France’s Oldest Earthenware Company

by Alice White Walker
a collage of images showing the production process of earthenware plates

Headed by Sophie Le Calvez, Bourg-Joly Malicorne is France’s oldest earthenware company. This heritage brand, founded in 1747, produces exquisitely designed earthenware, handmade in the Loire.

Read on to find out about how they use traditional savoir-faire and bring timeless style to each of Malicorne’s exquisite designs.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE MAGAZINE

 

In 1747, in the verdant Sarthe Valley near Le Mans, a Frenchman by the name of Jean Loiseau founded a company creating tin-glazed and enameled earthenware. In its infancy, the production replicated designs that already existed in metal or wood, but as their reputation grew, he acquired a more demanding clientele in search of increasingly elegant pieces.

a wooden shelfing unit with stacked earthenware baskets and fruit stands

Using white clay, his manufacture created more elaborate shapes and forms and developed new techniques for moulding, calibrating and trimming exceptional pieces that became famous throughout France. Malicorne was born.

In addition to plates, bowls and serving platters for the table, the atelier began to produce larger decorative pieces, such as the large vases and pitchers. To vary the styles, intricate and delicate designs were hand-painted on the white background. 

pre-fired earthenware plates and baskets lined up on a table

Two hundred and fifty years on, the techniques have barely changed. Bourg-Joly Malicorne is still known for its delicate pieces, in particular the openwork baskets and dishes.   

To create these earthenware baskets, the clay, while it’s still damp, is pierced and cut to create the shapes. Earthenware meets lace work.

two shelves of fired earthenware baskets by a french manufacturer

During its entire existence, the workshop has remained in its small hometown of Malicorne sur Sarthe, three hours to the west of Paris. From 1740 to 1914, the activity was passed down through generations of the Loisel, then Rabigot and Dubois families.

After the First World War, Malicorne changed hands and was on the decline until 2009 when the current owners, Eric and Sophie Le Calvez, stepped in. Together, with the backing of existing employees, this important cultural production and heritage was saved.

In purchasing the production site, they inherited a rich archive of moulds and tools which naturally guided them in their choice of designs. While reaching out to a new public, they continued to uphold the traditional shapes and pieces that Malicorne have made for centuries. A reminder that good design is timeless.

three earthenware eggs, painted in three colors, by malicorne

In our latest Artisans of France series, we are very happy to offer readers the opportunity to purchase a collection of Malicorne’s handmade and hand-painted earthenware eggs. The designs are charming and are perfect for decorating a table, or simply displayed in a small bowl. 

SHOP THE BOX

 

We love this tale of reinvention and safeguarding of one of France’s most loved brands!

Bourg-Joly Malicorne
16 Rue Carnot, 72270 Malicorne-sur-Sarthe
Shop opening hours:
Tuesday to Saturday: 10 a.m to 12.30 p.m and 2 p.m to 6 p.m  (closed Sunday & Monday)
Follow them on Instagram @bourg_joly_malicorne
Shop online at www.malicorne.com

This article was originally published in the March/April 2020 edition of My French Country Home.
Photography by Franck Schmitt, Text by Sharon Santoni

 

SUBSCRIBE TO THE MAGAZINE

Related Articles