Submitted as part of the Women Mind the Water (WMW) digital stories project produced by Pam Ferris-Olson, in conjunction with Stories from Main Street and the traveling exhibition "Water/Ways." This story is one in a series created for a podcast in 2020-21, featuring regional artists whose inspiration blends conversation, activism, science, and water. Find earlier stories from the WMW initiative by searching for "Women Mind the Water" on this website.
Guenola who grew up in Chicago spent her summers visiting family and playing along France's Brittany coast. It was there that she gained an appreciation for the earthy smells, wild colors, and textures of the ocean. Since Covid Guenola has been drawn early every morning to swim in the Maine's coastal waters even in winter. Later in the day the potter dips her hands into clay and works it into textures that remind her of the coast.
Pam Ferris-Olson (00:00): All right, Guenola. Let's get this show on the road.
Guenola Lefeuvre (00:04): All right.
Pam Ferris-Olson (00:06): The Women Mind the Water podcast engages artists in conversation about their work and explores your connection with the ocean. Through these stories, Women Mind the Water hopes to inspire and encourage actions to protect the oceans and her creatures. Today, I'm speaking with Guenola Lefeuvre. Guenola grew up in Chicago, and spent her summers visiting family and playing along the coast of Brittany in France. It was there that she came into appreciation for the earthy smells, wild colors, and textures of the ocean. Guenola, who now lives in Maine is drawn early every morning to swim in the ocean, even in the winter.
Pam Ferris-Olson (00:46): Later in the day, she dips her hands into clay and works it into textures to that remind her of the coast. Welcome, Guenola. Let me start by asking more about your childhood. Where you always focused on exploring the world through touch?
Guenola Lefeuvre (01:04): I definitely was. My parents brought my sister and I to Brittany, France, the west coast of France. Every summer, we would be there for about two months. We had a little house right on the coast, and do right by the ocean. And, we would play in the tide pools, go swimming every day. They had these big, giant granite boulders everywhere, that we would hop on and off of and play in the sand. And we spent a lot of time on the coast. I don't think I would say that... I wouldn't have known I was inspired back then, Obviously. It's really just when I moved to Maine when I realized how important the ocean was, and how it influenced me as a person and in my work. You know, you really do see the influence there.
Pam Ferris-Olson (01:57): Okay. What is your training as an artist?
Guenola Lefeuvre (02:03): I started in high school, so I've been doing it a very long time. That's really all the training I've done. I did a little bit in college. I got my bachelor's in fine arts, with a focus in ceramics. But, most of my education in pottery is through just working in my own studios and teaching. Teaching has been a huge learning process for my too and for my students. But yeah, I'm pretty self-taught.
Pam Ferris-Olson (02:42): So, what is it about clay that you find appealing?
Guenola Lefeuvre (02:48): I find clay appealing simply because I can take something that is mushy and from the earth. And, it doesn't look like anything, and I can turn it into something that someone can use in their daily life, that is a very hard, functional piece of pottery that they can use forever. It's going to be on this earth forever, and it's really quite remarkable that, that can happen. I love the feel of clay, and this is even out of nature. I love being able to touch things. I love the feel, the connection I make to things. And I get that through my pottery. So, when I'm throwing it or when I'm carving it, I always have my fingers on it. And, I'm always kind of transforming it into what I want it to be. And I think that's pretty cool.
Pam Ferris-Olson (03:52): But you also tell me that you have a green thumb and have a garden. So, you seem to be very visceral about clay or mud. Both, in terms of clay, but also in terms of gardening.
Guenola Lefeuvre (04:05): Definitely. Yeah. Yeah. I have a lot of plants. I have something like a 100 some plants in my house, and I spend a lot of time taking care of them and talking to them and touching them. And same with the garden outside. I have vegetables and lots of flowers and lots of fruit bushes. And, I love nurturing and taking care of, that connection again through feeling.
Pam Ferris-Olson (04:38): So, are there any particular characteristics in the clay that you seek to work with?
Guenola Lefeuvre (04:45): Well, I use a clay that is super white. It's porcelain. It's mostly silica. Silica is glass. What I love about porcelain is that when I get it thin enough, it will go translucent, which is really neat. So, I can get really thin in my pieces, and shine it up, put it up to the light, and it will actually shine through the clay. Again, it just goes back to what I was saying. I'm taking something that was completely, a lump of clay and I'm turning into something that I can use and that is super durable, very strong. And it wasn't before. And I think that's really amazing.
Pam Ferris-Olson (05:24): So how do you choose the design for your piece? Are you inspired by the clay, or is it something else that affects you?
