile

                       qui cache le sens des choses."  Bref, en réinjectant

                       à l'art la spiritualité perdue depuis que la

                       Renaissance a remplacé le mythe de Dieu par celui

                       de l'Homme.  "La fin de l'art n'est pas d'étonner,

                       mais de rendre l'Homme à sa nature eternelle, qui

                       est l'Absolu".  Cette declaration, qui pourrait

                       être orgueilleuse, est corrigée par un aveu très

                       humble:  "L'art n'est pas un métier au-dessus des

                       autres métiers, mais un simple language, une

                       écriture qui a son utilité pour une fin

                       spirituelle ...'(44)

 

      That art should be 'significant' and essentially animated by a desire to serve lay at the heart of Michaud's message.  In his passion for indigenous arts he called his gallery 'Folklore'.  Opened in Lyons in l939, at each group show he exhibited various examples of fine craftsmanship such as glass, weaving, enamels, bookbinding and ceramics, alongside painting and sculpture.  That such a conception of the role of art fitted with precision into the government's policy for craftsmanship was evident when, shortly after his arrival in La Borne, the noted French critic, Renée Moutard-Uldry, writing in 'A la Française', was to classify Beyer as being he who was most closely linked to the rural tradition, 'l'homme et l'oeuvre apparaissent comme l'expression anachronique d'un art grave, vigoureux, débordant d'une robuste sève paysanne.' (45)

      On the occasion of the major retrospective of the work of La Borne, mounted in Bourges and Paris in l962 and l963, Beyer's move was recalled by one who had played a part in the transfer, Georges Henri Rivière, Conservateur en Chef du Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires, and Directeur du Conseil International des Musées.  In l942, when the museum had been under the aegis of the Sécretariat d'Etat à l'Education Nationale et à la Jeunesse, Rivière had helped organise an exhibition of local craftsmanship in the Palais Jacques Coeur in Bourges.  Featuring had been two of Beyer's ceramic figures, typically berrichon in theme, Saint Hubert, patron of hunters and Saint Solange, patroness of the region:

 

                       '... Le regretté artiste les avait executés à

                       La Borne durant un sejour qu'il y avait fait,

                       donnant suite au conseil d'un autre de nos

                       collaborateurs d'alors, Pierre-Louis Duchartre,

                       chez le potier Armand Bedu, hirondelles avec

                       d'autres, du renouveau de La Borne ...' (46)

 

      Duchartre's account, written in l947, is more specific, since it was included in the description of an act which in itself was loaded with symbolism, the donation by the Musées de France to the Musée du Berry of two ceramic sculptures, one a fontaine by Jacques Sébastien Talbot, the other an épi de faîtage, a figure of Saint Vincent by Beyer, 'des oeuvres parentes par la matière et la technique mais bien différentes dans l'ordre esthétique, la première relevant de l'art folklorique et la seconde de l'art tout court.' (47)  Referring to the l942 exhibition, 'placée sous le signe de la tradition et du renouveau', (48) he recounted how he and Rivière had chosen to juxtapose the work of Beyer and the potters of La Borne:

 

                       '... Nous avions ensuite facilité l'installation

                        de Paul Beyer à La Borne au milieu de ces maîtres

                       potiers qui appartiennent à la noblesse de l'artisanet

                       traditionnel.  Ce faisant, nous espérions, grâce à

                       ce voisinage, ranimer une nouvelle fois la flamme dans

                       ce village de potiers traditionnels ...' (49)

 

      Since pre-war years, both Rivière and Duchartre had maintained their professional and personal relationships with François Guillaume; and a short time prior to l942, a team from the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires, under Marcel Maget, had completed an extensive technical research project in the village.  Was the commissioning of Beyer, to engage in a renewal of La Borne, an independent idea, or had it been stimulated by the renewal already taking place in Bedu's atelier?  If the latter, Guillaume could only have perceived it as an official response to his aspiration that others would emulate the role that both he and Jean Lerat had so far enacted.  At all events, the presence of an artist of such repute was seen by him as vindicating his efforts. (50)

