All photos by Fabrice Fortin for Paris By Appointment Only™
Certain disciplines (music and film, fashion and sculpture, design and architecture) go together like peas in a pod, but did you know that pottery and pastry making were creative soul mates too? I hadn’t either until I ventured into the wonderfully cluttered Left Bank atelier of French ceramicist Claire de Lavallée.
Surrounded by wall-to-wall cupboards, cutting boards and rolling pins galore, de Lavallée has the baker thing going on big time. But instead of turning out batches of rustic tarts or bulbous baguettes, her industrial ovens are filled with glistening handmade vases, plates, cups and bowls in the most gorgeous shapes and shades imaginable.
“I would wake up in the middle of the night and take out my rolling pin and cutting board and instead of making pastries, I found myself creating objects,” says de Lavallée who worked as a baker at a tea salon before making a full-time move to ceramics in 1989.
When you think about it, she couldn’t have had better training—both jobs are about transforming simple natural ingredients into something nourishing for the senses via massive amounts of heat.
All ceramics are made from clay, be it earthenware (faïence), stoneware (grès) or porcelain (porcelaine). While most artists specialize in one or the other, de Lavallée loves and works with them all.
“Even though I experiment with a lot of different materials, people have no problem recognizing my work,” says de Lavallée whose naturalistic designs, with their electrifying enamels (she makes them herself), metallic finishes and ambiguous textures are not only striking, but highly collectible.
A childlike wonder for the natural world is what sets her work apart from her peers in terms of subject and technique. Unlike most ceramicists who use spinning wheels to make perfectly symmetrical functional shapes, de Lavallée makes free form objects much in the same way that kids work Play-Doh.
After rolling out the clay into a flat pancake, she presses it against the surface of objects whose shapes and patterns amaze her, like apples and gourds, capturing their fabulous little bumps and crevices in 3D.
“I am drawn to the natural world because it’s rich with forms and patterns that are organized, without being rigid and geometric.”
But she’s not just limited to nature for inspiration. The constellation of dots left by an urchin’s shell recently sparked an obsession with the cosmos, light and figures born from dreams.
Her Celestial Basket (below) made of brown enamel and silver painted earthenware strips, for example, is like some kind of magical relic forged during the Middle Ages. While her Dreamers (above) faceless, cream-colored porcelain figurines, look like they descended ready-made from an ethereal higher ground.
Like any good cook, De Lavallée keeps her recipes close to her chest. So you won’t find the secret to her unusual colors and surfaces here. The only way to learn more is by visiting the artist’s studio (where you’d have to go anyway to purchase her work since she sells only sporadically to shops). And if you’re really intrigued, consider taking a class with the pottery pro herself.
Prices: Three-piece service for four (€500); Celestial Basket (€900); Vases (€300-500); Small Bowls (€100); Dreamers (€600)
Private Sale: Claire is having a holiday clearance sale from Dec 5-8 in Paris, contact me for details
Shop: It’s best to purchase directly from Claire by making a studio visit, though she does sell occasionally to Takeshimaya, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus (New York) and Talents (Paris)