CHAPTER XVII

 

 

THE RENEWAL OF LA BORNE - l945

 

 

      Following their marriage, Jean and Jacqueline Lerat returned to reside in their newly acquired house beside the tabac in La Borne d'en Bas.  Having been absent from Guillaume's 'Livre de Paye' for January and February, their names and salaries appear once more for the March entry. (l)  After Jean Lerat's final fiche for l944 and the closure of ledger for the enterprise until that time, no further evidence has been discovered in Guillaume's papers to furnish either a visual record of the subsequent production or their selling price.  From a list of pieces which he submitted for exhibition at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Décorateurs of l945, it is possible, however, to describe the types of ware being produced in this new phase of the operation.  Unlike the Salon of l943, when he had first attempted to promote his venture in La Borne through the annual exhibition of the Société, that of l945 was open to the works of individual artists.  In l943, when Jean Lerat alone was working in the village, the Salon had been restricted to 'une exposition des différentes écoles d'art décoratif en France.' (2)

 

      In May, two years later, with normal regulations applying, Guillaume forwarded 300 francs for the droit d'enregistrement et droit nonimatif' (3), before submitting his final selection of pieces on 27 June. (4)  Prior to reaching his decision, he had compiled a provisional list of twenty-six pieces, eighteen by Jean Lerat, two by his wife, Jacqueline, with the remaining seven being the result of their collaborative endeavour.  Included in the total are seven by Jean Lerat from the pre-l945 period, all readily identifiable by their fiche number and a brief description or title.  Among these was 'La Grande Vierge à la Chaise' which, if Guillaume's ledger entries had really referred to it, appears to have been re-acquired for the occasion.  Similarly titled, the remaining eighteen are numbered and coded with an 'O' prefix, each code referring to an individual piece, suggesting that the large series of thrown vases which Jean Lerat had recorded on single fiches had been abandoned at this time.  By contrast, the presence of a greater proportion of sculptural wares indicates a more pronounced orientation of the atelier in this direction.  The slower rate of production deriving from such a practice appears to be borne out by the highest recorded number, '0'37, in this series.  Given that it would have been necessary to have the pieces ready for the lengthy, two week, firing and cooling cycle of the 'grand four' of Armand Bedu at the end of April, it appears that the total production for March to mid-April was of the order of forty pieces.

 

      The two examples of the work of Jacqueline Lerat, a 'pot à miel' and a 'coupe', are similar in type to the kind of decorative functional ware that she had been making prior to her marriage.  The same can be claimed for some of the new pieces by Jean Lerat, with two 'cendriers', a 'vase' and a 'pot à tabac' being considered for submission, with his sculptural work being represented by a 'croix', a 'croix scout', three 'angelots' and a figurative 'bouteille à marc', based on an earlier theme, 'La Cantinière.' (5)  The remaining six pieces are of particular significance since the list furnishes the first documented record of the joint efforts of Jean and Jacqueline Lerat.  Except for a 'Coupe Saint François', all are of a sculptural nature, and although there is insufficient information to interpret the technique used to produce one, a Calvaire, the titles of the others, mostly a reiteration of the themes of some of Jean Lerat's wheel-thrown sculptures, make it safe to deduce that they also were produced by the same method.  Two were based on the form of the 'Tricoteuse', a third was a 'Madone' with the final piece - 'Femme jouant avec son enfant' - being another variation on the by-then favourite theme of mother and child.

 

      By 27 June, the number of works selected for submission had been reduced to ten, of which three, the coupe Saint François, the Madone and the Calvaire were the result of the collaboration of Jean and Jacqueline Lerat.  Included also were the 'Grande Vierge à La Chaise' of l944 and the more recent 'bouteille à marc; La Cantinière' by Jean.  In forwarding his final list to the Société des Artistes Décorateurs', François Guillaume made clear their provenance, 'Grès grand feu de La Borne d'Henrichemont (Cher) Atelier Guillaume, Collaborateurs: Jean et Jacqueline LERAT' (6), whilst his accompanying letter contains the names of his collaborators only, 'je vous prie de trouver ci-inclus, en double exemplaire, la liste des grès de Jean et Jacqueline LERAT avec leurs prix.' (7)  By 24 July, the secretary of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs wrote to inform Guillaume that a Madame Lazon, of Rambouillet, had bought two pieces, 'La Grande Vierge à la Chaise' and 'La Cantinièrè for l2,000 and 850 francs respectively. (8)

 

