While our pots are drying, we go on an expedition to visit a few of the local potteries in the area. This whole city is dedicated to the making of porcelain. there are thousands, if not 10’s of thousands of small workshops all over the city. We go to one of the nearby potters districts. We have come in this direction because there is a potter here that we want to meet. I am travelling with a PhD student from The ANU in Canberra and his interest is in tenmoku. The potter we have come to visit is the local Master of the Northern ‘Leaf’ Tenmoku Style, which they call ‘temu’ around here.
The original dark glazed and buff bodied Northern tenmoku bowls were first made by potters in the Tianmu mountains in Northern China and were used by the buddhist Monks in the near-by monastery for drinking green tea. Monks who came to this monastery left with a knowledge of Buddhism and also a penchant for the drinking of green tea. They also took away the distinctively shaped bowls with the out-turned lip and tiny foot that is the defining character of this style. the ’Tenmoku’ form. The name ‘tenmoku’ seems to be applied to just the dark glaze these days, but it is really the name of this particular shape of bowl. Such that you can have a white tenmoku, or a blue tenmoku, even a hare’s fur tenmoku, because it has a glaze that is a little reminiscent of the fur of the local wild Hare.
This potter, Master Liu, has dedicated his life to the study of ‘leaf’ tenmoku. a very ancient variant of the form. He seems to be doing quite well for himself these days. He has assistants working in and around the studio. He has his own large gas kiln and a few electric kilns. The show room is new and 5 stories high and quite well appointed, a new two story house, all set in a little ‘muse’, just off the main street. The technique of ‘leaf’ tenmoku is one where a leaf from a particular tree or bush is placed on the surface of the flat black glaze and when fired, the leaf burns out and leaves only a few microns of ash which in this case, contains some special elements that colour the black glaze, so that the imprint of the original leaf can be seen in the glaze surface as a silver or golden ‘X-Ray’ style outline of its radial structure. I ask if any leaf will do and am told, “No, only the leaves of one very special plant will give the effect”. But that’s all I’m told.
He has taken the old technique to another level, where he can reproduce the effect so reliably that he cuts the leaves into the shape of various animals or even peoples profiles. It’s an acquired taste, but certainly skilful. Clever as hell. Gulley Jimson might say.
Later, we visit a bunch of local big-pot throwers. Today they are not throwing, but turning their dried, thrown sections of very large planters. It is just an amazing sight to watch these young masters at work. They are just incredible. They make it all look just so simple, and it probably is, if you are born to it and spend all your life involved with it and practising..
After assembly, they are either carved or painted, then raw glazed. Apparently it takes a week to carve or paint one of these giants with such fine detailed work. Some are just blue on White, while others are polychrome.
After this, there is nowhere else to go, nothing more to see that can top this schwarzenegger-esque extravaganza. I’m exhausted just watching! The amount of material that is churned off in the turning is prodigious. there is a business right there in just collecting all those huge piles of turnings and recycling them, back into clean, iron free, plastic porcelain clay again. We take paradise…..
All that’s left is to have dinner. Egg and tomato stir fry and finely sliced large white radish stir fried with some sort of meat and chilli.
So very nice. Delicious!
Steve in Jingdezhen