Kalamazoo, MI
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Senior Individualized Project

SIP Documentary “Argile” Explores French Pottery, Culture

Alyse Guenther paints for her SIP (Trisha Dunham / The Index). Alyse Guenther paints for her SIP (Trisha Dunham / The Index).

The screen illuminates with the image of wet clay swirling around on a wheel, two anonymous hands gently caress the clay pile into a form. A title springs onto the screen over the image, “Argile”.

The screening of the 30-minute French documentary on Kalamazoo College’s campus was hosted by Alyse Guenther ‘13, a K senior and the director of the documentary.

Guenther created the documentary for her Senior Individualized Project. She explains that the documentary focuses “on a small community of potters in Soufflenheim, France and their story of trying to preserve this tradition of pottery making that is pretty iconic to the region of Alsace.”

While studying abroad in Strasbourg, France, a city near Soufflenheim, Guenther discovered the traditional style of pottery. Her love for the French language and culture, specifically that of Alsace were part of the deciding factors for her pursuing the project. Guenther said she also thought the project topic was important because the art form is beginning to die off.

“One of the women told me that when she was born there were seventeen different potters in her community that made that same style,” said Guenther. “And from the time that she was born to now, there’s maybe 8 potters that make this authentic style and it’s only within this town.”

The reason behind the disappearance of so many pottery studios in the town is because of customer’s desires for more affordable versions. Yet, these affordable versions do not maintain the standards that the Alsatian pieces hold.

“It’s not known amongst their culture that it’s a dying art because there are so many knock offs,” said Alyse. “So I made this documentary in hopes to have it be a tribute to help them in whatever way is possible to get out the word.”

As this specific style of pottery begins to fade so do other vital portions of the culture. One cultural aspect in particular that may be lost with the disappearance of the pottery is food. Unlike other pottery that is used specifically for presentation, Alsatian pottery can be used throughout the cooking process.

“Once there are no longer potters that make this traditional style of pottery there are no longer dishes to make their meals because one thing that’s really important about this style is that it is tied to their gastronomy as well,” said Guenther. “So, it’s not only something that’s really prevalent within the region of France and something that’s really tied to their identity and their culture, but it’s also tied to their cuisine.”

Having the documentary premiere on Kalamazoo College’s campus with her family, friends and advisors was important to Guenther.

“I obviously wanted it to be on Kalamazoo College’s campus because so many of the people that guided me for this project are rooted here,” said Guenther. “Also to share the importance of the subject with the immediate community because I think that’s where change begins. Change starts with the immediate community.”

In the upcoming months Guenther plans to pursue other outlets to publish her documentary. Although she wishes she could personally attend its premiere in Soufelenheim she doesn’t think that’s possible right now.

“Unfortunately I can’t buy a plan ticket and hop over to Soufelenheim again, maybe in the near future if I can get funding” said Guenther with a smile. “I know that for me I would love for it to go into multiple film festivals, whether that’s within the US or abroad in France, as well as possibly looking into PBS.”

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SIP Documentary “Argile” Explores French Pottery, Culture