Veggies and Flowers

When we came here 43 years ago. There was next to nothing here, Only the derelict shell of the old school classroom. We had to work 7 days a week for the first few years just to pay the 23% interest rate on our money-lender mortgage on the property. It was a huge impost, an exorbitant interest rate, but they were the only people who would lend us the money.

Because of this huge level of debt, In those first few years I had to work the equivalent of 8 working days in each week. Seven full days and two nights, that equaled an extra day. I got part time work at 4 different art schools, then on Saturdays and Sundays, I flew out into western New South Wales each weekend to different towns, all over the state to build pottery kilns on-site as weekend workshops. Janine worked a couple of days and one night at Liverpool TAFE college. It was a killing work load, but we managed to pay off the first of the two mortgages early and save a load of interest.

During the school holidays, we were able to establish an orchard and a vegetable garden around the house. We were complete novices in the vegetable garden, but learnt by doing. The gardens started out as a way of growing wholesome, fresh food cheaply on site.

A few years later, I got to see a few French period films set in the south of France. “My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s Castle”, based on books by Marcel Pagnol. These films and others like it, (Jean de Florette) opened my eyes to the possibility of growing both flowers, vegetables and fruit trees, all in the same garden. Our life is much more under control now, and we are finally solvent, with more time to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labours.

In the past few decades we have introduced a lot more flowers into the edges of the garden beds and these are now self seeding and well established year on year.

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So now we grow herbs, grape vines, fruit trees and vegetables all in the same space. It is all netted over now, mostly with hail proof, fine bird netting. However, we have incorporated side panels of 35 mm hexagonal, galvanised wire mesh in the walls that allows all the little insect feeding birds easy access. We get all maner of finches, fire-tails and wrens flittering through in waves thoughout the day. They do a great job of cleaning up all the little pests and grubs, without touching the food crops. It this way we don’t have to use any insecticides.

So here we are arriving at some sort of way station on the journey that we set out on together over 40 years ago.

It’s nice, but I keep in mind that nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts.

Chair bodger

One of my hand-made steamed and bent Windsor chairs has suffered a broken arm recently. I made this chair from the one piece of wood, cut from a Japanese cedar tree that died in the drought in our garden. It was probably about 80 years old. It was a fine tree and the wood was too good to waste. So I decided to make a chair out of it.

As this tree was only small. It was hard to find a good piece of straight grained timber. for the lang arm. There was a fault in the way that I made it. I couldn’t find a piece of straight-grained timber that was of the correct dimensions for the job, so I used what I had. There is only so much straight grained timber in one tree. My tree had quite wavy grain. I compensated a little by sawing it out along the grain on the band saw, instead of just in a straight line on the table saw, but there just wasn’t a long enough section for me to use without the grain running off along the grain.

I used this piece where the grain ran off on the bend. It worked really well for almost a decade, but finally split when someone put a bit too much pressure on it, possibly leaning back on the back two legs and stressing the bent back. (I wasn’t home at the time)

I glued the broken arm back together, but it started to part company on the bend and split again within a year, even with careful use. I re-glued it, clamped it securely for 24 hrs. until the glue was well and truly set, then decided to reinforce it with a brass strip behind, where the split had re-started.

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It’s a broken chair, no doubt about it, but its a well-loved and valued chair that I spent a lot of time building, all the way from cutting down the tree, seasoning, sawing, cutting out, carving the seat base and spindles then fabrecating and assembling the whole thing. This chair has an added history. It means something to me so I used brass to give the repair some added value. A bit like the way that I use gold to repair one of my beautiful, but damaged bowls. What I’ve done here is like kinsugi, but it isn’t kinsugi, because kinsugi means gold repair.

Maybe this is some kind of brass chair bodging variation on kinsugi. Perhaps I should call it brassugi?

