Friends and business partners Chris and Raquel are in the foothills of a big adventure. But unlike the usual Chamonix adventures, they won’t be needing crampons, a map or avalanche safety gear.
These two are opening rūsc, a ceramics studio and artists’ co-working space, offering pottery classes, life drawing, sculpture and ceramic painting. ‘rūsc’ is a latin translation of ‘ruche’ which in english is a bee hive, which is what they’re hoping to create; a busy hub of innovation and expression for a range of art in Chamonix.
It’s a generous space in Cham Sud – the group of apartment buildings near the Aiguille de Midi lift. There they envision bringing together a community of local artists to offer visitors the chance to see another side of our beautiful mountain town.
We went to talk to them about what made them decide to open a studio and to find out about a side of Chamonix that it might be easy to miss.
Chris and Raquel come from very different backgrounds. Chris is Scottish and has spent 16 years living in the Alps. For the last five years he has run a chalet management business he owns with a friend.
“I needed an outlet” he says, “Chamonix is so often just about sport. I’d watched this programme called ‘Throwdown’ and had always loved the idea of making pottery… and then Raquel started a business next door to my office”.
Raquel, who is French, spent many years in a management career, working an intense job managing hundreds of people. Art for her was “a necessity” but always a sideline. “I lived overseas for a long time and then five years ago I came back and thought – I can’t do that work again. My husband and kids are a huge support to me and my husband said, if art is what you want to do, you go for it, but do it properly”.
So she bought a shopfront studio to practice her art in Chamonix Sud, a small place next door to Chris’ office and began to take ceramics seriously. At ‘Atelier Raquel C’ she began teaching others to throw, including Chris.
A New Partnership of Art in Chamonix
“He had a sort of one year intensive training” Raquel says of Chris. He was hooked and set up his own wheel in a shed at home. “He had a weekly lesson and then homework. I made him take photos or bring things to show me”.
For Chris it was a huge curveball, but one that felt like it was filling a hole in his life. “I’d been doing seasons and then running a chalet management company for 16 years and that really suppressed my creativity. I come from a theatre and fashion background, so I think this has been my way to bring that part of me back into life” he says.
They soon realised they were at the beginning of a relationship which could facilitate others exploring the creative side of mountain life.
“I knew I wanted to start the business with Chris, but he didn’t know it!” Raquel laughs. She saw Chris as the ideal complement to her as a business partner – “he’s brings many different qualities to the project, he moves and inspires people. I’m not looking for a double – he brings things that I am not capable of which gives us a fuller, broader offer and appeal”. Their belief in the power of collaboration has made its way into the vision for Rūsc in its identity as a co-working space for artists of many disciplines. “It creates motivation” she says, “the idea is that artists working alongside each other at Rūsc will bounce off each other, it will keep them evolving”.
More Than a Mountain Town, More Than a Pottery Studio
While rūsc was born through a shared loved for pottery, the pair have found that Raquel’s atelier unearthed a desire for people to have a broader outlet for creativity. Chamonix is full of energetic people who love the outdoors, but it became clear to them that there was a need for creative expression too. They are attempting to redress the balance; to provide an opportunity for internal focus, “where so much of what is celebrated here is external” says Chris.
There are many artists in Chamonix, and much of what sells here is what you might expect when the backdrop is so fantastic. But while snow capped mountains, glaciers and valleys are no doubt inspiring, Chris & Raquel want people to feel free to dig into themselves and see what happens. “I want people to come to rūsc and be inspired to ask questions, to be moved, to put them in touch with their own creativity, their curiosity, maybe their own fragility” says Raquel.
So far the project has ridden a wave of momentum. “It feels like we’re responding to a need here, to a gap in what Chamonix has to offer” says Raquel. “It’s so amazing to see what’s happened already, to how well people respond to having an opportunity to be creative. It crosses generations too, young and old and everyone in between has something inside them to explore” finishes Chris.
The business model has two main focal points – local artists can pay a monthly subscription to work and exhibit at the studio, and visitors can participate in classes and workshops. There will be exhibitions and a boutique too. People will be able to purchase a multi-pass, giving discounted access to a range of classes.
Whatever your experience in making art, or lack of it, this pair at rūsc will be on hand to guide and encourage you. They’re putting heart and soul into boosting creativity and art in Chamonix, so if your body is tired or extreme sports aren’t your thing, try a class or workshop. It may just nourish you in ways you hadn’t expected.
99 Promenade Marie Paradis, 74400 Chamonix