Interview with Lauren Kearns, the founder of IaRex l’Atelier, a ceramics studio and residency program
Lauren Kearns is a ceramic artist and teacher who boldly decided to relocate to the scenic south of France in 2018, where she opened a ceramics studio and residency program. Named IaRex l’Atelier: International Artists Residency Exchange, this creative space welcomes individuals who want to work independently, take private lessons, participate in workshops, or have a pause in travels and simply create in a beautiful environment. In this interview, Kearns takes us on a journey through her inspiring path in the world of ceramics.
Can you tell us about the origins of your residency program? When and why did you decide to start it?
I attended a residency program here in southern France and fell in love with the area. I had been teaching at numerous places where I lived in Colorado. When I came to France, I thought I might like living here, so I received a visa, rented my house, and within three months of being in the area, had the idea to start a flexible residency program with artists or novices who could come and choose the amount of time they wished to stay while having a place to create. Accommodations could be individually arranged depending on budget and degree of comfort. I wanted to contribute, continue to teach, offer what I have learned, and help students.
What are the main characteristics and unique aspects of your flexible residency program?
The studio is centrally located in the center ville and has all sorts of amenities that make living easy. It is very well equipped, and I provide any trips to the stores to purchase any other materials people may need. Clay is stocked at the studio, as well as underglazes and glaze. The central concept is for artists to have an immersion experience. They are not isolated. The train and bus station are centrally located within walking distance from the studio so that artists can easily travel all over the area. The center is located on the Mediterranean Sea, so for outdoor lovers, there are beaches (kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing) and small mountains (by Colorado standards) for hiking and mountain biking.
Who is your residency program primarily designed for? Do you have any feedback from previous participants?
There are programs for all levels. Professional artists can use the time to create and explore. I offer private lessons to all levels, having taught ceramics for over 35 years. I wanted the studio to be where people could meet and make friends from other countries and cultures.
The feedback has been super positive. People think it is beautiful, with lots of light and air, and they are happy with the equipment and the ease of exploration/travel. Everyone has been thrilled with the private lessons that address tips on improving their skill level, as well as the workshops.
Please walk us through the selection process for artists interested in joining your residency program. What criteria do you consider while choosing participants?
I require a CV, a brief (3-5 sentences) letter of intent, images, or a website. I need to know who they are, their interests and background, and their current work and level. This way, I can be of the best assistance to the artist. If they are a beginner? No problem. I suggest a course study or a lesson to help them start their exploration of ceramics. The letter of intent is required to determine if they are clear about what they wish to do/accomplish during their stay. Granted, the intention can change, but the statement provides me with clarity of thought about how I can help and their background.
As an artist and the founder of this residency program, what valuable insights have you gained from embarking on this journey? How has it impacted your own artistic practice?
As you might know, I started the program before covid and had to shut it down. It started very well. Covid has changed everything because the clientele has to travel to get here, and travel is more challenging now. People seem to be accustomed to learning online, and many of the private lessons I have done are for people who have learned online and have not had anyone ‘hold their hand” to help them with the wheel, for example. The workshops have been fantastic when they happen, as I require a minimum of students because I have to pay for the artists teaching fees, airfare, accommodations, and materials. I was an executive director of a ceramic center and know that people don’t like to be ‘nickeled and dime”, so I offer an all-inclusive workshop package with no hidden or extra fees. In my program description, all prices are stated in the beginning; no surprises, which people appreciate. If the teaching workshop artists want to include lunches, I cook the lunches, and people love the food.
As the studio’s creator, I have seen friendships formed, learning, skills and creativity develop, and experience gained from living in another culture for a period of time. The area is safe and friendly. It is not a large intimidating city, nor being isolated in the country. People have time to enjoy the amenities that are accessible. Primarily I am available to help people have a good and positive experience. I do not have enough time for my own work because I am busy promoting the studio. It is ok, there is a time in life for everything, and this is my focus now.
What types of workshops do you plan for this year? How do these workshops contribute to the overall experience of the residents?
Teachers are always welcome to bring their own group to the studio for an immersion experience. One comes to another country not just to work in a studio but to be inspired by their surroundings. I often refer to this, as my own work is inspired by it, as seeds of ideas that one gathers and then takes home to their individual studios to develop and grow. If there is a resident artist during a workshop, they have the pleasure of making friends and participating in external events. For 2023, I have Kirsten Stingle this fall. For 2024, Sue Tirrell, Martha Grover, Jan Edwards, and Natasha Dikavera.
Do you facilitate interaction and collaboration among the artists during their residency?
I facilitate exploration of the area, offer’ field trips’ so to speak, and help people in all ways to enjoy all that the south of France has to offer. I have a list of excursions (near to far) for everyone. The studio is either quiet or full of people talking, exchanging ideas, life stories, and making connections. Artists tend to be very respectful of one another’s work practices.
Looking ahead, what are your goals for the residency program?
I would like this to be a busy program, one for artists and teachers who love to teach, and eventually open a gallery in the center of Saint-Raphaël to exhibit artists’ work.
June 12, 2023