Sunday, 18 October 2009

Taizé Pottery

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The monks in Taizé accept no money, no donations, no inheritance absolutely nothing, not one penny, they earn their own way in life. This attitude is very different to other religious orders who rely on donations, great benefactors, some have land and therefore income or they just expect their parishioners to pay for their services.

I had never really though about it before, but take today’s ministers of all denominations, they have a salary from their church. They are paid to counsel the parishioners, to run the church and its services. The monks of Taizé are counsellors to the young who need help, they guide bible study sessions, they assist in study groups and they run the services three times a day, but they still expect no income from that side of their lives - they do other work for a living. They have a press where they publish books, cards, posters, they make lovely enamelled dove-shaped Taizé crosses as well as other pendants and they make pottery.

The pottery is stunning in its simplicity which give it a style and beauty all of its own. You can buy a whole dinner service or you can buy the pieces which are “stand-alone”. Most notably the candle holders and the oil lamps. It all sound a bit twee and amateurish, but the quality and style of the pieces are a match to and are, one could argue, better than many of the other artisans in the area. Their aim is to “produce objects for daily use with prices everyone can afford” a goal they certainly achieve. Most of their pieces are “stoneware” with some objects cast using a porcelain paste, the lamps are made this way.

Stoneware glazes are formed by the fusion of mixtures of various minerals at high temperatures. Some are coloured by adding pigments such as iron oxides that produce ivory, green, black and brown glazes, cobalt or copper for blue and violet, titanium for orange-yellow. The glazes sometimes include vegetable ash composed of the minerals the plants drew from the ground.

Frère Daniel started the pottery workshop in the early days of Taizé and together with Frère Lutz, the pottery production has flourished over the years. Most of the work is done in the winter months when there are few visitors and then the workshops become factory-like in their scale of production. In fact some of preparation and initial firing of the pottery is done in conjunction with neighbouring potters as the demand for the pottery becomes too great for the monks to keep up with. The shop in Taizé is bursting with pottery in the days leading up to Easter, but by October, it is looking distinctively empty.

Some of the monks work in the pottery workshops all year round and when full production is not going on, they have the time to be more creative in their output In particular, this autumn, Frère Daniel is exhibiting his more creative works called “Metamorphoses” in Paris at the Compagnie de la Chine et des Indes. Click here for details of the exhibition which runs until the end of October.

Earlier this year Frère Lutz exhibited his pottery alongside the collages and aquarelles of Frère Stephen in Mâcon at the Galerie Mary-Ann. For more details of work in exhibitions check-out the Taizé website click here, they are usually announced on this page, but if nothing is there go to the books, CDs, DVDs.

But I like the simple stoneware dinner services, cups, bowls, plates and the lamps. For many people who stay in our gites, these are essential souvenirs to take home and something to use all year round. They make beautiful gifts for family and friends or in my case just as a treat for myself.

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