Guenola Lefeuvre (05:33): It really is. My pieces are super unique. Every single piece is very different from one another. I can't say that when I throw a piece that I know where it's going, unless it's a commission obviously, where someone asks me for a specific look or a specific size or color or whatever. But, when I'm just throwing for myself, I'm throwing what I want to throw. And then what happens to the piece when it's leather hard, when I'm actually carving and adding the texture and decorating the surface, is up to how I am that day, how I'm feeling. The music I'm listening to, how my swim was in the morning. So it changes all the time, and they're all one of a kind.
Pam Ferris-Olson (06:26): So I'd like to discuss, or have you discussed one of your creations. And for those who are listening to an audio only version, can you describe the piece?
Guenola Lefeuvre (06:36): Yeah, sure. So this is a cup I made. It's the latest one I made to represent the ocean. And the way this one is done is, it's called sgraffito. And so I've painted on a layer of underglaze on the surface of the piece, lots of different blues and greens. And then I carved through the underglaze, so that the porcelain shines through, so that the natural place shines through. And so that's called sgraffito. I add a little dots, and then I carved the top so that it's a little bit wavy. So it's not that perfect straight line that you usually see in a wheel-thrown pot. But, it's definitely mimicking the ocean. And then if you don't mind, I'd like to also show this one. This is a different style of cup. It's not sgraffito.
Guenola Lefeuvre (07:32): This is what I do with a lot of my cups as well. And I carve into the cup and then I add the underglaze. I add the glaze and I wipe away so that the porcelain is on the top. And again, mimicking the ocean. And this one's super special because it has... I don't know if you can see it.
Pam Ferris-Olson (07:53): I know [crosstalk 00:07:54].
Guenola Lefeuvre (07:55): But this is your cups. So I thought that was kind of neat to show a difference between the two sgraffito and then inlay, which are two different ways that I decorate the surface of my pieces.
Pam Ferris-Olson (08:10): I see it as a sea creature, like back in the historic times when they thought the earth was flat. It looks like a big sea monster coming out of the water.
Guenola Lefeuvre (08:22): Like tentacles.
Pam Ferris-Olson (08:24): Can you hold the two up?
Guenola Lefeuvre (08:26): Yeah, definitely.
Pam Ferris-Olson (08:27): So, the one on the right almost looks smooth, whereas the one on the left looks like it's ridged.
Guenola Lefeuvre (08:36): That's correct.
Pam Ferris-Olson (08:38): Okay.
Guenola Lefeuvre (08:39): Yeah. So one has a lot of texture. It has a lot of feeling, because I carved into the clay a lot deeper, so that I could paint some underglaze and wipe away without the underglaze running off or wiping off. As far as sgraffito, what I'm doing is I'm just painting on a thin layer of underglaze. And then I'm just scratching through that very thin layer to get to the clay. So, it's covered in a clear glaze, again to show the different translucency of the underglaze that I'm using. As for this one, you don't really need to do that. It's more of a piece that you want to feel in your hands. So yeah, very different styles.
Pam Ferris-Olson (09:22): So let me ask you one other question. When the two of them came together, they made a clink and I don't...
Guenola Lefeuvre (09:28): Yeah.
Pam Ferris-Olson (09:29): Does pottery usually make that noise or is that something particular about porcelain?
Guenola Lefeuvre (09:37): I mean, they all make that noise. This might have a higher pitch, simply because it's porcelain. So, it's got a lot more glass in it. So it's vitrified. It fires up to about 2,300 degrees, so it really gets high up there. So yeah, it probably has a higher pitch because it's porcelain, but I mean, all clay kind of sounds like that.
Pam Ferris-Olson (10:00): Sure. And you have your own logo on the bottom of the cup?
Guenola Lefeuvre (10:05): I do. So it's textured, porcelain. I don't know if you can see it, but yeah, it's a stamp. So I stamp it into the clay and then I paint some underglaze into the signature and then I wipe away so that it stays in the groups that I stamped in. Yeah.
Pam Ferris-Olson (10:27): So how are your clay creations an expression of you and your view of the world?
Guenola Lefeuvre (10:33): Wow, that's a great question. Well, I really believe in the goodness of people, and I believe in the energy that people put out in this world. And this is my way of putting out energy and connecting with people and connecting with the world. It's every single piece is a part of me, every single piece, I was going through something to make that piece. And every surface, like I said before, every piece is very unique. It's one of a kind. Depending on how I'm feeling that day and who's talking to me, and what's going on in the world. And again, what I saw at the ocean that morning, it's going to affect what happens to the piece that I'm making. And that's part of me. That's just my way of expressing what's going on in my world.
Guenola Lefeuvre (11:37): And then, it connects with other people simply by an example, when I do a show and I've got a tent full of my work, and it can be a little overwhelming because there's a lot of texture and a lot of color, and it's calling out to that person very aggressively. And there's always one piece that grabs that person's attention. There's always that one piece that person will gravitate to, and go and grab and look at it and pick it up and feel it and connect with it. And I love that. I love that connection that I make to this complete stranger, through what they're feeling when they see a piece of mind or when they connect with something, either because it reminds them of the sand that they were walking on the other day, or it reminds them of the ocean, which definitely are influenced by the ocean. And I think that's just my way of connecting.
