Alain Wolff & Brigitte Thommen

Interview: Avgi Kalogianni

Ceramics is compatible with our lifestyle

NOE ceramics is one of the oldest and best-established businesses on Paros. The brand which, for 23 years, has been synonymous with minimalism, clean-cut design and bright colours is the brainchild of Swiss-Parians Pierre-Alain Wolff and Brigitte Thommen, known by the locals as Petros and Brigitte. Following the road signs along the way, you find yourself in an idyllic corner of western Paros, near Aspro Chorio, where you can discover their beautiful clay artistry displayed in a natural setting unspoilt and untouched by time and overdevelopment.

How did you get involved into ceramics?
Ceramics was a career option that could allow for permanent residence on Paros, and whose scope attracted us. It seemed, in other words, to be compatible with the lifestyle we were intent on pursuing.

What do you like about this job?
There are many things about our job that we enjoy. First of all, it allows and challenges us to be creative, to constantly experiment with new designs and materials. Then, we like the hands-on aspect of this work. Another appealing feature of this job is customer service, because it gives us the opportunity to meet and interact with people from all over the world. Finally, we appreciate the autonomy that self‑employed status provides.

How do you divide work between you two? Should we assume that Petros kneads the clay and shapes the pots while Brigitte decorates and glazes them?
That’s right, kneading the clay and decorating it are two tasks divided between us, as you said. Other aspects of the job such as customer service and design are carried out cooperatively.

Do you prefer the term potter or ceramic artist?
“Potter” is probably more appropriate, since I throw pots on the wheel.

How did you choose the name for your business “NOE”?
It’s a simple and euphonic name, somewhat more original and imaginative than a descriptive name, such as “ceramics,” for instance.

You seem to have developed a personal style over the years. How do you come up with your pottery designs?
Yes, indeed, we have developed a personal style. This is, in fact, a sine qua non for an art which, as we know, has no rules. In a nutshell, I’d say we choose the designs of our pottery based on the environment and the natural beauty of our native land. We have to like the design ourselves, and we intend, as far as possible, for the product to be easy to use.

Tell us about your decision to set up shop in this remote part of the island, running the studio and the shop in a beautiful yet, relatively inaccessible, natural environment.
We set up our business in this location because this is what was feasible for us at the time. Now, we remain here, because the isolated natural setting of the studio has now become a kind of trademark, and also because we do not wish to expand our business or its workforce. We like the idea of a family-run business.

How do you see Paros –its present and future: with optimism or with concern?
Everything, including the present and future of Paros, has positive and negative facets. It surely seems to me that, as of late, the negative aspects prevail. For example, the constant increase in tourist influx on the island and the way residents are forced to adapt to it, are progressively altering Paros’s identity.
There might be an economic boom on the island at the moment, but this comes at the cost of waning local authenticity and character.
It is often the case that the lifestyle practiced by our visitors, who have now become investors in our island, brings us face to face with new and unfathomable scales.
When, the other day, I happened to complain about the traffic jam on the Parikia ring road, a visitor replied that it was nothing compared to what was happening in his hometown! Yes, agreed, but this is Paros!
Are we ready to undergo these changes and pay such a high price? So, I’m rather concerned about the future of both Paros and Parians.