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The faïence and enamels of Longwy: between tradition and modernity

Longwy, in the heart of Lorraine, in one of France’s great historic centres for pottery, is where the firm Faïenceries et Émaux de Longwy was founded in 1798. Today, many designers (among them Hilton McConnico, Garouste & Bonetti, Anne-Marie Beretta, Régis Dho and Jean Boggio) have brought their creativity to bear on its work. Let’s take a look around for a better understanding of this marriage between tradition and modernity.

Although the history of the firm dates back to 1798, a new chapter on the famous cloisonné enamels was begun in 1992, with the arrival of Michelle Kostka, determined to turn the page on the apple blossoms which, though emblematic, were now outdated.

Over the past 20 years, many contemporary artists have worked in close collaboration with the pottery, offering their works in new formats, at times sublimated by the material and its contours.

The characteristic technique employed to produce Longwy enamels involves an alchemy that takes place at 1400C in the chamber of the fusing kiln. The resulting coloured glass is reduced to powder, mixed with water and painstakingly applied by the decorators using a syringe or stick. Only firing will fix the enamel and reveal the colour. But three-quarters of the fired pieces will return to the hands of the decorators for gilding with gold or platinum.

New styles are regularly created at Longwy, such as Clotilde D’s modern, geometric designs in black, white and gold, or the adaptations of Stéphane Gisclard’s cubist-style works Suzy and Lisa, requiring a new technique for applying the enamel and the unique touch of one of the decorators.

After more than two centuries, these manual skills are preserved, while also evolving to cater for the new desires of artists, and the resulting collector’s pieces – produced in series of 50 or even as few as ten copies – in turn become genuine works of art.

02 April 2013