Ratilly's ceramic revival

Château de Ratilly - the alternative ceramic school in rural France that transformed its geographical isolation into a distinctive creative feature.

Norbert Pierlot preparing a ceramic piece at Ratilly france

“Active holidays in a handicraft school”, announced the promising title of an article in Italian Casa Vogue, dating from June 1976. [1] The one page article, written by journalist Paolo Rinaldi, is a precious collection of a wide range of summer schools proposing workshops focusing on crafts and design all across Europe.


Among the many suggestions proposed is the “château de Ratilly” (France) - a solid castle dating from 1270, isolated and hidden in the deep French countryside, somewhere between Bourges and Auxerre - which was bought in 1951 by ceramist Jeanne Pierlot and her husband, actor Norbert Pierlot.
After moving to Ratilly, the couple undertook to progressively restore the property, which at that moment was old and neglected. With the help of some friends and of local craftsmen, they built a series of facilities - such as kilns, workshops and exhibition spaces.

A group of students with Jeanne and Norbert Pierlot at ceramic center Ratilly france

Actually, the Pierlot couple had something in mind. And their idea was quite ambitious for the time: turning their new geographical seclusion - far from the tumults of the French capital, from where they came - into an advantage by making Ratilly a prime place of reference for ceramists. Therefore, strong of Jeanne’s training in the workshop of Eugène Lion - an old potter living in the nearby village of St. Amand-en-Puisaye - and deeply inspired by the local ceramic tradition, the pair carried out their first firing in a coal kiln as early as spring 1952. They organised a workshop the same summer - the first of a long series. An immediate success, the experimental and educational workshops gave evidence to the couple’s life-time engagement in reviving the long stoneware tradition of the region.

As part of the educational programme, the workshop participants were regularly taken to Eugène Lion’s atelier or to La Borne - a village entirely dedicated to contemporary ceramics - and benefited from Ratilly’s creative and collaborative atmosphere.

A student preparing a ceramic piece at Ratilly france

The workshops took place each year until the death of Jeanne Pierlot in 1988 and transformed Ratilly into a major artistic centre and a fundamental actor in the rejuvenation of ceramics in France but not only.

Studying ceramic pieces at Ratilly france


1_Norbert Pierlot shaping a piece of pottery as it turns on a wheel under the watchful eye of Jeanne Pierlot © Château de Ratilly; 2_ Students with Jeanne and Norbert Pierlot and their children watching the open fire, 1953; Jacqueline Jouve, Jeanne Pierlot et Georges Jouve, 1955; 3_Student shaping a piece of pottery as it turns on a wheel; 4_Jacqueline Jouve, Jeanne Pierlot and Georges Jouve examining ceramic pieces, 1955; All images © Château de Ratilly

[1] “Vacanze attive a scuola di artigianato”, a cura di Paolo Rinaldi, Casa Vogue, n. 58, giugno 1976, p.118. (The source also mentions a book to check: La controvacanze, A. Milana, ed. Guaraldi);

Published: 15 Mar. 2017

#Pioneers #Education #ChateauDeRatilly #Workshop #Ceramics #France


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