Back from the Lip

We prepare to leave the realm of our Colonel Kurtz of Tenmoku. We kurtzy, as a kurtesy and take our leave. But before we leave the valley completely, we want to spend a day visiting the contemporary potteries that still practice the forgotten art here in this little remote valley. They are reviving the old style here and dragging the lost art back from the brink. Re-inventing it as they need to as they go.

There a still a few potteries here and there around the area, a few either side of the valley and another over the river, plus several in the nearest town. They are all making contemporary interpretations, if not replicas of the old wares. None of them have really worked out how to do the most difficult and rarest styles. Even though they have the exact same raw materials and clays right here on site. We keep on finding the same purple, shale-like material, piled up in great heaps.


The best pots were so very rare, that we couldn’t even identify any broken pieces of shards in among the millions that litter the various sites. Even though our very own Kurtz took us to the actual site that he says was the place identified in the old records. However, we have no way of cross referencing this piece of information and there is no real difference in the nature of the shards here that differentiates this site from some of the others.

We also visit the site of the ‘Royal Patronage Kiln’, The tenmokus made here were incised under the foot, with the mark of the emperor. Something to do with death or taxes! However, this site is also pretty much the same as some of the others. All traces of inscribed foot ring shards have been thoroughly worked over and removed for sale elsewhere long ago. However Kurtz finds and shows us a piece of wadding, that is impressed with the royal mark in the negative, from the foot ring that it supported. He immediately pockets it. Kurtz seems to be laying claim to this site too. Perhaps his family own it? Or have some connection with it. I really can’t determine any detailed information from our ‘charades’.

What there is here is an amazing little piece of information that is quite unexpected. Leo will have to present a paper on this and publish it to get some cred for it in the academic world. ‘Kurtz’ seems to be indicating that we can keep the shard from here, as he seems to own it??? Not too sure about this. Still, we take loads of photographs and record what we can of what we have found. This is a blog and not a peer-reviewed paper. So I’ll leave it there. Conrad would have had more to say on the matter I’m sure. But I’m not Conrad. Our Colonel Kurtz seems to rule in this remote valley, all the way ‘up-river’. And how appropriate it is that he should dress in a US Army camouflage uniform? But instead of finding Conrad’s ivory trader, we find that he’s a blackware trader. It’s not quite the same. In fact the difference is black and white!

All the contemporary potteries that we visit are making tea wares, mostly small tea cup bowls. We are given one, at each of the potteries that we visit. These are small, low value, items around here. But we are very appreciative of the gift and also for the ability to be able to walk around the pottery and ‘take it all in’!
Most of the workshops are quite small and very modest. Everyone of them except one, is using either an automated jigger/jolly machine or a rotor head. We only got to see one place with wheels and throwers. Perhaps this is because the product is sold quite cheaply?
Only two workshops had wood fired kilns and both were the long, inclined single chamber dragon kiln style with multiple doors along the tunnel for ease of stacking. In the valley, there is one site that has been protected from vandals and looters by enclosing it in a fence with an impressive gate.. This kiln appears to have been a tunnel kiln of a similar kind. There are half a dozen sites around the valleys edge, so there must have been a number of kilns here, but they appear to have all been erased by the looters over the centuries.
They were packing the kiln at one pottery. Still using saggars for everything and they were getting very nice results too. There is an enormous quantity of thinly split wood stacked along the kiln. It is very impressive. I wish that I owned it! Not that I wish that I had cut, split and stacked it all. I don’t. I’m finding it hard to keep up the wood supply to our own, kitchen slow combustion cooker, lounge room fire, pottery pot belly stove and wood fired kiln. It’s enough.
The real problem here is me. I attempt to do everything myself. Nobody else is so silly. They are all specialists. There is diversification of labour and skill sets. You don’t attempt to learn how to do it, you just play your own small part in the system and buy the rest! Just  give in and buy everything, whatever you need. This is the age of consumerism and conspicuous consumption. It’s not what I aspire to, so I have to deal with my own problems that I create for myself in choosing this engaged life.
I have managed to cope with this issue of wearing myself out over the last couple of decades, as I’ve aged, by finding and restoring old bits of machinery that would make the hard work a little bit easier. Machines like rock crushers and hydraulic wood splitters, but now, even using them to do the really tough work. I’m still finding it a bit tiring.
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We rejoice in our good fortune and the good will of all those around us who have helped us along on this journey ‘up-river’ into the Heart of Tenmoku Darkness, to stalk the wild tenmoku in its native state and natural surroundings. We have drunk our last cup of green tea from the lip of the tenmoku bowl in its rightful place. Separating lip from lip, I return the bowl to the table. This journey is almost over.
We decide to celebrate with a smack-up meal in one of the little food-sellers shops along the road.
You guessed it, more jowls and bowels – with chilli, Yum!
Best wishes from Marlow and Willard returning from the lip of the Heart of Darkness