An Interview by Randall Forte, LVAC executive director
Arts Council member, Françoise Choveau, lived in Paris until her mid-thirties, attending the Academie de la Grande Chaumière for drawing. She also worked for three years with the sculptor Max Fillon, experimenting with wood, clay, and metal.
After coming to the United States, Franoçise did a one-year apprenticeship in wood-firing porcelain and studied glaze calculation in Rochester, New York. She has maintained a studio ever since, working mostly in clay until 1990. At that time she started to work at the Moravian Tile Works in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She was involved in all phases of production of tiles for twelve years and later taught mosaic techniques at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem and at GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading.
Interviewing Françoise expanded my understanding of the medium.
As an artist what first inspired you to do mosaics?
After working at the Moravian Tile Works, where I encountered Henry Mercer’s fragmented world of mosaic, I became very curious about the origins of mosaic. I went to France and apprenticed with Giovanna Galli, master mosaicist from Ravenna. And so for the last few years, I have been studying and researching everything relating to Roman mosaics (including Greek and Roman history and literature). They are a continuous inspiration for me.
What kind of materials do you use in your work?
Mostly clay and marble. Having a ceramist and tile-maker background, I find clay very versatile. I use different clay colors or mix white clay with oxides, firing them at different temperatures to obtain different shades of color. I also apply glazes to my pieces. The tesserae I use in my pieces are each handmade from different clay bodies. However, I love marble for the texture it gives to
a piece and for the range of earth colors.
Do you do much commissioned work?
I have but not very often. I have been lucky to have people buying my pieces outright. I usually enter shows and I am a member of SAMA (Society of American Mosaic Artists). It is a great resource for shows and opportunities.
What do you look for in the client relationship before you accept a commission?
Exchange: flowing communication, clarity, and empathy.
Flexibility on both sides (which is a fine line between stretching my capacity/dexterity/creativity as an artist and the need and vision of the client).
Challenge: Can I do it? What would I learn? Can I meet the client’s expectations? Etc.…
This is how I made a project with glass smalti, which was not my first choice but was mostly appropriate for the piece that had a colorful theme. After many samples, I was ready to do it. I learned a lot and loved the end product.
The medium appears to present physical challenges—I mean the work must be heavy. Does that affect your creative process/choices?
Yes, at the beginning. Working at the Moravian Tile Works, I developed a love for cement and initially would use cement as a base for mosaics. I did some doghouses in cement that I could barely move, and one not at all—fortunately it is near our house! I made planters that became smaller as time went by. Now my pieces are mostly 2-D, so easier to manage than 3-D. There are also new structural materials that have greatly improved in lightness.
What are you currently working on?
I have been interested in writing on a permanent medium (clay). I find the ancient tablets of 3000 BC with cuneiform inscriptions very beautiful, and these inspired me to transpose a Greek poem into clay that I included into a mosaic background. The writing is so compact that it creates a vision of signs and images. This is for a show called Recent Ancient Mosaics at Home & Planet Gallery in September.