I’m here in the very pleasant little village of Bangsan, just outside of JungGu. Porcelain stone has been mined here since the 1300’s. It isn’t known exactly when. But a ‘stash’ or ‘horde’ of porcelain and silver ware was unearthed up on top of a local mountain when some workers were building a fire break. The box contained a few porcelain pots, two of which have inscriptions carved into them. One indicates quite clearly that it was made in the Koryo dynasty. 918 to 1392. I know this because the Yang gu Porcelain Museum on-site here has the pieces in its current exhibition. I’m lucky to be here at just the right time.
There is still some of the porcelain stone still around. At one stock pile site that I walked up to. It was stacked up in rows of stock piles that dated back centuries. Apparently, This was all the reject stuff that wasn’t good enough for the pots of Royal Patronage, possibly because it had a few iron spots? This material has sharp edges and looks hard, but shatters easily. It is mentioned in historical documents as being transported out of here to other places for manufacture of porcelain under Royal decree at the rate of 70 to 80 tonnes per year, since the Koryo dynasty. Usually transported down the river twice a year at times of high water in spring and autumn, although some porcelain was made here onsite too. Large amounts of the stone were won and stock piled, then suddenly the trade seems to have stopped and the stock piles remained untouched until recent times.
Although the original mine site of this particular stock pile is completely unknown. That is, until very recently. It was known to have been mined somewhere around here. There is an ancient kiln site across the river from where I sit and write just now. The site has been excavated and preserved. Covered with an impressive shed to keep the weather and shard hunters out. Then, just behind it. Higher up the hill, there is a museum of the sherds that were unearthed during the dig. Porcelain has most certainly been made on site here for a very long time.
Now this following part must be taken with a grain of salt, as it is third-hand via interpretation. So maybe I’m completely of the mark, but as I understand it. A few years ago the current source of the Yang Gu sericite was discovered. There was a bad flood that changed the banks of the river that flows through the village here. It exposed some material that looked promising. A few years later, there was a severe drought and the river level dropped dramatically. This allowed Mr Jung, the Director of the Porcelain museum here, to get in and excavate some samples. It turned out to be sericite, so a large machine was brought in and the lens of sericite was removed to higher ground and stock piled.
It seems that the old kiln was built on the banks of the river here for a reason. I notice that there is a leat let into the banks of the river just below the kiln. Possibly to run a water driven clay crushing hammer in the past? I’ve seen exactly this in other countries like China and Japan, where porcelain is made! It all comes together? There are a few examples of replica water hammers around the village. Non of them working, just for show these days.
The original Yang Gu sericite material from the stock pile site is a hard, glassy, stone like many other porcelain stones that I’ve seen. However, the new material is somewhat softer and more friable. I can crush it with my fingers. I imagined, when I first saw and felt the raw material in the stock pile. That it might be some sort of kaolin based clay. It reminded me of my ‘Mafia’ deposit of halloysite/illite/quartz/felspar, near Mittagong at home. However, this proved to be completely wrong. I’ve had my samples from my last trip analysed and the material here is almost totally composed of sericite and some quartz. I must say that it is amazingly plastic, for a body that is almost completely free of clay. I say almost, because the material is so glassy and fusible at high temperatures, that Mr Jung has brought in some sericite with a kaolin component to firm it up a bit at stoneware temperatures. This material comes from JinJu farther south. I really had no idea of just how plastic mica could be. This place is pretty special. I consider myself very lucky to be able to be here and enjoy these amazing experiences.
I am being housed during my stay here, in a student residency building about two kms away from the workshop. I am currently the only person in the place, as it is the first days of summer and all the other residents are away on summer holidays. I do the 2 km walk each day to the workshop and back along the river.
The river is very lovely. It’s low water at the moment, but still running consistently and clear. I can see from the detritus that is hooked up on the iron work along the top of the old bridge, that high water can be at least 7 metres high and possibly more. There is a water bird working the shallow shingle rapids along the river bed. He’s very fast and efficient. He seems to be catching something every minute of so. I see him sunning himself on one occasion sitting alone, up on a rock. I know how he feels.
This morning the weather was foggy and overcast. There was a beautiful mist hovering around the mountains. Their silhouette is reflected in the water of the rice fields. The rice has doubled in size since I arrived. Lots of water and some warm weather is all it needs.