In memory of Fance Franck

Print Friendly and PDF

©DR.

One of the first things we did with my wife Olivia when we took up the studio was to go and find dozens of kilos of clay. It was my first contact with the material. It spread everywhere on my body, in the pores of my skin, on my hands and arms. After the effort, I washed and dried my hands and was overcome by sensations of softness, peacefulness and purity that I had never felt before.

A memory stands out. The day of my last farewell to Fance I had taken her hands in mine. Her hands were saying to me: softness, purity, strength and peacefulness are present.

I raised my eyes and saw three cups of Fance on the shelves. They were saying to me: beauty is here!

Jean d’Albis

 

It was a few months after the death of Francine Del Pierre, which occurred on the 17th of January 1968, that I met Fance Franck. It took place at Saint-Tropez, where Francine and Fance came to work during the summer, in the vast and wonderful estate of Emile Olivier’s descendants.

Fance was slowly recovering from the painful experience which had so harshly deprived her from both a mentor and a friend. But beyond her distress and her search for comfort among her friends, one could feel the strength of her personality and a mixture of flexibility and obstinacy which defined her intelligence, as well as her attachment to Francine Del Pierre’s spirit. All her life, she remained faithful to this precious heritage, and there was no better person than her to recall her talent, the vocation, so to speak, of the great ceramist gone too soon. Attentive and open to others, Fance Franck was using anything she would see, read or hear as an inspiration. Having initially studied literature and philosophy, she would also use that knowledge to feed her creative imagination.
As the director of the Musée des Arts décoratifs of Bordeaux, which holds an important collection of ceramics, I proposed to Fance Franck to have an exhibition of her potteries and porcelain pieces. It took place in 1976. A catalogue was also made including a text based on extensive and fruitful interviews. It was thrilling and very interesting to see Fance work in her studio, to go along with her to Sèvres, to hear her speak about her ceramics, those of others, including Francine Del Pierre and Bernard Leach, and of Chinese art also. I learned a great deal from these contacts, and I also remember meetings with Daisy Lion Goldschmidt, a great specialist in Chinese ceramics, and Madeleine Paul-David of the Musée Guimet.

Although Fance was aware of the quality of her work, she would never be satisfied with it and would always push her research forward. Her long stays in Japan and China clearly evidence this. This American woman who came from her native Alabama kept until the end that same obstinate desire to always go forward, like a “pioneer of the New World.”

Thanks to this constant will to perfect the subtle purity of a profile, in the tireless search of the material and the delicate nuances of colors, one can feel at the same time the heritage of a thoroughly reflected and digested tradition and a very personal way of doing things.

Beyond the aesthetic pleasure which it gives us, if ceramic is a language to learn and decipher, that of Fance Franck, beyond words, calls for contemplation before this blissful harmony, born from mastering of techniques and springs of sensitivity.

Jacqueline du Pasquier

 

© Valérie Winckler.

When one used to step into the courtyard of the rue de Bonaparte, the light of the city would suddenly brightened up as if protected from the noise and the passers-by. Plants and flowers growing there seemed welcoming, being obviously cherished, and foretold the way we would be ourselves welcomed in the studio.
A door would open up. It was on a slightly lower level, a bit hidden in the right angle of the courtyard, reflecting the charm of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Fance would appear with the cunning smile of a wonderful intelligence and invite us gracefully to be careful with the step. We would say hello to each other, in the small lobby, before getting inside the studio. It was a moment of great gaiety, anticipating our deep and constructive meetings.

While I put on my apron to get ready for a good day’s work, I would intoxicate myself with the very special silence that prevailed in the studio. The studio is spread out in length, dark, with a shaft of light coming from the very end of the room through a glass roof. We worked there on long marble slabs. This very open space led to the back of the studio, where the electric kiln, the marvelous gas kiln and all the material needed to work on ceramic, as well as a wonderful storage space, were located.

