If Poterie Barbotine's sole purpose were to create beautiful ceramics, that alone would be compelling. Yet, for co-owner Nadège Arniaud and her dedicated team, their work holds an even deeper significance. “In Provence, pottery is a part of our decor and environment,” she explains. “But it’s not only an object. It is a reminder of the past.”

This part of France boasts a rich pottery tradition which continues to define the Poterie Barbotine company. Based in Aubagne, a small town cocooned by craggy hills, Nadège and the atelier’s in-house artisans honour shared childhood memories: a pitcher perched on a grandmother’s dining table, or a handmade dish filled with regional produce. These clay vessels are symbols of food and family, two vital pillars of rural Mediterranean life. “Generation after generation, we try to perpetuate the tradition,” Nadège says.

The commune has been the epicentre of Provençal pottery-making since the 18th century. Nadège gives me a virtual tour of the workshop and office, the latter an unofficial bibliotheque – stacks of hardcover coffee table books covering art, architecture, and history lay on hand for inspiration. Centuries-old pitchers and bowls, with their mossy green and lemon-yellow glazes still intact, sit atop shelves, reflecting the heritage that underpins Barbotine’s legacy.

Nadège’s relationship with the company began on unique footing. Initially a customer, she struck up a conversation with Barbotine’s founder, Philippe Beltrando, during a visit to purchase some bowls seven years ago. Philippe, who established the studio in 1980, was contemplating retirement when Nadège appeared. He expressed dismay that his daughters weren’t interested in taking over the business, and he was struggling to find a buyer. “The thought of it closing down was unimaginable,” Nadège recalls. “Barbotine had been an emblem of Aubagne for 45 years, so I decided to buy not just the bowls, but the business too.”

Clay was once abundant in Aubagne, but decades of urban development have led to a scarcity. Despite this hurdle, Nadège is committed to collaborating with nearby suppliers. “They are all based in Provence. It is a matter of integrity, economic responsibility, and holding onto our roots,” she affirms. “Our product is entirely made in France – it wouldn’t make sense for it to be produced elsewhere.” While Barbotine’s signature red and cream earthenware clay comes from other regions of France and Spain, it is transported and delivered by a local company, maintaining a strong connection to the community.

Every piece of pottery is hand-turned by the same artisan, before being passed over to two craftspeople who attach the handles, smooth out imperfections, and apply the branded stamp. The seasons play a role in how long the production takes; on warm summer days, the clay dries too quickly and cracks. But in winter, the whole process slows down. “It’s very complicated,” Nadège laughs, explaining that the composition of the clay is also a factor. 

A pottery workshop in Aubagne, France

Barbotine’s potters prefer to let the pieces dry in the open air before applying the glaze and firing them in the kiln. When I ask about the glazes, Nadège’s answer is tinged with mystery: “They are created using an old and secret recipe,” she says simply. Some of the ceramics for TOAST feature a striking marbled effect, known as ‘jaspé’. A slip glaze is applied using a method dating back to the 15th century. “It’s a gestural technique where the colours are layered and mixed, forming abstract patterns,” says Nadège. She holds up a finished bowl in a red, green, and yellow palette to demonstrate – the swirled interior calls to mind an impressionist rendering of sun-drenched Provençal pastures.

It is a considered operation, carried out by people who care about the quality of their work. As Nadège guides me through the workspace and its various stations, the three artisans remain focused, hardly glancing up from their meticulous tasks. Two of them entered the pottery industry straight from school, drawn to the way of life this craft affords. Another changed career later in life, much like Nadège herself, who worked as a hotel manager and an executive assistant before taking over Barbotine. “Many people are scared to change path – I was scared too – but if you’re not happy in the morning before you go to work, you have to make a change.”

Bowls drying in a pottery workshop in Aubagne, France

Seven years on, Nadège is content with the life she has built and the community she has forged, finding solace in contributing to the preservation of Provençal pottery. “Without my time in different professions, I would not have succeeded with Barbotine and gone on to meet the amazing artists and people I’ve worked with at TOAST. It’s a very rich experience.”

Discover Poterie Barbotine.

Words by Bébhinn Campbell.

Photography by Pierre Girardin.

 

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1 comment

thanks for that, I’d always wanted to know more about it

lynne 5 days ago