Les Argonautes was the creation of Isabelle Ferlay (b. 1917) and Frédérique Bourguet (1925-1997). Born in Lyons, Isabelle Ferlay attended painting classes at the city’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1940. With the goal of becoming a potter-thrower, she continued her studies in ceramics in Marseilles, the Fontcarrade school of ceramics in Montpellier, and with Christine Destienne in Paris. Frédérique Bourguet graduated from the Ecole des beaux-arts in Montpellier in 1945 before moving to Paris to train briefly with celebrated ceramicist Françoise Bizette (1914-1996). The pair met in 1951 when Ferlay was in need of a thrower. In 1953 they opened Les Argonautes, a pottery studio in the French town of Vallauris, known for its art and pottery community. They showed their first collection at the Salon des métiers d’art in Paris and went on to exhibit widely, notably at Cannes in 1955, in Paris’ 1961 exhibition “Ceramique contemporaine,” at the 1963 Paris exhibition “Arts et techniques de l’artisanat,” and at the Vallauris Biennale in 1970. The pottery turned to molding and modeling techniques after a 1955 accident that put an end to Ferlay’s work at the wheel. Using the local Vallauris red clay, Les Argonautes first produced small-scale household objects and tableware such as pitchers and tureens. They moved on to more challenging forms, from large vases to zoomorphic sculptures often inspired by exotic birds and “created their own fantasy world of creatures” (Staudenmeyer, 2001, 112). They applied mainly muted colored glazes in a very simple manner to emphasize the form and quality of the modeling. Throughout the 1950s, Ferlay and Bourguet also worked on plaques and mirrors with bas-relief frames, often using decorative themes taken from the lives of the saints. In the 1960s they created simple forms such as cylindrical vases adorned with wide abstract friezes—often brightly colored subjects on a cream-colored ground. In the 1970s Les Argonautes turned to stoneware, mainly wood-ash glazed, making small animal subjects and very elegant flasks. Their pair continued creating until Bourguet’s death in 1997.
Pierre Staudenmeyer, La Céramique française des années 50 (Paris: Norma, 2001), 112-113.