The white walls and the white tiles were incredibly clean for a place where clay was used. The simple wooden dyed shelves welcomed Francine Del Pierre’s ceramics, at the origin of the adventure, as well as those of Fance Franck, of course, always in movement with a reserve that inspired respect.

Everything was calm and dense at the same time. The space was open, open to present and future lines. Each object sang out from its curves. There were those we could touch with the hands or just by looking at them and those invisible, yet so powerful, coming from each piece and transcended by strength. All these works were offered to the visitor’s eye and had a unique presence, one of a profound simplicity which invited silence and contemplation. The fresh red played with the celadon. The purity of their glazing as well as their extreme simplicity of forms focused on the essential were fascinating.

Fance liked to talk about her work, of ceramics, of her deep interest in architecture. What was moving was that she was always looking for the right word to be as accurate as possible about her thoughts, and one discovered how much Fance was in love with the French language. To listen to her was so wonderful. She also deeply loved poetry and would often recite poems of her favorite Anglo-Saxon, French or Japanese authors, and all this love of the right words found an echo in her own work. She played with the balance of forms as one plays with words. In addition to the technical perfection of her work and the intensity of her glazing, as if by enchantment, there was also a profound poetry.

I first discovered Fance Franck’s work when I was living in Japan. I was studying at the Bunkazai Kenkujo, Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties. I was learning the art of lacquer with a view to doing gold lacquer repair on Japanese, Korean and Chinese ceramics, once back to France. It was in 1993 that a friend of mine who had a passion for ceramic brought me an article on Fance Franck published in the magazine Connaissance des arts. I was immediately deeply moved to discover this work of a unique strength which stood as a major art, just like the Chinese ceramic of the Song dynasty, which fascinated me. Yet I could see that Fance’s work was distinct from the rest, at the same time deeply respectful of the past, set in a certain lineage yet totally new and personal, and her work thrilled me at once. I met Fance Franck when I got back to France and did gold lacquer repair of some of her pieces which had been cracked in the kiln. I restored them in the Japanese tradition. Damaged pieces are highlighted by fringing them with gold lacquer while respecting their history at the same time. Fance and I shared the same admiration for the Orient, for Chinese ceramics of the Song dynasty, of such pure and timeless forms, and for Japanese ceramics with the Mingei spirit, those of Hamada, Kawai Kanjiro and their successors. We talked of each other’s experiences in Japan and of our discoveries, and it was wonderful to have met her.

Fance was a rare personality. She has a special way of looking at things, a delight in the right word, an unparalleled openness of spirit and a great respect for people. Fance had the gift of bringing out the best in every person and in thus creating a long chain of friendship which still today inspires us to give a little of ourselves to the studio of the rue Bonaparte with a view to keeping alive her spirit of creation and freedom.

When Fance asked me if I would like to become her pupil, I hesitated a bit, knowing that the work would be demanding. But, with her natural grace, Fance knew how to show me the way. I still have a long way to go, but clay coils after clay coils, my work took shape. We set up a small group of pupils to work on Fridays at the studio of the rue Bonaparte, and the adventure began.

Fance acted like a transmitter of her knowledge. She would delicately invite us to adopt steady, repetitive and proper gestures which, while slow, turned out to be extremely efficient in the long run. We were facing ourselves and had to focus on the essential by avoiding unnecessary gestures and methods, a technique which required a great concentration. Those gestures invented by Francine Del Pierre to create her works of clay coil without the wheel opened up a way to freedom for us. The studio of the rue Bonaparte, which had been the place for two generations of women, eminent ceramists, was extremely well conceived. Each object had its place, and the studio inspired work straight away. It was conceived to focus on creation only with a great efficiency as well as with a great simplicity.

It is very moving for me to try in a few pages to speak of those moments I shared with Fance Franck as one of her pupils. It was so impressive to see how much Fance was dedicated to her work. She remained totally devoted to it, with an enormous vital strength, until the end of her life. Her work is marked by deep spirituality and still shines today, both in her work and in the studio of the rue Bonaparte, still there to carry on the adventure. To Fance Franck, the art of ceramics was a path to follow, the work of a lifetime.