Pam Ferris-Olson (12:41): Has somebody on the other side... You're the one creating it and making the texture. There's somebody holding it. Has anybody reached back to you and let you know how they feel about your piece?
Guenola Lefeuvre (12:55): Oh yeah. I love it. I love when people reach out to me, and they say, "I have coffee in this one cup every day and I love it. It reminds me of my time at the ocean, or it reminds me of this one moment in my life." Or, you know, it's beautiful. I love that my work is in people's homes and they're being used and they're being appreciated. And that's lovely.
Pam Ferris-Olson (13:23): Do you have one particular piece that you've made that you really connect with?
Guenola Lefeuvre (13:33): It's funny. Most of the work that I have around my house are pieces that didn't make it. So, example is I made this a couple years back. I'm drinking my water out of it. I decided not to sell it because this is when I just started working with underglaze, and I didn't know how thick the underglaze needed to be. So it people. It's very bubbly, so I didn't sell it. I kept it for myself. So a lot of the pieces that I have are pieces that I either am learning through or there's something wrong with them. So, it's rare that I keep something that really means a lot to me, because I want to share it, and this is my business. If I kept every piece I liked, I'd be in trouble.
Pam Ferris-Olson (14:30): So what's next for you?
Guenola Lefeuvre (14:32): COVID is still a little strange out there. So I got my vaccine today. So that was pretty exciting.
Pam Ferris-Olson (14:43):bGood for you. Yeah.
Guenola Lefeuvre (14:47): Thanks. And, I guess the biggest thing is August 28th in Portland. Maine Craft Association is having their Juried Fine Craft Show, and I'm going to be in it. So, that's really the big event that I'm really excited for. And I'm excited to be out again and see, maybe not see people's faces, but at least see their eyes and connect on a more physical level, as opposed to just, six feet away and waving.
Pam Ferris-Olson (15:16): Are you creating anything special for the Juried Art Show?
Guenola Lefeuvre (15:23): No, it would just be my work. Just lots of cups, lots of mugs, bowls. Yeah, I mean, I don't have a lot of old work. It fells pretty, pretty quickly. So it's all going to be my new work, but that I would say is more influenced by the ocean than before, simply because, again the amount of time that I've spent this winter in the water and every... I mean, it's just a big part of my life. So you see it in my work.
Pam Ferris-Olson (15:56): So one thing I'd like you to talk about before we go is that I know that you do something special with your pottery before you put them up on Instagram to sell them.
Guenola Lefeuvre (16:10): Yeah, that's right. Yeah. I get a lot of comments about that. People really love this, and I really love it because it gets me out on the coast. And so what I do is when my work comes out of the kiln, I put everything in a backpack and I go out to the coast and I photograph my work on the coast. So, I photograph my work with rocky texture that I find that works with a particular cup. Or if there's a line of granite that mimics a piece, a part of a piece that I made, then I'll put it next to that. Sometimes I put my pieces in the ocean and take photos of my work underwater.
Pam Ferris-Olson (17:00): Have you ever lost a piece?
Guenola Lefeuvre (17:04): I've lost three pieces in the four years I've been doing it, so that's pretty good. But yeah, it gets me out on the coast. It gets me breathing the air. It gets me breathing that beautiful salty ocean air. And it makes me happy. It makes my followers happy, which is really great. It gets them to connect with a piece that they may have not connected with before, which is really neat. Yeah. Yeah.
Pam Ferris-Olson (17:35): Very nice. Well, I'll let you go. I'll do the outtake and then maybe we can visit for a few more minutes before you go. How's that?
Guenola Lefeuvre (17:46): That sounds great. Thank you, Pam.
Pam Ferris-Olson (17:47): Wonderful. Thank you. So I've been speaking with Guenola Lefeuvre, for the Women Mind the Water podcast series. The series can be viewed at womenmindthewater.com. An audio only version of this podcast is available on the Women Mind the Water website and on iTunes, Spotify, and soon Audible. Women Mind the Water is grateful to [inaudible 00:18:11] for her song, Women of the Water. All rights to the Women Mind the Water name and logo belongs to Pam Ferris-Olson. This is Pam Ferris-Olson. Thank you for listening.
Asset ID: 2021.02.12
Themes: Water, waterways, art, pottery, creativity, artists, crafts, design, ocean, travel
Date recorded: April 23, 2021
Length of recording: 18:24 m
Related traveling exhibition: Water/Ways
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Women Mind the Water Digital Stories Project, Maine
More information: https://womenmindthewater.com/