For five centuries pottery was a thriving industry in the Languedoc region. More specifically in the charming village of Saint-Jean-de-Fos, where the workshops and know-how were passed on from father to son. Elie Sabadel was a potter from one of these potter families and his 19th-century workshop has been very well preserved. In 2011, his perfectly preserved workshop resulted in the town founding Argileum, la Maison de la Potterie.
Due to the bizarre events of 2020, our kids are now being homeschooled. So, like a good teacher, I decided to take the twins on an educational trip to Saint-Jean-de-Fos. In the House of Pottery of Argileum, you can learn all about the history of ceramics and its role in Languedoc. On top of that, the museum’s set up is interactive, which means you get a unique and playful experience. Elie Sabadel himself digitally explains his former workshop, and there are several films which provide more information. And all the films are subtitled in English!
The kids and I loved being guided through the pottery scenes of Argileum. Although the museum uses the latest technology, they also still preserved the authentic setting. Via the contemporary designed former entrance, where we learned about the different materials and history of the site, we entered the old workshop. In this ‘tournerie’ (from the French word ‘tourner’ which means to turn), the potters used to throw their pots on the pottery wheel. From here, we went outside to see the five clay settling ponds where they prepared the rough clay into a workable material.
Back inside, we discovered the various products made in Languedoc. From roofing tiles to drain pipes and from fountain ornaments to bricks. The last room displayed the giant oven, where the products were fired to make them solid and durable. At that time in the 19th century, the complete process of firing the products would take up to three weeks. This included making the fire reach 1,000 degrees inside the oven, building a brick wall in front of the oven to keep the heat in, firing the products and letting them cool down.
Nowadays, pottery is still a craft that needs many years of practice. They say that you need to make 1,000 pots before you start to get the hang of it… So, if you want to get started, Argileum offers workshops both for adults and children to initiate you in the art of pottery. We didn’t sign up for a workshop; however, we had the chance to see a real potter at work. The twins watched in awe as the craftsman turned a lump of clay into a beautiful pot. All in all, it was a fun and interesting trip to Saint-Jean-de-Fos. And, according to the kids, more interesting than homeschooling!