      Not since l942, when Guillaume had been successful in having the 'croix' by Jean Lerat exhibited in the 'Exposition Nationale Artisanale' in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, had the work of the Atelier Guillaume been displayed in Paris, the difference in l945 being that, in the Salon, the work was being exhibited in a context which had, since its inception, been the forum for all the major figures of French ceramic art. (9)  Though the success might herald a new and important future for the Atelier Guillaume, it also denoted an equally new and important dimension for modern ceramics at a time when most artists worked with faïence and highly coloured wares.  By contrast, the warm, dun tones of the La Borne clay and the variegated surface conferred by salt-glazing in the grand four were qualities previously seldom displayed:

 

                       '... C'était sombre, c'était triste par

                       rapport de ce qu'était une matière ... Peu

                       de grès au sel.  C'était vraiment très rare

                       à travailler du grès au sel ...' (l0)

 

      Though the sale of the two pieces can be taken as indicative of a general reaction to the work of the La Borne atelier, they had not evoked a similar response from Anne Dangar who, visiting the Lerats at Easter, would have been present when most, if not all, of them would have been either finished or in production.  Accommodated in the home of Valentine Chameron, she spent most of her time with her friends in the atelier, dining with them in the evening. (ll)  Climatically, the region lived up to expectations, 'ce temps de La Borne, ce climat de La Borne, voyez à Pâques, il pleut, il fait encore froid, il fait gris et tout' (12), an image that corresponded to the sombre colour of the local clay that left a marked impression on the Australian. (l3)  During her stay, she had time to make one piece, a 'cadran solaire', which because of the nature of this clay was inevitably different in character to that which she made at Moly-Sabata, 'elle avait l'habitude de tavailler avec des choses beaucoup plus gaies, des engobes, très gaies, abricot, bleu pastel, vert très claire, des choses très gaies.' (l4)  With the 'grands fours' still functioning, and the regularity of the firings determining the strict rhythm of life in the village, Anne Dangar confided to the Lerats that, working in such an ambience, surrounded by the traditional utilitarian forms such as the 'grands saloirs' 'une vie formidable' lay ahead for them. (l5)  In letters which she later wrote to Jacqueline Lerat, Anne Dangar claimed to be 'très enthousiaste' with what she had witnessed at La Borne', et qu'elle était obligée de faire toujours des petit services, et que c'était très fatiquant de faire des petit services à thé.  Elle m'a dit, 'Mais vous, vous auriez eu une vie très, très belle.' (l6)  Sometime afterwards, in letters, later published, which she wrote to the monks at the monastery of La Pierre qui Vire Anne Dangar expressed her regret that Jacqueline Bouvet had not continued with the production of utilitarian ware. (l7)  In La Borne, she had likewise expressed a somewhat similar view, leaving her one-time pupil with the impression that she thought that the production of herself and her husband was 'un peu décorative' (l8), but this assessment, in the opinion of Jacqueline Lerat, can be attributed to Anne Dangar's lack of comprehension of what they were attempting to achieve, particularly since the sculptural pieces had started to exploit forms initially made on the potter's wheel:

 

                       '... Jean Lerat a repris la tradition des images

                       de La Borne ... et elle, elle ne connaissait pas

                       ça du tout ... elle connaissait des pots

                       décoratifs, tout ça ... non, elle décorait des

                       pots,    pas de la même façon.  Elle faisait des

                       figures, voyez, voilà les figures devaient être

                       traitées en cubisme.  En fait, quand elle était

                       jeune, c'était très contemporain ce qu'elle

                       faisait, mais par la suite, elle a toujours

                       travaillé avec cette idée du cubisme ...' (l9)

 

      By the end of July when François Guillaume was receiving news of the success at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, he was already engaged in negotiations to move the atelier to new and independent premises.  This opportunity had arisen when the aged Paul Beyer, following a final illness, had died in Bourges on l0 July l945.  Since the arrival of the artist in the village, he had often been visited by his daughter Madame Therèse Gonin, of Lyons, who had met with and was befriended by Guillaume, who had rendered the family financial assistance. (20)  On 26 July, her husband, Monsieur H. Gonin, entered into written negotiations with François Guillaume as to the future of the Beyer atelier in Les Grandes Boutiques.  Recalling two encounters which they already had, in Bourges and in La Borne, Gonin addressed the question of the kiln, 'puisque vous aviez manifesté l'intention de vous en rendre acquereur.' (21)  The negotiations were to eventually include some of the potter's equipment in Le Vieux Moulin, his atelier at Sevrès. (22)  Guillaume offered 25,000 francs for an electric mill, a clay press and the kiln with, in addition, the right to lease the atelier.  In relation to Beyer's kiln, he quoted the advice of 'un porcelainier de la région', most likely Marc Larchevêque, who had valued it at 20,000 francs. (23)  This estimate fell far short of that of the family which, based on a 'coefficient moyen adapté par les experts', would treble its original cost of construction of l8,800 francs. (24)  Allowing for a twenty per cent devaluation due to use, Monsieur Gonin indicated that the family would be prepared to accept 45,000 francs, 'en chiffres ronds'. (25)  Negotiations were terminated on 3l August when Guillaume wrote to Gonin to advise him:

 

                       '... Nos prix sont donc trop loin l'un de

                       l'autre, je considère que cette affaire est

                       close, et je prends dès maintainant des

                       dispositions pour construire un four dans

                       l'atelier dont je dispose ...' (26)

 

      The opportunity to realize this ambition was never to materialise since the possibility of acquiring the Beyer atelier and kiln had likewise attracted the attention of Jean and Jacqueline Lerat.

 

      This threat of dissolution for the Atelier Guillaume appears to have arisen at a period when Guillaume was in the process of proposing a new and more formal character for the professional relationship between himself and his collaborators.  He had approached the Lerats with the aim of obtaining their agreement to forming an Association en Participation, 'destinée à rester occulte et qui sera reglé par les articles 47 à 50 du Code du Commerce et par les présents statuts.' (27)  Containing altogether twelve articles embracing the accepted procedures for operating a business venture, it had patently been drawn up by Guillaume for discussion with the Lerats, and prior to any required legal drafting, should they agree to its terms.  The second article outlines the principal aim, namely, 'la fabrication de tous articles de grès.' (28)  As indicated in 'Article Quatrième', the association was to commence on an as yet unspecified date in l945, and it shows that Guillaume hoped to gain the Lerat's consent to engage in a working relationship which would endure for the succeeding ten years, with a facility for either party to terminate the arrangement by informing the other, in writing, six months in advance. (29)  It is evident that the document was formulated and discussed before the death of Paul Beyer, as in the 'Article Troisième' which defines the contribution to be made by each party, the future location of the enterprise is made clear:

 

                        '... la jouissance de l'enterprise de poterie

                       qu'il posséde à La Borne dans un local dont

                       il est locataire en vertu d'un bail qui lui

                       a été consenti par Made.  TALBOT - SENEE pour

                       3, 6 ou 9 années à compter du 24 Decembre l943

                       ainsi que la jouissance du matériel servant à

                       l'exploitation ...' (30)

 

    The same article describes the proposed contribution of his collaborators thus:

 

                       '... M. et Made LERAT apporteront à l'association

                       leurs connaissances professionnelles et leur

                       travail qu'ils consacreront entièrement à

                       l'entreprise sans pouvoir s'intéresser directement

                       ou indirectement à une autre entreprise quel-

                       conque ...' (3l)

 

      In acknowledgement of Jean Lerat's responsibility in the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Bourges, this article made provision for him to fulfil his duties in the 'Section Céramique.' (32)

 

      It will be noted that in the third article the contribution of Guillaume had not alluded to any decision making role which he might wish to exercise in relation to the nature or character of the work to be produced.  In all his earlier projects, in porcelain and glass, as well as with Armand Bedu and Jean Chièze, it is undoubted that his participation in the design process was such that he assumed the guiding, if not dominating, position.  In relation to Jean Lerat, though patently respecting his skills and ability, it was Guillaume who mostly made the final decisions, with Lerat occasionally having his own proposals accepted. (33)  His letter of June l943 to the then Jacqueline Bouvet had made clear his perception of his role, thus it was unlikely that in this new association that he would wish to cede any authority, particulary since it would be a further externalisation of that personal vision for La Borne in which he had invested many years of research, time and energy, and which was now beginning to bear fruit.  Though not couched in such specific terms, 'Article huitième' is an unequivocal declaration of his perception:

 

                       '... L'Association est gérée par M. GUILLAUME

                       qui sera seul connu et seul responsable vis à vis

                       des tiers envers lesquels il agira en son nom

                       personnel.  Il aura les pouvoirs les plus

                       étendus ...' (34)

 

      Despite his earlier clarification of the names of Jean and Jacqueline Lerat when he had forwarded his list of works to the Société des Artistes Décorateurs, a similar perception would be expressed when the administrative secretary of the Société forwarded a cheque for 8,365 francs, that is the total selling price of Jean Lerat's two pieces less 4,485 francs owed to the treasurer. (35)  Mistakenly made payable to 'Mademoiselle LERAT'. (36)  Guillaume responded:

 

                       '... Ce n'est pas Monsieur Lerat qui a exposé.

