Going potty in the Tarn
Giroussens Contemporary Ceramics Market is one of a myriad of reasons for visiting the Tarn!
The Tarn is a lovely region of Southern France, known for its stormy history centred on the magnificent cathedral in Albi.
It’s also a superb walking, cycling and horse-riding country with fairy tale villages perched on rocky outcrops.
Indeed, there are no less than 55 professional potters and ceramicists based in the Occitanie region.
Those are just the ones registered with the professional association Terre et Terres.
Sixteen of them are based in the Tarn department and a further 27 in the neighbouring departments of Tarn-et-Garonne and Haute-Garonne.
And its no upstart, wet-behind-the-ears activity.
There have been potters in the Tarn since the Romans were in Gaul.
Indeed, the little village of Montans, near Gaillac, was one of the most important centres for the production of sigillated ceramics (terra sigillata) in the whole of the Roman empire.
Sigillated pottery is made with red clay adorned with patterns in relief.
Potteries are then lacquered and systematically stamped with seals, hence the name (the Latin Sigilla means seal).
This brilliant orange-red pottery, often richly decorated, was exported, via the Tarn of course, all down the Atlantic coast of France and further afield to the UK and Spain.
Giroussens, a traditional village of potters
After Montans, leap forwards a couple of thousand years and head for Giroussens.
This small village overlooks the Agout river just before it joins the Tarn in nearby St Sulpice.
The village has been the home of potters for centuries.
Indeed, in the 17th and 18th centuries there were no less than 50 based there.
However, this flourishing cottage industry came to an end in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and changing tastes.
A collection of early Giroussens pottery can be seen in the museum in nearby Rabastens.
In Giroussens you’ll find the Contemporary Ceramics Centre with permanent and temporary exhibitions of modern ceramics and a small selection of antique glazed terra cotta discovered in the area.
You’ll also find a boutique selling ceramics and specialist publications.
The centre was founded in 2000 in order to provide a shop window and exhibition space for ceramic artists in Occitanie.
It’s also a way of making their work available to a wider public and providing a focal point for the artists and craftspeople of the region.
There is also an Atelier de Céramique in the village, which runs pottery courses for adults from October to June.
Giroussens Contemporary Ceramics Market
However, the highlight of the year is undoubtedly the wonderful Giroussens Contemporary Ceramics Market!
For the first weekend of June the entire village is occupied by ceramicists and their work.
You’ll therefore find stall after stall of ceramics imaginative, ceramics decorative, ceramics utilitarian or ceramics just plain whacky!
For two days the village goes absolutely potty.
The Giroussens Contemporary Ceramics Market used to be held in April.
However, it was decided to move it into June because of the uncertainty of the April weather (all the stalls are outside).
This market is highly popular.
In 2015 there were indeed more than 70 participants basking in the sunshine.
Most came from other parts of France, but a few came also from Germany and the UK.
The Giroussens Contemporary Ceramics Market is a street market with all its lively earthiness.
It is not a gallery or a museum, so it’s not just a question of respectfully admiring, but handling, touching and buying.
Do not forget your cheque book, as I did in my first visit and probably saved myself a fortune as a result!
Indeed, the work on display is so varied and creative that it is simply impossible not to invest in some unique piece that catches your eye.
However, be warned, and take a picnic if visiting over lunchtime.
The restaurants, while open for coffee and refreshments, tend indeed to be exhibitors-only for lunch.
Have you visited La Gaufresenque open air in Millau? This other major Roman pottery village is located in the nearby Aveyron department
Department of Tarn – Occitanie Region
Coordinates: Lat 43.763566 – Long 1.774298