Today I want to take you to the South of France, in Provence, a village called Dieulefit. It’s a village surrounded by mountains, where life is quiet and colourful. There I’ve met with the ceramist Mathias Pioton, owner of T comme Terre.
On August 24th, B & I went to his workshop so that he could tell us a bit more about his profession, his passion and also how he arrived where he is now. His workshop is located next to the Protestant Church and the Bureau, which is the only restaurant/ pub opened 7/7 in Summer. T comme Terre is special for its large windows letting a lot of natural sunlight into the workshop. It is really spacious and a lot brighter than others, we had the chance to visit. The stone walls join in a beautiful vault, his work is arranged by colours on dark metallic shelves.
There are four kilns in this workshop. This beautiful atelier was built in 1950. The first potter passed it on to his son-in-law and after him, Mathias Pioton took over.
Mathias welcomes us in the potter’s uniform. His workshop is also his shop, which allows him to produce and sell at the same time. His t-shirt and his short are worn out by the hours spent at the wheel, stained with white clay: collateral damages. And it’s with great simplicity that the potter starts to tell his story. By fear of betraying his voice I chose to tell his story with my own words.
Mathias wasn’t good at school. When he turned 13, he started an apprenticeship. He was good at drawing and his father loved pottery, so he suggested he should try. That’s when Mathias was hit. It’s been more than 25 years that he has been turning.
After 7 years of being an apprentice, the young potter was hired by a artisan in Dieulefit. The workshop was very dynamic, and was making good money. He worked there, turning for 5 years. Where he met Sophie, his wife.
After a recession, he went back to his mentor, in hope of working on the traditional glazed clay that he loved, and eventually taking over the company of his old trainer that was soon to be retired. In the end, the deal was never concluded and the company went bankrupt. Mathias returned to Dieulefit to help out his former manager during weekends, to finally buy his business the following year.
He signed the contract in June 2013.
Mathias has taken over the customer files of the shop that is close to the House of Ceramics. He also deals with big orders from shops that sell his pottery, such as in Paris.
But Mathias is the only one to turn pottery. And customers don’t always realise what kind of work it takes to create his art. 90% of his production is turned by hand. He also uses stamps to decorate his pieces.
What has he achieved in 5 years?
M: When you’re an artisan, comes a time when you have to think about expanding, hiring and having to develop the business or else “to strike sail“. We work over 70 hours a week, and we are not even able to pay ourselves 1000€ each. My customers are becoming wealthier. The working class is still coming, but it’s becoming more and more difficult.
Every year on the 15th of August, the village organises a local Festival of the Picodon [a festival to celebrate the best local goat cheese]. Mathias made the bowls in which the people ate the pistou soup. He turned 500 bowls and he also made another 500 for the Medieval Festival in Bourdeaux, a small neighbouring town.
Mathias could easily hire a full time and a part time turner due to the work load, but he cannot justify the expense. 2017 will be a “trial”.
Here is a description of his style in his own words.
M: I turn a media that is useful and fit for everyday use. The clay is fired to a 1000°C for the first time. What we call a bisque is then glazed in one of the 5 different colours produced by T comme Terre, and then fired a 2nd time to 1020°C.
I like to turn the traditional clay of Dieulefit. It’s a white faience that’s glazed in green or honey yellow. The blue and the red colours came later.
I work with ancient forms. My wife and I have added our own unique touch. We play with engobes to create a jaspé. We also create our own stamps or engrave the clay.
Up until this day there hasn’t been any styles that haven’t been sold, sometimes the pieces stay in the shop for six months, sometimes they are sold on the day I put them on the display.
What aspect of your job do you like the most?
M: I’ll always be a turner before I am business man. Turning is my passion. I love meeting people.
Mathias is an artist, one of the last to turn the traditional clay of Dieulefit.
[Copyright photo : Bennett Soundy]