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Garlic Harvest Time

It’s the first of November and it’s time to harvest the early garlic crop. We plant garlic from March through to June and it takes about 6 months for the crop to mature. Over the years, we have tried many different varieties of garlic as they became available to us, but a few have always done better than others for us here with our specific terroir. The large ‘Russian’ garlic does well here, but I don’t particularly like the flavour. I find that it has a somewhat metallic aftertaste, which I find unpleasant. So although it grows well here I don’t plant it. The large white ‘Melbourne market’ variety does well, but is a little bland. The smaller growing red skinned variety, which I was told came from China after the opening-up to the West in the 70’s, does well and although it is only small, it is quite intense in flavour. I like the taste, but it is so fiddley to peel. Last year was not a good year for garlic for us and this variety grew so poorly to be only just worth harvesting. I didn’t bother to even attempt to peel it. I just put it whole into the garlic press and expressed the pulp as best I could and used it straight like this, even mixed with a little of its paper coating. The Italian pink seems to grow quite well and its of medium size and medium flavour. I plant the mall each year and let them fight it out, to see which one does best in each years different climate and rainfall conditions.

We have lifted half of the crop and have about 70 good knobs to hang up to dry from this first plot. There are also another 20 or 30 smaller bulbs that aren’t worth plaiting or hanging. We put them in a small basket on the kitchen bench top for use straight away.

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Back Home in the Garden

We are back home again now and the garden needs a bit of TLC. I get all around the beds with the strimmer mower cleaning all the paths and edges and then plant out the summer vegetable seeds and seedlings. Because there is always the possibility of frosts until November, we put a few temporary cloches over the most sensitive seedlings to give them an early start.

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The early poppies are starting to bloom now, always a good sign of the warmer weather.

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Moon Jars

While the long wood firing is in progress, there are simultaneous demonstrations of Moon Jar making by 3 exceptional makers. These mysterious white porcelain globes, have fascinated people for centuries, including potters in the West like Lucie Rie, and Bernard Leach.

There is Mr Cheol Shin, The traditional potter who we met a week ago in his workshop while he was wood firing. He is the maker who threw 1000 jars to learn how to make them well and with feeling. He tells us that it was only after that epic effort, was it that he felt confident that he could interpret this elusively simple form with sufficient understanding and confidence to do them justice. He is such a confident thrower, that he makes a dozen ‘halves’ on the first afternoon and then with time up his leave, he make 20 large dishes as well.

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Mr Changhyeon Jeon,  makes Moon Jars with a modern, humorous take on the ancient tradition. His work is great fun, although to my mind he seems to be taking the whole forum very seriously indeed rarely smiling. It seems to be Mr Cheol who is cracking all the jokes during the throwing demos. He is very relaxed and very confident. Mr Changhyeon, on the other hand works on quietly, being very careful and studious. He isn’t interested in volume, only making two jars in total, but each with applied sculptural additions. He has been developing a long series of moon jars with little whimsical horses, that climb up on his pieces and bite a chunk out of the rim. He was commissioned to make a number of pieces for the Korean Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last year. In that series, his horses broke off pieces of the rim of the jars and made skies, snow boards and a luge, then took off down the steep sides of the pots.

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And then there is Mr Jung Hong Park, he makes Moon Jars with a very modern twist. For a start, he is working with black stained porcelain. His technique is to transfer high-definition, digital NASA images of the moon’s surface onto his forms. The detail is stunning and the time it takes to create the image is astonishing. I watched him work on and off for the 3 days and he managed to finish just a couple of square inches of the image. I congratulated him on the effort and he told me that this was only just the first layer of slip inlay, He will come back over it and inscribe another layer – or more. He works with ten different colours of slip, graduated from white to black, to get the fine-grained digital effect. He told me that he will spend up to 2 months to finish the image. Making the form for him is less important, it’s all about the totality of the enterprise, of which the image plays an important part. I’m impressed by his ability to concentrate and apply himself to this sustained project over such a long period of time.

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After work, on the way to our accommodation, we pass the local co-op. The light is on and I can see a lady inside working. I go in and see what she is up to. There are a number of machines in there, some are clearly for working with chilis. There are machines specially for removing the seeds, others for course. medium and fine grinding the powder, depending on the desired outcome.

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Tonight she is renting the oil processing machines. She has brought in her crop of ‘perilla’. I grow a variety of this plant at home myself. I call it ‘shiso’ and use it in salads, as a garnish and as an ingredient in pickles. It has a very distinctive flavour. The variety grown here is not the same and tastes similar but different. Here however they let it grow to full maturity and let it go to seed. The seeds are collected and pressed for their oil. They call it wild sesame here because the oil taste very similar to sesame oil, only milder and slightly sweeter. The mature leaves are used along with lettuce leaves to wrap the meat and pickles in the dish called ssambap.