      Contrary to the impression which could be left by Rivière's statement, it was not into Armand Bedu's atelier that Beyer moved.  Rather, one of the traditional workshops belonging to Madame Camille Talbot-Senée, the widow of Gabriel Talbot, was placed at his disposal by an officially sponsored Craft Co-operative in Orleans which commissioned the local mason, Louis Foucher, to construct his kiln. (5l)  A Sèvres model, with a single firebox, and of a scale appropriate for the use of an individual artist, it was significant in itself, as it was the first of this nature to be introduced into the village, accustomed for centuries to the communal use, and enormous capacity, of the traditional 'grands fours'.  Continuing his production, Beyer worked and lived in the confined space of the atelier, aided by Bedu, who helped him fire his kiln and acquired his war-time rations. (52)  As for his influence on the village, both Faré and Klein evoke recollections of Guillaume's opinion of the potters, 'gens difficiles à mener.' (53)

 

                       '... les années heureuses passées à Sèvres perdues

                       et jamais retrouvées, les incomprehensions et les

                       difficultés recommencèrent à La Borne ...' (54)

 

      In l947, Duchartre had written that they had 'hoped' that the arrival of Beyer would revive the village. (55)  In l962, Rivière was to note Beyer and Bedu as 'hirondelles avec d'autres, du renouveau de La Borne.' (56)  Henri Talbot, the son of Camille Talbot-Senée, writing with Robert Chaton, was to eventually comment on Beyer's stay in the village:

 

                        '... Seul dans son atelier, sans relations

                       avec les habitants du village, jusqu'à sa mort

                       en l945 ...' (57)

 

      Whether stimulated or not by the installation of Beyer in an independent atelier, it was in the latter part of the year that Guillaume addressed himself to acquiring his own premises in La Borne.  It was not the first time that he had looked for suitable accommodation, having initiated the process in October l94l, when he had entered into negotiations with the same Camille Talbot-Senée for the traditional pottery left by her husband. (58)  At that time, Madame Talbot's son, Henri, was a prisoner of war, and she herself had not continued its operation, due to the high cost of materials. (59)  Another traditional enterprise came on the market in October l942 due to the insolvency of Leontine Foucher-Chavet, the widow of the former patron, and who by then was an inmate in the departmental asylum of Beauregard. (60)  In response to enquiries which Guillaume had asked him to make, Jean Lerat wrote from La Borne in October to inform him:

 

                       '... La vente de La Poterie Foucher-Chavet aura

                       lieu jeudi l2 November, à l4h. (heure allemande)

                       à La Borne a La Maison Ecole par M. Baillon

                       notaire à Henrichemont ...' (6l)

 

      Despite his interest, Guillaume found the price too high, (62) and at the auction, the premises were bought by Lucien Talbot, whose wife had recently won the 'gros lot' in the Loterie Nationale. (63)

 

 

The Exposition Nationale Artisanale, December l942

 

      François Guillaume's renewal of La Borne received its first national recognition when 'deux beaux objets' (64) of Jean Lerat were borrowed by Georges Henri Rivière for inclusion in the 'Exposition Artisanale', held in the Pavillon Marsan, Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, in December l942.  The loan of these and examples of traditional ware from Guillaume's collection had been negotiated during a visit that Rivière had made to Bourges in November. (65)  In December, he was once again in written contact with Guillaume, thanking him for forwarding some photographic documentation, and inviting him to visit Paris where, accompanied by Rivière himself and Marcel Maget, the main organiser of the exhibition, Guillaume could note the attention which had been given to the pieces:

 

                       '... vous constaterez que j'ai fait bonne place

                       à la croix de votre jeune protégé M. Lera(t) et

                       que j'ai mis en place d'honneur avec un éclairage

                       spécial la splendide fontaine de La Borne qui est

                       un des joyaux de votre collection ...' (66)

 

      Following the dismantling of the exhibition, Rivière's gratitude merits full recounting:

 

                       '... je tiens à vous exprimer mes plus vifs

                       remerciements pour votre admirable participation

                       qui a été un des plus beaux gages du succès

                       remporté.

                       Vous savez peut-être que M. Charles Ratton ayant

                       admiré votre splendide fontaine, a fait don d'un

                       exemplaire analogue au Musée des Arts et Traditions

                       Populaires.

                       Comme vous avez été la cause de ce don, je vous en

                       exprime aussi mes remerciements ...' (67)