                       C'est donc bien à mon nom que le chèque devait

                       être signé, mais cela n'a pas d'importance, je

                       m'arrangerai avec Monsieur Lerat.  Veuillez

                       seulement noter pour vos archives que Monsieur

                       Jean Lerat travaille seulement pour mon compte

                       à La Borne avec sa femme madame Jacqueline

                        Lerat ...' (37)

 

      All evidence suggests that Guillaume discussed his Association en Participation with the Lerats during June l945, that is, just before the death of Paul Beyer.  In the document, he had mistakenly used Geneviève as Madame Lerat's forename, the error being corrected in pencil. (38)  A similar mistake occurs in other documents of the period, for example in the Livre de Paye he has used the initial 'G' for each monthly entry for l945, correction only being made in December. (39)  For June, Madame Lerat's salary is increased to bring it level with that of her husband (40), just at the time he was compiling his provisional list for submission to the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs.  In this initial draft he had named his collaborators as 'Jean Lerat et sa femme (Geneviève Bouvet)', with the forename stroked out and corrected to read Jacqueline. (4l)  It has already been shown that by 27 June, when forwarding both his list and letter to the Société, he had used her correct forename. (42)

 

      The eventual response of the Lerats to Guillaume's proposal was a negative one:

 

                       '... il nous a proposé une association,

                       tu sais bien, puis nous, on a refusé on

                       a dit, 'Non! Non! On va être tranquilles,

                       on va travailler seuls ...' (43)

 

      Having made their home in La Borne, where all the traditional boutiques and shared kilns were designed for large scale production, the possibility of working as independent artist-potters could only become a reality when an atelier such as that of Paul Beyer became available.  The Gonin-Guillaume negotiations were coming to naught, inevitably so since the atelier still belonged to Camille Talbot-Senée, and the kiln had been installed by the crafts co-operative in Orléans.  It was in their negotiations with this same co-operative that the Lerats, then considering the purchase of the atelier, were advised, 'Non, ne l'achetez pas, parce que, sans ça, nous serions obligés de nous rembourser ... on a les lettres ... c'est une histoire, bon, comme ça.' (44)

 

      Of equal importance, independence also implied the freedom to seek outlets other than the Maison Guillaume, through which all the previous work had been sold.  Such an outlet, a most prestigious one, had been secured in l945, most likely in the early part of the year, when the ware was accepted by the Galerie Rouard in Paris, that premises in the Avenue de l'Opéra which had shown Massé's ceramics in l927.  It appears that this contact had not been organised by Guillaume, rather it had been effected by someone in Vierzon who was involved in the porcelain industry and who was friendly with Jacqueline Lerat's brother-in-law. (45)  The 'Livre de Paye à l'Etablissement Guillaume' had been officially registered, signed and stamped by the clerk of the courts of the justice of the peace in Bourges on 9 February l942.  Each month, the gross salaries, legal deducations and net salaries are recorded for both Jean and Jacqueline Lerat.  Signed salary receipts were also kept for each month.  In the absence of any negotiated contract, Guillaume might have viewed these as sufficiently binding to ensure that the collaboration would continue as before.  Alternatively, the freedom to engage in some kind of independent activity might have been negotiated, which would account for the lack of fiches for this period, and the change in the nature of the output of the atelier at this time.  If such is the case, it would help to explain and clarify his reaction to events that appeared to threaten his work for La Borne, as well as his wish to re-organise in a more formal manner his collaboration with Jean and Jacqueline Lerat

.

      By contrast, in sending their pieces to Paris, 'pour que elles soient confrontées par d'autres choses' (46), the Lerats were finding that 'notre travail a suivi une autre vie et qu'on a jamas repeté les pièces.' (47)  In the Avenue de l'Opéra, their ceramics were shown side by side with those of the most important ceramic artists of the period, Decoeur, Lenoble, Serré for example:

 

                       '... Immédiatement, il y avait une

                       confrontation ... Ça devait à une attitude

                       ... et ça était très, très important pour

                       nous ...' (48)

 

      By late l945, Jean and Jacqueline Lerat had negotiated successfully for the lease of Beyer's atelier, with the kiln being sold to them by the co-operative 'pour un prix modeste.' (49)  The precise date of their transition from one atelier to the other is unclear, although the Lerats give l945 as the year in which they established their own at La Borne. (50)  It is unlikely that they had fired Beyer's kiln by January l946 since, following a Christmas vacation in Mâcon, where they had an exhibition of their work.  Jacqueline Lerat wrote to Guillaume from La Borne, giving him some information in relation to the expenses incurred in firing wares in Armand Bedu's kiln. (5l)  With reference to their occupation of the Beyer atelier, she added:

