How I spent my summer vacation: Boisbuchet

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-welcometoEvery summer I have the same conversation with my French friends. Them: “Anne, where are you going in August?” Me: “I’m staying in Paris. I was just traveling in July. I’m happy to stay in Paris.” Them: [strange looks]. So this year, despite my travels to Italy and the U.S. in July, I decided to appease my friends at the last minute by signing up for a week-long creative workshop at Boisbuchet, between Poitiers and Limoges, in central Lessac, France. I first learned about Boisbuchet, a place where internationally recognized artists and designers are invited to teach workshops in Lessac, France – about 7 years ago from my architect friend Lisa. She raved about her experience, and the idea of going has been engrained in my head since. I remember her advice was to take a class outside what you’d normally do. I’ve been following Boisbuchet on social media, and signed up for their newsletters a year ago, and then in late July a newsletter arrived in my inbox, and something I never had considered was signing up for a workshop last minute on a whim.
Boisbuchet summer workshops have been running for over 20 years. This summer’s theme was ‘the natural and the artificial’ and the 3 workshops available during the August session when I could attend were Survival Food with Dutch food designer Katja Gruijters, Process as Spectacle with London-based Studio Glithero, and Fantastic Reality with Austrian designers Mischer’Traxler. I spent a week in “Fantastic Reality,” but all our days revolved around waking up around 8am, heading to breakfast at 8:30, then going into the workshop or meeting with our group, lunch at 1pm, more making things, tea time at 4:30, more making things, dinner at 8, followed by presentations by the visiting designer/instructors. Not only was I surrounded by people with all sorts of creative backgrounds, from all sorts of places – the staff alone consisted of 15 different nationalities – but it was so refreshing to be making things with my hands. From time to time I’d stroll into the field in front of the chateau to get enough of a 3G signal to post a photo or two on Instagram, but in a connected world, it was awesome to sit at a table and have a conversation with someone from half-way around the world. All workshops are conducted in English, but it was such a treat to hear a myriad of languages around me at any given time. It’s an experience I’d recommend for anybody, even if you’re not a designer per se . Below is just a taste of my experience. My full photo album is on Flickr, but the Boisbuchet staff does an incredible job documenting each session too. pretavoyager-boisbuchet-vitradesignmuseum-chairsBoisbuchet’s workshops are offered in cooperation with Vitra Design Museum and Centre Pompidou. Alexander von Vegesack established the Vitra Design Museum before founding Domaine de Boisbuchet, which has been offering creative workshops for 20+ years. This chair collection is in the foyer of the ‘Dependence’ where I was housed for the week. pretavoyager-boisbuchet-domaineThe Dependence, my home for the week. Everything is walkable on the estate, but some staffers staying by the lake would bike to breakfast. pretavoyager-boisbuchet-housing_pairThe room I shared with roommates from Dubai and Taiwan. I was one of two Americans participating in the workshops that week. pretavoyager-boisbuchet-floatingpicnicThroughout the domaine [estate] there are projects from past participants that live on, such as the floating picnic bench in the middle of the lake, and the pyramid structure. Some projects have a longer lifespan than others. pretavoyager-boisbuchet-workshop-libraryThere is a workshop with all the tools you need to make what your imagination holds. (The building on the right will become the design library). pretavoyager-boisbuchet-workshop-makeProcess as Spectacle and Fantastic Reality participants in the early stages of exploration. pretavoyager-boisbuchet-workshop-atworkParticipants are a mix of all ages, although I found all the “students” were all more advanced at making things than me, as many were industrial designers. (Note: the workshop also served for great late night ping pong!) pretavoyager-boisbuchet-toolsworkshopTools consist of anything other than a computer or a screen.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-canoeMy workshop partner and I decided to make a boat, so we took out a canoe for a brainstorming session.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-mealtimeMeals were initiated by the strike of a gong. It was a great way to come together and talk to the other workshops and see how they were progressing. Every meal was communal, and the staff members take shifts in the kitchen. (And yes, there is wine with dinner– this is France after all!)

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-dinnerinsideRainy day meals were spent in the barn attached to the workshop, and every evening we’d gather here for a presentation by a designer. Karaoke also happened here the last night, with fake microphones made out of bamboo shoots with tin foil tops!

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-2designerpresentThe evening presentations were my favorite part of the day to get insights into how the invited designers go about their practice. Even though I wasn’t in a workshop with either of these designers, meals were a good way to get to know them better.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-chateau-tentEvery Friday each workshop presents to the other groups. Every week the result is completely different.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-chateau-expoThe chateau is in need of extensive renovations, but is opened from time to time for exhibitions, and in this case the presentation of the final work of one of the workshops.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-marblerunIt’s not every day you see a marble run in a chateau.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-survivalfood-plantsResearch by the Survival Food group of everything edible and available for scavenging on the estate.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-survivalfood1The Survival Food group presented their work in a secret “restaurant” in the forest by the lake. We were all happy to indulge, as we learned about what was edible around us. Minutes after this presentation was complete, a downpour came down.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-survivalfood-grasshopperEvery detail of the presentation was impeccable. Even the presentation of the grasshoppers… Gisele posted about her experience in this workshop on Medium.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-downtimeOverall a lot of time was spent like this, and I had some really interesting conversations that way.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-presentation1So much was about the process, and not always the final product, and the importance of sharing and talking it through along the way.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-treewalkOn the first day we went on an architectural tour of the estate. When I needed inspiration, I would go for a walk.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-swing… or a swing (which was another past project which has stayed in tact).

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-chinesepavilion-ext The Chinese Pavilion was a gift.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-chinesepavilionintInside the Chinese Pavilion is an exhibit of work done at Boisbuchet.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-cardboardhouse2The paper house made out of heavy duty cardboard. Every space can be used in creative ways.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-japaneseteahouseThe Japanese Tea Ceremony house was built in 1863 and is a year older than the chateau. It was a gift to the domaine.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-whitehouse‘La Grand Couple,’ version 2.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-whitehouse-intInside ‘La Grand Couple.” Workshop participants can wander freely around the grounds, but guided tours are open to the public by reservation.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-overheadmodelModel of the estate on display in the Chinese Pavilion.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-techstylehouseThe latest addition to the architectural tour of Boisbuchet: the Tech Style Haus, which was a winner at the Versailles Solar Decathlon, and is a collaboration between RISD and a German university.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-chateaumoonThe chateau dates back to 1864, as the original chateau was destroyed during the French Revolution.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-bonfireFinal night bonfire.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-staffersThe staff was truly amazing and made us feel at home the second we arrived. They too come from all around the world (15 nationalities pictured here), and in return for their work (cooking, cleaning, keeping everything in order), they receive room and board, and a free workshop. They clearly made friends for life here.

pretavoyager-boisbuchet-sendoffBy Saturday morning we all got a bit choked up saying goodbye. Every week new staffers come and go. Some participants stay on and do two workshops in a row. (One guy in my group has taken 12 workshops over the years, a refreshing change from his tech job). This farewell was most touching as many of us headed back to the train station to our next destinations.

Boisbuchet is truly a magical place. . . More of my photos are here.

Workshops run weekly from June through September, with different invited artists and designers every year. Getting to Boisbuchet from Paris is an 1.5hr train ride from Gare Montpartnasse to Poitiers, and then an 1.5 shuttle ride (definitely sign up for this option when registering for a workshop). Boisbuchet is located in Lessac, France. More information on getting there, here.

Follow me @pretavoyager on Instagram + Twitter + Vine! I teach MAPS, InDesign, and Designing Professional Documents on Skillshare.

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