Marie Saint Bris-Bouyer

 

©DR.

At the beginning of 2003, I had just settled in a tiny one-room flat, a “chambre de bonne” whose window, blocked by large bars, gave the room the air of cell. My furniture was stored in barns and my library was imprisoned in a “cave”, as my writing required more than ever time and work. I was unemployed when I learned that an American ceramist was looking for a secretary.

From plumbing to doorbell, I had a solid experience as a handyman and thought I could rise to the task. So, on behalf of the good wine merchant of Saint-Germain, I presented myself on a January afternoon at the studio of the rue Bonaparte.
Fance, who had studied literature before turning to ceramics, could not welcome me badly. I was, like her, “an artist” – a word which had for her a thoroughly Baudelairian significance.

“There exist only three beings worthy of respect: the poet, the priest, the soldier, the man who sings, the man who blesses, the man who sacrifices others and himself. The rest are made for the whip.”

I was hired by this woman who had fought for the ceramist to be recognized as a full artist by the French social security. She entrusted me right away with her address book and her computer in order to pour the contents of the first into the second.

During the course of our many meetings, our respective characters were gradually revealed: Fance liked to give directions, and I scarcely appreciated being told what to do. However, the ceramist needed a secretary and the secretary needed money. So we persisted, week after week and month after month, in a relationship where our natures often collided until the time came when we agreed to put an end to the “work” and to enter the era of friendship, which had rather rapidly developed between us.

She would forget that I intended, even in her studio, to pursue the tasks which she entrusted to me in my own fashion, and I forgave her was forgetting that I had in mind, at least in her studio, to do the tasks she gave me the way I wanted, and I would forgive her giving orders. After all, she was in her own home.
We would open a bottle and, at last, start talking about the only work which was important to both of us: that of a creator.

It is true that artists are somewhat like soldiers: they have chosen to sacrifice everything – even their own lives – for their project. Like priests, they know the calling which is the one of their peers. No one is unaware of the efforts each one has to undergo every day. Therefore, there is an immediate intimacy between them.

Fance would be describing her researches and talk about her art. I was discovering her work and would talk about my own. We were just two human beings talking of what we cherished most, and we both benefited from it.

I became familiar with ceramics after so many visits to the studio. I ended up packing works to be sent to American galleries. I also prepared those works chosen for an exhibition at the Mairie du 6ème arrondissement, an exhibition, a year after our meeting, which was accompanied by the publication of an illustrated book on the work of Fance Franck and Francine Del Pierre.

Thanks to the friendship of Etsuko Morimura, who often joined us for a glass of wine in late afternoons, I spent several months working at the audiovisual section of the Maison de la Culture du Japon (The Japan Cultural Institute in Paris), where she managed the library.

I took this opportunity to transcribe on a computer the manuscript of the novel I intended to publish. Fance was among the first to discover this work, which has since been published. I was no longer her secretary but a friend who gave her texts to read, listened to her point of view and took interest in her own creations.
From then on, I came to help her as a friend, money being no longer an issue, except the times when refusing might have offended her. I therefore cut a certain numbers of flowers and horses in pewter leaves which Fance used as stencils when doing the enamelling. And I still dealt frequently with the problems of the computer, whose life of its own disturbed Fance’s need to understand and controll her environment.

Apart from a few baked clay discs engraved with rupestrian drawings, I did not try to work on ceramics. Everyone has his own art andhis own dreams, whether they be of clay or of words…

This continued until Fance Franck, one day in August 2008, decided to go beyond this earth. At the time, I had been invited to stay in a writers’ residence in Alsace and had left her in April, one day before my departure. For this last encounter, we had opened a premier cru of Saint-Emilion, of which she took two glasses. She was concerned about my work; I was only concerned about her.

