Driving up a winding hill of a small back alley, making a final bend in the road, we reached one of the highest points in the village of Cucuron. The homes are all adjoined, creating an outstretched single building front with the stonewalls blending into the narrow muted roads. Tucked away in a little corner of the street is the home of Hélène Paris, a local potter, "pottière" as one would say in French. A good friend of my mother-in-law, I was introduced to Hélène at the market while vacationing in Provence some years ago. Her atelier located downstairs in her home, a small sanctuary in the heart of the village, has the air of being more a grotto than an actual studio.
Stone steps from an outdoor terrace lead you down to a narrow walkway lined with plants, a small alcove filled with whimsical baskets and two doors that seem to step from history. One door leads to her workshop and the other to her showroom, both small spaces with cobblestone walls, low rounded ceilings and built in the old masonry way. The building itself is very old, a typical village house with multiple floors, built upwards with an outdoor terrace. In the past the actual atelier space was likely used for animals, presumptively goats, a part of the home where villagers kept their livestock at night within the city. Simple yet functional and standing to the test of time, this home represents modest, quiet and tranquil Provençal living.
Hélène studied 5 years at Les Beaux Arts, the famous school of fine arts, located in Aix en Provence. Beginning her path of pottery part-time while working in Paris, changes with her job prompted a new life direction to a more creative path, Hélène headed south returning to the Luberon with the decision to pursue her passion as a full-time potter, which she has now been doing for 13 years. Taught by a master potter who ultimately became her mentor, her style of pottery is known as tordu, meaning twisted in French, given by its purposely imperfect shape. Hélène works in a Mediterranean style pottery that is created in the terre vernissée technique which pertains to how the color is applied, the objects dried and baked.
A cat lover, Hélène is surrounded by four feline friends, her companions of life and work, moseying about her atelier, keeping a lazy eye over her creations while amazingly never breaking a piece. Stepping into her atelier the smell of raw clay fills the air, like the soil in a forest after a rain shower, earthy but soft. Pottery is scattered outdoors sitting in the Provençal sun, slowly drying, setting in form before being hand varnished. The unfinished pieces beautiful in their own rawness seemed to be effortlessly molded and created by Hélène. Cups, bowls, plates, dishes, pots and more, in a variety of shapes and sizes with a plethora of colors, mostly muted, softer shades, multi-colored or tonal. Much of her work is themed, florals reminiscent of the impressionist style or abstract designs, but all delicate and warm.
A lover of pottery at heart, Hélène frequents shows to experience the pottery of other artisans, not only for learning but also as inspiration. Her pottery is a reflection of her Provençal environment, the rolling hills, the open fields, the flowers, the seasons, and is an extension of herself. She lives a passion driven life, guided by a love of pottery and nature, and a desire to create. When not working in her atelier, Hélène can be found at both the Lourmarin and Cucuron markets where she shows weekly...