Professional Retraining : Fabien Mérillon and his “gang of potters”
The first time I met Fabien Mérillon, it was in a taxi in Limoges ! We were both visiting the manufacture of porcelaine Bernardaud. I wanted to share this meeting with you because it is for me the perfect example of a generation in professional retraining. Over the last 10 years, the creation of craft-related businesses has been booming in France. There are cutlers, blacksmiths, glove makers… As for him, he’s a potter ! He kindly welcomed me into his home and revealed to me his experience. A real exciting meeting !
Fabien, who are you ?
I’m a Parisian potter ! Five years ago, I decided to set up my workshop : the Gang of potters “le gang des Potiers”. This is where I make and sell my creations. I also give courses and ceramic workshops here.
Where does this passion come from ?
I don’t know if we can talk about passion. Passion is exclusive! But I can tell you that everything came from cups, plates or sculptures that I could see in the shops or in the market. I started making it for fun with the idea that it could one day become my job…
How did you approach your vocational retraining ?
I have a background in art history and cinema, but I worked in fields that were completely unrelated. I went through editorial, internet and communication. I also worked as sales in-store and then I worked for 5 years at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the end of my contract, I began on a 10-month professional training to prepare for the CAP for pottery making. At the same time, I was putting together a file for the loans I needed to start the business. It was a lot of work, and required a lot of patience before I could find a place. I had a goal and I completely invested in it. It also meant working side jobs in parallel before everything worked out and the atelier became financially manageable.
“When you embark on such project, the days are long and the week-ends do not exist !”
What kind of pieces do you make ?
There are two types that go together. The utility parts with cups, saucers, dishes, vases etc … They have the characteristic of combining strong colors and light dotted lines on the porcelain surfaces that I leave unglazed (what is called the biscuit of porcelain).
I also make some sculptures. They allow me to express other than simple decorative purposes. It is thus the embody of an idea, a visual and tactile sensation, an interrogation…
The favorite piece is often the last one removed from the oven !
At the moment, there is this porcelain cup that took a good part of my time !
I also began making some pieces of sandstone in a very different style. Although it still needs to be developed.
think patience, demand and perseverance are the most important qualities. The result is not always met, but when it is, satisfaction is irreplaceable!
Even after years of practice, your efforts can still be frustrated when opening the oven !
There are many times that i feel discouraged, and doubting myself follows close behind. There are often good days, but sometimes sales drop, there is less interest in my work, and my applications to participate in events are denied. With blow offs like these, you might quickly become desperate, but it is at this particular moment time that you should not give up.
How do you explain the popularity of your classes ?
Indeed I am all full ! I think people just need to get back to the roots. We live in a disembodied society. The virtual world has invaded our space, we isolate ourselves so easily with our mobile phones, even when we’re around others. Working in the soil or even other material jobs, gives back the possibility of creating reality, being in a group and exchanging with others..
I believe that the earth is a “primary” connection with our childhood that helps us connect with the past as human beings.
It is also an extension of oneself in substance, an imprint that is patiently constructed and freezes to become a witness of our actions, our style and our body. It is an extension of the self that carries you through time.
Where are you today ?
My business has grown well! I attend shows for the general public but also for professionals such as Ob’Art, Maison & Objet, le festival de Mouffetard and Céramique 14. I am also available in boutiques such as Empreintes (Paris 3ème) or Engrenage (Paris 17ème ).
At the same time, I developed my program of courses and internships in the workshop where everyone can learn different techniques of working (turning, modeling, enamelling…). Other colleagues also come to share their knowledge.
It is very important to convey. It is a way of responding to the interest that my work arouses, but also to show its true image, and to make it last !
Many people dream changing professional careers today. Would you do it again, would you start all over again ?
Yes of course ! Despite the challenges that I faced and all those that still await me, it is a personal achievement. If it has to end tomorrow, it will not be a problem because it’s a project that came to fruition and will go on…
Fabien Mérillon – The gang of Potters : 5 Rue Hippolyte Lebas, 75009 Paris (visit its website here !)