 

                       '... Pour l'instant nous n'avons pas encore

                       payé le loyer de l'atelier n'ayant revu

                       aucune personne de l'artisanat et n'ayant

                       encore rien reglé avec le co-opérative ...' (52)

 

      Irrespective of any such change, the collaboration remained intact until mid-June, l946, Guillaume's Livre de Paye and salary receipts, dated and signed by both, showing that Jean and Jacqueline Lerat remained in his employ until that time. (53)  That they were operating with greater independence can be seen in one of two articles, 'Potiers et Faiseurs de figurines: Les ateliers de La Borne', which appeared in Le Berry Républicain on 24/25 December l945 and 2 January l946 respectively. (54)  The title itself denotes the active involvement of François Guillaume, using as it does the accolade bestowed on Bernard Palissy, and which he had first used in l935 when he had pinned his hopes for renewal at La Borne on the work of the young Roger Giraud. (55)  Illustrated with the 'croix Montigny' of Jean Talbot, and a fontaine and encrier by Marie Talbot, all from the Guillaume collection, the first article is devoted to a description of the traditional potteries, as then in operation, concentrating on that of Alphonse Talbot. (56)  As already shown, Guillaume was unique in the region in his understanding of all aspects of the craft of the village, and it is in the second article in which there appears his long-held belief that the traditional craft is fated to disappear within a generation, through lack of renewal from within:

 

                       '... C'est un vieil arbre aux racines seculaires,

                       mais au tronc décrépit par manque de nouvelles

                       pousses ...' (57)

 

      Despite this pessimism, it is his personal vision for the future of the village and its ceramic activity which infuses the remainder of the text, a renewal has taken place!:

 

                       '... Il a cependant une pousse, ou plutôt

                       deux, qui ne donnent pas tout à fait les

                       mêmes fruits qu'autrefois, mais qui sont

                       intéressantes à étudier ...' (58)

 

      The article is unclear as to the premises in which such an observation might take place, mentioning both the 'atelier Guillaume' and the 'atelier à eux', where working 'tous seuls', Jean and Jacqueline Lerat 'apportent au vieil établissement artisanal un sang neuf et des méthodes nouvelles.' (59)  A description of their work is preceded by that part of Guillaume's l935 historical review of La Borne in which, mistakenly, he had claimed, 'Les grands maîtres comme Jacques-Sébastien Talbot ne s'étaient bornés à la fabrication des pots' (60), concentrating instead on the production of the decorative pieces.  The work of the Lerats, borne out by the accompanying photographs, is similarly motivated:

 

                       '... Il n'est plus question de pots ou ustensiles

                       d'usage courant, mais de modelage artistique. 

                       M. et Mme Lerat travaillent selon leur inspiration

                       des bibelots, des motifs de décoration d'intérieurs

                       en grès émaillé.  Ils font de tout: des animaux

                       synthétisés, des vases, des pieds de lampes, des

                       statuettes, des Vierges à l'Enfant, surtout des

                       Vierges à l'Enfant.  Ces deux artistes semblent

                       d'être spécialisés dans ce dernier genre.  Ce

                       sont des madones d'un style moderne, imitation des

                       primitifs, d'une touchante naïveté et d'une grande

                       simplicité de lignes ...' (6l)

 

      In addition to his determination to preserve for posterity, and to have recognised, the decorative art of Jacques-Sébastien and the succeeding generations of popular artists of La Borne, this had been his consuming passion since he had worked with Armand Bedu a decade before, and it was with obvious satisfaction that the article concluded:

 

                       '... Ainsi ce ménage d'artistes a repris le

                       flambeau éteint des anciens "faiseurs de

                       rustiques figurines" et le fait briller d'un

                       éclat nouveau au lieu même où le génie

                       populaire l'avait allumé voici plus d'un siècle

                       et demi ...' (62)

 

      The end of the Guillaume collaboration came when Jean and Jacqueline Lerat signed their last salary receipt for the first fifteen days of June. (63)  On 22 July l946, in accordance with the legal requirements of their agreement, François Guillaume wrote to Camille Talbot-Senée informing her that he wished to surrender his lease of her property.  Responding, she formally accepted 'La résiliation du bail que vous me demandez pour le 24 décembre prochain.' (64)