This moment together was no less happy, as they had always been. She was not saying a word, at least with me, about death. She never did, despite her numerous and repeated health incidents, unless she had to inform me of someone else’s death. We would talk of anything else: of life, overall.

Ceramics are one of the oldest traces of past civilizations. Fance, like the earth, had an air of eternity in her eyes, like all those who create and whose work survives them.

François de Gourcez

 

When I think of Fance Franck, it is, of course, of the artist, of the incomparable ceramicist, and if I go further, it is even more of the personality of this woman which made her unique among her friends. Fance, the American, had well understood the French mind. She was always searching for the right word to express herself in our syntax.

So many memories of this friend of more than 40 years come forth. She was incomparable, generous, unsparing of her immense talent.
She worked with such care, both master and slave of her work, seeking to better understand, to better transmit and to develop technical means to make her thoughts concrete. She often used to talk with my husband, Philippe Daudy, who had a passion for her research.

So many happy moments spent in the studio, with Francine Del Pierre, the complicit friend, a sensitive and delicate ceramist, and with the painter Sergio de Castro. The ceremony on days when works were put into the kiln, then, once baked, the discoveries of pieces with surprise and wonder. What a celebration, followed by a delicious meal set on the long table of the studio! The never-ending discussions on various subjects, with porcelain at the center of interest. We would reinvent the world with the enthusiasm of youth.

The death of Francine was a heartbreaker. Fance came to see us at Chartres, the land of wheat. Our Texan friend was searching for a new strength, lying down on the soil, touching the earth, her way to find serenity again.
She had a small companion, a basset named Oggi. The children liked his liveliness. He was part of the family.

After the death of Francine, she started experimenting with cobber red, later called “sacrificial red”, and, step by step, she rediscovered the forgotten formula of the 15th century. This enabled her to get a grant and make several trips to Japan.
Known in museums and galleries, the whole world paid homage to her.
I have an exceptional memory, very moving, of her exhibition in 1996 at the Hermitage museum of St Petersburg. It was the first exhibition of a living artist in that prestigious museum.

A year has passed, and the memory and the sadness remain unchanged. Every day I think of the friend and of the artist she was and remains. Such a merit belongs to Eternity.

Marie-Christine Daudy

 

The name and personality of Fance Franck are to me definitively linked to those of Marguerite Yourcenar. Fance was a friend of the great writer and received letters from her. Two of them have been published by Gallimard in a book called “Marguerite Yourcenar, letters to her friends and some others.” Reading those letters gave me the desire to meet Fance Franck, of whom I knew nothing, except that she was famous as a ceramist. It is therefore the reason we met one day at teatime at rue Bonaparte. Fance had a perfect elegance. I can still see her in the light of her studio, wearing dark blue trousers, with flat shoes, a white shirt with the cuffs turned over like Jean Cocteau used to when he set them into fashion. Her head was remarkable, slightly austere.

Her conversation was remarkable as well, no small talk. Fance never talked for no reason. She took time to think before answering questions and expressed herself in the most precise manner. Fance cultivated the art of being accurate with thoughts and words.

Fance was the first to “hear” the book I later wrote on Marguerite Yourcenar. It was during a reading that took place in her studio on a spring evening. Her succinct remarks helped me to perfect the text.

I keep the memory of privileged moments of looking at the ceramics taken out of her alchemist’s kiln. I marveled on their fineness, so close to her own.
During the last months of her life, we had had some conversations over the phone and talked about the beauty of certain summits in the Swiss Alps, of the freshness of a garden or that of an olive grove in the South of France.

If I grieved over Fance Franck’s death, I am so grateful to fate that I could be close to her for several years. She will remain for me an image of the highest level of what civilization, culture and spirituality can produce.
Her spirit accompanies me.

Christian Dumais-Lvowski

Visit the Studio

A photo of the Studio
You are here: Home > Artists and works > Fance Franck > In memory