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We see a hedge of perilla growing around the edge of a ripe crop of rice being harvested, and some real sesame being dried on the pavement in the village along with other recently harvested crops of chilis and herbs spread out on tarps to dry. You don’t want to see a good bit of unused pavement being wasted on a nice sunny day in autumn.

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The Yanggu Porcelain Museum wood kiln firing

After we have spent out time in Seoul, we set off to travel up to the geographical centre of Korea, right up against the DMZ to a small town, or large village, called Bangsan. They have been mining porcelain stone here for centuries. The earliest written records of porcelain making in this valley date back to 1391. The ancient kiln site is now preserved under a roof, but still accessible. The site where the porcelain stone was stock piled and sorted ready for shipping to Seoul is still there, however, it has been desecrated by someone in living memory. I don’t know the exact details or circumstances, but what a shame. The Korea war raged up and down the country for a few years, back and forth. Maybe it was then? I don’t know.

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There is a very ominous sign post on the banks of the river just 50 metres from the back entrance to the Porcelain Museum. It looks to me to be a warning sign about land mines. I get out my phone and use the translation app to read the text. Sure enough, it tells me that land mines can still be found here exposed after floods or washed down off the hills after heavy rains. It tells me how to identify them and not to touch them. As If! I can only suppose that some small kiddies might pick one up if un-accompanied? We are so lucky in Australia.

Our trip up here took us all day on 3 different busses and about 6 hours with waiting for connections. We have arrived early, before the forum is due to start, as we want to put pots in the long wood firing that will be held in conjunction with the conference. The Museum has a couple of 5 chamber traditional wood kilns that are fired a few times each year.

We pack all day and work into the night. One of the residents potters living in the student accommodation village ‘Daewoong’ is in charge and is assisted by a visiting potter from Poland ‘Gosia’. Not her full name, but one that she feels that we can pronounce. The firing will go for 100 hours or 4 days, all through the forum and demonstration days.

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On the days when we are not involved in the forum, we do a 6 hour shift in the stoking. Janine ends up getting in more time at the stoking than me, as I’m constantly involved with the translator and publisher, or if not with them I’m speaking at the forum. I turn up one day to find that it is a fully female crew on shift.

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As the firing progresses on to the final stages and the side stoking of the 5 chambers.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the (Porcelain) Forum

We are spending a few days in Seoul to do a little cultural sightseeing, visiting some of the Art Galleries and Museums, and searching out some interesting shops and small private galleries that show a range of hand-made objects, and not just ceramics.

It’s always great to be in a very different place and experience different cultures first hand. We are here alone without any real Korean language skills, just following our noses I can’t help but notice as we walk to the station that they seem to have chosen one of the most expensive way to wash their high-rise windows.

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Two large cranes for a day, a Sunday at that, must cost a small fortune?

I’m more accustomed to seeing blokes abseil down the glass fronts of these big buildings, or stand in a mechanical hoist that is lowered down from the roof.

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As we approach the station we see the first of the first of what is going to be a very common sight over the next few weeks. People make use of every space to dry their autumn harvest. In this case Chilis, and this is in the middle of the city of Seoul. Every spare bit of space is utilised.

We are very lucky to discover a very nice small shop that sells handmade ‘Jogakbo’ Korean patchwork fabrics and Korean paper lamps. We spend half an hour in there even though the shop is quite small. It has a lot of very interesting small things stashed away in intriguing little nooks and crannies. We really enjoy the paper cut-out lanterns, lamp shades and wall installations.

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Their patchwork seems to feature a lot of pastel colours and at times some very bright colours, but I’m rather drawn to the most simple unbleached, off-white, hemp and ramie fibre fabrics. Simple and restrained, they speak to me of tranquility, even though the surface is intrinsically busy. I see parallels in my life in this material. I’d love a large, wall-sized piece, but they are too expensive.

We settle on a couple of small things that are more in tune with our budget. One in pastels and another in a very restrained, if somewhat Piet Mondrianish style.

