Just past the jewel-like Uzès is the town of Saint-Quentin-la-Poterie, or Saint Quentin the Pottery. It’s a name you can’t resist, really, falling into the same charm category as Upper or Lower Slaughter or Piddle Trentide.
The town is built on a hillside, a cascade of rectangles, cubes, arcs, cones and prisms facing southwest. Cézanne could have painted it. On a hot day, you bake in St. Quentin, as if the whole town is one of the kilns that are regularly fired here. In the 14th century during the Popes of Avignon, St. Quentin provided the bricks and tiles for the papal palaces, made out of the surrounding red earth. The colors of the maisons de village are the ones I never used in the Crayola box — sepia, burnt orange, burnt and raw sienna, orange yellow, goldenrod, maize. The occasional vine relieves the angles and lines of the geometry.
It is now a potters’ colony. We made our annual pilgrimage at the end of the Terrahla festival, during which guest potters are invited to exhibit at the ateliers of local artists. A visit to St. Quentin means a stop at Nathalie Hubert to see her lovely glazed tableware. Then we walk up the hill to the Terra Viva gallery and next door museum, stopping by favorite potters on the way.
For the first time we stopped in at the museum (entrance was free during the festival) and saw a remarkably good exhibition of Mediterranean pots through history, including lovely ones from Luxor. The highlight, however, were the whimsical creations of Geneviève Von Fritschen.
There are all sorts of potters in St. Quentin: ones taking their inspiration from traditional Provençal shapes and colors like Phillipe Gallot and Jacques Buffat; those working in fine Celadon and Asian shapes (Lilou Milcent); and those who do more modern “art pottery” — slabs of clay meant for decoration; as well as johnny-come-latelys who do not have the skill or the artistic inspiration. You can see where my preferences lie.
I like useful pots — they are, after all, essentially utilitarian objects — which are imbued with beauty in both shape and decoration. I like a pot with a foot and usually with a lip. If it is a pitcher, it should pour well. If it is a soupière, it should hold enough soup for at least four people.
Like good food, a good pot should nourish the senses.