I have now been at Studio Faire for a week, but have had far more than a week’s worth of rich experiences.
I came here hoping to learn more about the history, cultivation and celebration of plum growing in the region and so far many of my enquiries have been warmly met with great generosity and hospitality. Laetitia and Mickael Le Biavant of Chateau du Frandat, a vineyard and orchard on the edge of Nérac, have let me access their plum orchard to draw and observe the beginning of the harvest. My first mornings were happily spent drawing in the company of the plum trees before the heat of the day set in (having been leant a lovely pink bike by Julia and Colin’s friend Mardi). Then there was the excitement of watching the harvest begin – Thierry Alonso driving the harvesting machine carefully along the lines of trees and flinging open its great green wings around the trunk of each tree, the machine then gives the tree a vigorous shake and all the ripe plums fall into the wings and are then scooped back into the hull of the trailer, and on to the next tree. The full trailer is then unloaded for sorting and the full crates of prunes are driven to a regional cooperative for drying – a process I hope to observe next week.
Looking into the history of plum cultivation I discovered that it is widely understood that the cultivars grown in France today originally stem from trees brought back from Damascus by retreating crusaders. So plums, like much of the food we eat and celebrate as part of local culture, has a global history entwined with complex human narratives. I wanted to find out whether there were any Syrians living in Nérac and discovered an article about Nérac’s football club welcoming refugees from many different places into their young teams. I visited the club on Friday and was introduced, by the president Sebastien Ricard, to three Syrian brothers who have been living here since 2016. They were very patient with my pigeon French. I learnt a lot about their lives in Nérac and got a sense that they feel very at home here. I watched them play for a while and hope to return to talk more next week.
Yesterday I went to the Grand Pruneau Show in nearby Agen – an annual three day festival that celebrates the deliciousness of Agen prunes, gathering together different producers from across the region with many other street ‘animations’ and music late into the night. I had a great day in this beautiful city and got to taste just why the Agen prune is so loved across the world – albeit being a bit sleep deprived from having provided a feast for the mosquitoes over recent days. The festival is just one example of how much food is celebrated here – which I have also witnessed by attending two night markets where people gather on long trestle tables in the centre of local towns to enjoy regional food and music together. The Nérac market itself, held every Saturday morning is a sensual feast of local fare.
Dans le noir, le moustique se résume à un son,
Encadré de silences encore plus menaçants.
C’est au cours de l’un d’eux qu’il viandra nous piquer.
Mais nous ne le saurons que lorsqu’il l’aura fait…
In the dark, you can only hear the sound of a mosquito,
Framed in the silence it is even more menacing.
It is during one of these that it will bite.
But we will only know this when it’s too late …
It is my hope that I will be able to take these experiences and those of the coming week, and weave them together in a series of drawings made back home. Ideas are already percolating. I also hope to return for the second part of my awarded residency in the spring – perhaps in time for the plum blossom – what an incredible prize! Studio Faire is a beautiful, inspiring and very friendly place to think, work and explore ideas.
It is a joy to be here!
Sarah Gittins was selected for the Studio Faire Residency Award at the Society of Scottish Artists and Visual Arts Scotland joint annual exhibition: OPEN 2018. This exhibition is held in the National Galleries of Scotland’s Royal Scottish Academy Building in Edinburgh. Find out more about this exhibition and why we selected Sarah for this year’s award here.
Find out more about our residencies…
Meet other past residents…