In the heart of Carré Rive Gauche in the Seventh Arrondissement of Paris you will find a boutique called Le Cabinet de Porcelaine located at 37 rue de Verneuil. Inside this jewel box boutique you will see a range of porcelain blooms on display including tulips, hydrangeas, camellias, magnolias, hyacinths, pansies, morning glories, foxgloves, fruit, vegetables, porcelain magnolia blooms combined with bronze branches to take shape in the form of candelabras or a chandelier. You will also see porcelain flowers in cache-pots on brackets decorating the walls.
Recently, I caught up with ceramic artist Samuel Mazy over a video chat to learn how he got his start. It started when he met the master porcelain maker Didier Gardillou through friends: this meeting changed the course of Samuel’s life. Initially, he decided to take a one-year sabbatical from his career in real estate to learn from Gardillou. One year wasn’t enough for Samuel, and he decided to continue to hone his skills as a ceramic artist with Gardillou. Later, Samuel’s knowledge of real estate came in handy when space on rue de Verneuil became available. He grabbed it immediately, and Le Cabinet de Porcelain opened on September 18, 2001.
Let’s learn something about Samuel’s journey to become a ceramic artist.
How did your parents influence you?
My mother certainly influenced me. She transmitted to me her values, her innate sense of decoration, and her passion for flowers. She was the one who taught me to differentiate between everyday things and more exceptional ones.
What are you working on now?
I want to develop bronze work with porcelain, the two techniques derived from the art of fire with opposite results, one of hardness and the other of fragility. I am fascinated by these two techniques. They transcend what exists in its natural state. I am amazed by the wood and the trunk of the tree which produces such fragile flowers. It is miraculous and astonishing.
What inspires you?
Definitely nature, in all its forms, domesticated in gardens, untamed and wild in the forest, in pots in garden centers, or in a living room ... Natural or sophisticated.
Where do the materials making the porcelain come from?
The essential material in production is kaolin from the Limoges region. Kaolin, White gold was discovered by chance in 1768, and it is the secret ingredient of making porcelain and an industry in Limoges was born.
What is the process like?
After the modeling of the porcelain flower, it is fired three times. It is first fired at 980 degrees. Then the pieces are soaked in an enamel bath before undergoing a second firing at 1200/1300 degrees. Then they are painted before the third firing at 820 degrees.
Do you see a return to the old-worldly style of interiors with sumptuous silk fabrics, trim and antique furniture and a reprise of classically inspired accessories such as porcelains like yours?
Interest in beautiful classical things and beautiful materials like silk, antique furniture, and paintings will always exist and has never been denied or abandoned. Over time, we have learned to recognize exceptional pieces that will remain so in absolute terms. Beautiful old pieces are safe havens that will continue to be so in our unstable world.
What are your favorite museums in Paris?
I like places that have a soul, which are inhabited by the memory and the personality of their former owners such as The Nissim de Camondo Museum, the Jacquemart André Museum, and the Hôtel de la Marine Museum.
Could you please suggest some books to read if someone wants to learn more about porcelain?
An essential work: French Porcelain from the Eighteenth Century: History, Patterns and Brands by Antoinette Fay-Hallé and Christine Lahaussois.
What are your favorite books?
My favorite book is always the last one, the one I'm reading. I don't want to limit myself, there are too many interesting things in all literary genres, and I can just as easily be passionate about a detective novel as a historical novel, an artist biography, or take infinite pleasure in leafing through a beautiful book with beautiful decoration pictures.
Journey to the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad impressed me a lot. It is about the power of nature, sometimes ruthless which imposes its law on men. Sometimes disturbing, oppressive, hostile, domineering, and dangerous, but what a lesson in the dramatic hour of massive deforestation of the most beautiful forests on the planet!
When are you your happiest?
I feel particularly good in my studio where I create, in my house, and in my garden. You don't have to travel very far to travel, and I have the chance to share my time between Paris, and Limousin where nature is exceptionally beautiful and changing. Nature teaches me to keep my eyes open because she surprises me all the time. Thanks to this observation, I stay awake all the time. Happiness is finally within reach, and I like to think that my flowers bring a little pleasure. It is a huge motivation for me that inspires me in my act of creation. The first flower I created was a lily of the valley for my mother, and I still remember the pleasure it gave her. This remains my quest.
We now take for granted how fresh flowers, fruits, and vegetables are available year-round, as that was not the case for most of history. Vegetation has long been depicted in ceramics, and porcelain flowers were widely cherished in the eighteenth century for their exquisite beauty. We can get an idea of what life was like in the eighteen century by visiting historic places such as Château de Voltaire in Ferney, France. Currently on view is an exhibition called Writing history: Voltaire and the Kings which includes several pieces from Le Cabinet de Porcelain and a tulip centerpiece which was made for this show. I find these beautiful porcelain blooms, vegetables, and fruits grounding as they connect us to our collective past, and keep us in the present with their beauty.