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We dine in a little cafe just down a lane, not too far from our hotel. It offers just about the best hand-made, small production, Indian Pale Ale that I  have ever tasted, and it’s made locally too! Sweet, sour, bitter and spritzig, with wonderful fruity hops. The hops are so lively, that I suspect that it has been double hopped, late in the ferment. I don’t know much about beer making, although I do make beer at home myself, but I’m a complete amateur and just use a ‘Coopers’ kit. However, my son Geordie is right into brewing his own mash from basic grains, as is my friend David in Wales. He even grows his own hops in his garden.

See,; ‘From Side-stoking in Stoke to Wwoof-ing in Wales’, on this blog a few weeks back.

For the rest of our trip here we only drink Fermented white rice wine, soju or whatever local Korean beer there is in the little village cafes that we frequent. Although when I take my friends Jun Beom and his wife out to lunch, he chooses us a bottle of soju made from sweet potatoes. A first time for me. Not that different in flavour from the rice originated equivalent. Or so it seems to my uninitiated taste buds.

The next two days are spent with our friend Miss Kang, she is only available on weekends now, since she got a full time job. We are lucky that she has the time to spare to see us. I am eternally grateful to her for being my translator and driver a few years ago. She was fantastic in that role. We have continued to keep in touch and are now friends. This is the 4th time that I have visited Korea and managed to catch up with her.

She drives us to Icheon a few hours away to visit a common friend and see his new gallery. Icheon is a pottery town. It seems to be almost exclusively involved in the business of making and selling pots. After lunch we go for a walk to visit a few of the other workshops and galleries. There is a small ceramic festival on today in a new part of town where a new pottery suburb has been built. It’s so new that not all the streets are tar sealed yet and not all the allotments have been fully developed. The festival/ street party is to get the community involved and make a bit of an advertising splash. As this area is so new that they need to make themselves and their whereabouts known to the wider community.

Miss Kang takes us to one gallery/workshop where the owners name is ‘Mium’. They have built their workshop and gallery as a square shape with a square courtyard in the centre, with square windows. Miss Kang explains to Janine, using her phone, that the Korean letter ‘‘ is a plain consonant and is pronounced ‘mieun’, so they have used this as a central motif, not only in their work, but also in the design of their workshop.

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Next, we are taken to a Master Moonjar Maker. He has a fantastic workshop and gallery too. He is firing his wood kiln today. We can see this from afar, as it is very smokey. We are introduced, and it is expained that we are here to take part in the Yanggu Porcelain Museum, Special Annual Porcelain Forum. The potter, Cheol Shin, looks amazed for a second, then shakes my hand. He tells me, through translation, that he is very pleased to meet me, and knows that I am coming to Korea, because he will be one of the speakers /demonstrators at that forum too. What an amazing piece of synchronicity! He is a really nice guy, so friendly, but without Miss Kang and Jun Beom to help us, we wouldn’t know.

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Apparently, he made 1000 large Moonjars, before he was prepared to call himself ‘Master’. I believe that he is certainly entitled to give himself that title now.

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Next, Miss Kang and Jun Beom take us to the local HaeJu Ceramic Museum. We meet the Director, Mr KiHwan Um. He seems a rather eccentric kind of fellow. I like him. After some polite social introductions and an exchange of name cards, an explanation of our mission here and my past research, he shows us around and gives us a special personal tour of the exhibits, but more importantly, the stock rooms. There are rows and rows of old and new pots. He just happens to have a collection of Song dynasty pots in his collection. Amazingly, we are expected to handle them and comment.

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We end our tour in the international section. He asks if I have any images of my work with me. I regret that I don’t, as I wasn’t aware that I’d be coming here, this is just a fluke meeting. I do have a few images on my phone though. I show him what I have of my show at Watters Gallery last year. I am suprized when he asked me, through Miss Kang, if he can obtain one of my Australian Native single-stone porcelain bowls for the Museum. I’m flattered.

Before we leave Icheon, we bump into a couple of Australians, Tony and Gail,  who have come here to do a week-long, hands-on workshop in Onggi making. There are apparently 5 Australians here for the workshop. Lucky them.

I love Korea. I am always happy here. We’ve only just arrived and I havent even left yet, but I’m already thinking of ways to come back. It’s a funny thing.