Olivier Picquart

Sculpting the Primeval Jewels of the Dordogne

Olivier Picquart sits in his studio in the charming, cobblestone village of Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, in the heart of the Périgord Noir. Olivier’s studio is up one set of rickety, wooden stairs, on the second floor of a centuries-old house: out the open front window and across the street is the village’s 11th century Romanesque church, built on a site that has been a place of worship since the Middle Ages. Out the back window of Olivier’s studio, you can see the spires of one of the town’s three châteaus.

Olivier thinks of mammoth ivory as a jewel, and bringing it from Siberia back to the Dordogne Valley, as returning these “jewels” to their “jewel case.”

Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère is an artist’s enclave where you can watch the Vézère pass softly by, the grass in the river rippling as lights shimmers on the water. During the high season of summer, the river is bustling with visitors canoeing past, or wading in from the sandy banks.

Below Olivier’s studio is his shop, Piqoli, where, since 2015, he and his wife Nathalie Gannet have contributed to the artistic ambiance of the village, selling Olivier’s sculptures and handmade works of art by fellow artisans.

Slate-blue dust covers everything in Olivier’s workshop: the floors, his tools, the wastebasket. This dust is from the fine shavings of fossilized mammoth ivory tusks, a legal material authorized for sale and an ethical alternative to the ivory of endangered animals. Olivier explains his process of purchasing the material from Siberia, Alaska, and Alberta. “I also purchase caribou antlers from Canada and Sweden, and moose antlers from Canada and Greenland,” he says, gesturing toward a pile of antlers on the ground.

With the utmost patience and precision, Olivier sits at his work desk, marking the heavy mammoth ivory in the shape he intends to create. He then drills the ivory, and, with slow shaving away, a tiny, intricate objet d’art emerges. Using an electric sander, he polishes the finished piece to a glassy smoothness.

Olivier thinks of mammoth ivory as a jewel, and bringing it from Siberia back to the Dordogne Valley, where mammoths once roamed and cavemen painted their images on walls, as returning these “jewels” to their “jewel case.” He wears his own jewel, a Venus mammoth ivory carving, on a string around his neck: a tribute he created for his wife, who gave birth to their first child a year ago. The pendant, he says, is “a mirror for the wearer, a mirror for the observer. There remains in it a sacred dimension. The pendant is my favorite jewel.”

The purity of the white bone or tusk, hewed down to the recognizable shape of a woman or another relic, resonates with the simple, two-color designs and shapes of the AIMEE LACALLE DORDOGNE collection.

Two years ago, Aimee and her family wandered into Olivier and Nathalie’s shop. Aimee’s son and his friends loved the store, she recalls. Today, she reflects on that fortuitous first meeting, telling Olivier, “I love seeing the handcrafts in your shop. Many people are happy you are here.”

“To have a shop is good to meet archeologists and people who like history and craftspeople,” Olivier says. Reflecting on all the beautiful, handcrafted objects Piqoli sells, from knives, to ceramics, to fish leather purses, he continues, “We want original things. The craftsman made all of the knife, so the customer appreciates the whole product.”

In Olivier’s art and shop, as in the Dordogne itself, the primordial and the modern meet, igniting sparks of history, value, and beauty.