Unleashing My Creativity: A Ceramic Summer Retreat in France


First of all, thank you to the hundreds of you who made our Fifth Anniversary a huge success! Since then, I’ve been preparing for a ceramic retreat in France. There, I’ll enjoy a four-week residency that I’ve designed as a personal ceramic pursuit. The journey is a gift to myself of four weeks of uninterrupted creative studio exploration time. Many great masters spent their summers in this inspiring and historically powerful setting and I'm honored to do the same.

I depart on June 19th on my four-week retreat and couldn’t be more excited, or more grateful. I recently sat for an interview with James Briggs, owner of the national creative arts firm Carroway + Rose. We talked about Brenda McMahon Gallery’s Fifth Anniversary, our expansion, and my upcoming trip for articles he was authoring for The Artisan and St. Pete Life Magazine. Here are a few selections from the interview that might interest you about my trip, Vallauris, and its rich artistic heritage.

This is the first of a two-part interview.


Picasso / Ceramic Art
(Picasso in Vallauris)
Talking Travel with Brenda 

JB: You’ve traveled, taught, and studied art in countries around the world. Tell me a little about that and how exposure to other artistic cultures have shaped your own work.

BM: I've traveled abroad for my work in three different regions of the world. My first international foray was in Thailand, where I had a ceramic exhibition in Phuket in 2007. There, I explored local traditions and learned about clay and art making - all of which was pivotal in my ceramic direction. The trip inspired me to undertake ceramic wall sculptures as a medium. Since then, ceramic wall sculptures have become a trademark of my career.

JB: That’s fantastic. I know you’ve spent time teaching and creating in Europe, as well.

BM: I began teaching in Italy in 2013. I was drawn to teaching in Italy because of the respect I have for La Meridiana International Ceramic School. First, I hoped to share my unusual firing process and techniques and for my love of Italy. I thought it was the perfect merging of loves. I became enamored with the ideas that we share and the ability to communicate, using the language of clay. It was a great bridge builder, friendship maker and inspiring setting to teach and learn. Then, when one teaches, they also learn - a lot! Italy and all my workshops have taught me so much as a person and an artist.

La Meridiana International Ceramic School
La Meridiana International Ceramic School
The teacher as student 

JB: You’ve spoken of yourself often as a lifelong student and using clay as language sounds like such an open way of communicating. That’s a very intriguing way to say that. So, after Italy, now France. How’d that come about?

BM: After teaching in Italy for 5 sessions over 9 years, in 2024, I decided to apply for and then gift myself a Ceramic Artist in Residence in the south of France. The purpose of a residency is internal creative exploration, so it is a receiving, not a giving. My goal is not to make anything for a marketplace or collector, but to explore ideas that have been on hold because I haven't had time. I applied to the program and was accepted, along with seven other international artists. We are being given housing and private studios, in this small inspired French town, to explore our personal ceramic work. In the mornings and evenings, we will share our experiences, get to know one another, and I imagine, develop friendships.

Vallauris, a town rich in artistic history

Vallauris is labeled 'City of Crafts".
It holds this title thanks to its 2000 years of pottery tradition.

 JB: It’s in Vallauris, which some people may know for the sheer number of artistic giants who’ve created there.

 BM: Vallauris, for me, is like an art-meditation retreat, in the south of France. Here, I believe that the open environment inspired Picasso to work in clay. Many great masters, from Renoir and Chagall to Cezanne and Matisse, also had their summer studios in this place. Vallauris is home to more than 100 potters, galleries and ateliers, all of which will be part of my exploration. The land, the history, the art and of course the travel. Biot, a famous working glass blowing town is just 15 minutes away in the hills of southern France. Cannes is the famous film town and Niece, a destination for people of all nationalities. I long to have long quiet days to open myself to the smells and sounds of Vallauris and then turn that inspiration in on ideas I have let sit dormant over these years. 

Personal and creative growth through travel

 JB: Is the idea of rejuvenating your own creative spirit in a town filled with the works of these masters what initially drew you to Vallauris?

BM: Yes! The combination of the rich cultural heritage with the history of ceramic art is the perfect melding of my loves.  I've long considered a ceramic retreat in France. I expect a renewed sense of inspiration and a cleansing of my busy life, to a more relaxed European lifestyle.  A new setting, different language. and culture is the perfect place to 'refresh' and dive deep. I will do both, all while feeling the history beneath my feet... and in the alleyways and museums of this small town.

JB: It sounds like a gift, really.

 BM: The gift of a residency is that the artist is welcome to be - not for any reason, but to to reflect and explore. In the end, we are asked to present our final creations in a joint international exhibition and as a final farewell, leave one piece behind for the international ceramic collection at Vallauris. I am being gifted to live as a citizen of the land, taking in nearby sites, working in my studio and enjoying the quiet unfolding of a morning at the cafe. Part of me thinks it'll be just like Gulfport...only on the French Riviera!


Vallaruius shops


  • Judith Gitnick

    Your mom would have loved to go there with you. She was so proud of you and your work. Miss her

  • Emma mcMahon

    Brenda is a shining source of extraordinary talent, limitless energy, and personal warmth. What a joy it is to see her progression through the years….always upward. She is an inspiration as well as an incredible artist.

  • Paul and Teresa Safford

    Brenda is our neighbor and one of the most beautiful souls we have ever met! We wish her safe travels and hope her adventure is everything she’s dreamed of. Her talent has no limits and the people she meets will be better off for having spent time with her just as we are!

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