My New Book – 5 Stones

IMG_7383205 pages, 125,000 words, full colour, soft cover. Written, collated, printed and bound on the kitchen table. A very limited edition hand made book.

I have spent the last few weeks and months editing and formatting my new book. This will be my 6th book and 7th if I include my contribution to Handbook for Australian Potters.

This new Book is titled 5 Stones, and details my recent research into single stone porcelain. The book will be launched by Grace Cochrane at the opening of my show at Watters Gallery on Wednesday 16th of August from 6 to 8 pm. I have a selection of single stone porcelain from all 11 sites on show in the exhibition.

15 years ago, I discovered a white porcelain stone near where I live. It made me think about where else porcelain has been discovered and when. Over the past 15 years, I have travelled to each of the places in the world where porcelain was originally discovered/invented independently from first principles and found that they all had something in common, and that thing was a stone called ‘sericite’. It turns out that originally, porcelain wasn’t made from the white clay at all. Kaolin wasn’t involved. All the original porcelains were made from a special type of stone called mica.
My travels led me to China, Korea, Japan, Cornwall, France and Germany. I even developed communications with academics in California, Alaska and London. Then finally back to Mittagong in Australia. Near to where I started.  I have made my porcelain pieces out of these weird and interesting materials in remote villages, artist studios, back rooms, workshops, even factories. Where-ever I could track down and find amenable people using this ancient technique who were open to collaboration. 
At each site that I visited I made works out of the local porcelain stone, but I also used the opportunity to collect samples of their stone and posted these rocks back to Australia where I could process them myself and make local, contemporary versions of these ancient porcelains. I collected native porcelain stone material from 11 sites around the world and have made what I think are beautiful pots from them, both on-site, where that was still possible and back at home in my own workshop. 
This exhibition shows results of my firings and 15 years of research into these single-stone native porcelains. To coincide with this show I have written a travel journal documenting my travels. My book, titled ‘5 Stones’ will be launched at the opening by Grace Cochrane. The book stands alone in its own right as a travellers tale, as it has its own characters and arc of narrative, but also helps to illuminate the story behind the actual works on display in the show.
I have works in the show that were fired on-site in clean conditions to give very white and translucent pieces and I also have the same materials fired at home in my wood fired kiln with very different results.
4 of the 11 examples are made from porcelain that is no longer available, as 2 of the sites are lost forever and another two have complications.
I consider my self very lucky to have been able to get my hands on all of these ancient and very special porcelain materials. This will be the first and only time that all these porcelain ‘clays’ have ever been shown together in the one place.
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Unglazed and flashed wood fired Arita porcelain
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Wood fired and celadon glazed Japanese porcelain, fired in my kiln in Balamoral.
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Korean porcelain made onsite in Korea
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Woodfired Japanese porcelain
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My woodfired local Joadja porcelain, showing some carbon inclusion on rim and base.
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Korean porcelain stone body, woodfired in my studio.
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Amakusa porcelain from Japan, made in Arita.
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My local Joadja Aplite porcelain, wood fired with a lot of ember and ash contact. The intense carbon inclusion reduces the translucency.
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My local Joadja Aplite porcelain, wood fired with ember and ash contact.

Frosty Mornings, Lovely Days.

 

We wake to a cracking frost this morning. We have had a few good ones these last few weeks. It’s neither good nor bad, it’s just what it is. The frost has killed off every soft and vulnerable plant in the garden that were struggling on through the cold weather and short days. Plants like basil, just turn up their toes at the slightest hint of cold, quite early on in the season. The first really cool shift in the weather makes them lose a lot of their leaves. The next cold snap, especially if there is a cold wind with it and they are gone till we replant them in the spring.

Tomatoes hang on a lot longer, but the first light frost or near frost makes them lose their leaves. Funnily the lingering un-ripe fruit isn’t affected and can be brought into the kitchen and ripened on the window sill over the next few weeks.

Nasturtiums and capsicums seem to be able to tolerate a light frost and remain intact, although not exactly thriving. However, this mornings beauty has put an end to everything that was gamely battling on. This spells the end of the lingering autumn stragglers.

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What is great about a period of good solid frosts, is that they benefit the plants that have excellent frost tolerance and even rely on the freezing to establish the ‘chill-factor’ chemicals in the new growth that will emerge as fruiting buds in the spring. Some varieties of fruit trees need a good chill to become fertile. All the older varieties of plants like apples, pears, the stone fruits and particularly hazel nuts, need to get a hundred or more hours of below 4oC temperatures. If they don’t, the flowers cannot become fertile in the next growing season. A few years ago, we had a winter here without frost and didn’t get any fruit set on any of the apples or pears.

Hazels and filberts have slightly different origins, with one being rounder and the other more ovoid. Filberts have a longer skirt on the outer shell. They both seem to have originated in Asia minor/Turkey, but have been developed into stronger and more prolific bearers of larger nuts over the long period of domestication.

Hazel/filbert nuts are reliant on a high number of cold nights to establish their chill factor chemistry. A lot of work has been done on breeding local varieties of low chill factor nuts here in Australian in the post war period. In Australia, we just don’t get the sort of winters that are common in north America and Europe. However, we just happen to have a hazelnut farm research station near us here in the Southern Highlands.

We have been able to buy grafted varieties of local hazels that have been bred to fruit in warmer low chill areas like here. We have these low-chill fruiting hazel/filbert nut trees inter-planted in the nut grove with others that are inoculated with French black Perigord truffle fungus. We are hoping that the spores will spread to all of the other hazel/filbert trees at some time in the future.

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A good bit of cold weather really helps to colour up the citrus and sweetens the Brussel sprouts. In the mean time the frost looks great on the surviving plants until the sun comes up and melts it away.

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The sun shines and the days are glorious, as long as there is no wind.

When the weather changes and the wind blows off the snow. There is no frost but the days can be bleak. When we came here, the locals described it as a lazy wind. It doesn’t blow around you, but rather, straight through you.

My Last Wood Firing

I have just completed my last wood firing before my show at Watters Gallery that is coming up very soon. Opening on the 16th of August. I managed to sneak in one of my own firings through my kiln in-between the two low temperature wood firing weekends. I woke up exceptionally early for this firing for some unknown reason. I usually get started early around 4.00 am, but on this occasion I’m wide awake at 3.00 am. So I get up and down to the kiln and get started. No reason to just lay in bed waiting for 4 am. It all goes very well, smooth and easy. Everything just so.

I have all the wood prepared before hand and stacked on the truck just outside the kiln shed. I work through the hours of the late night/early morning. There is a solid  chill in the still air. It gets decidedly colder closer to the dawn. I have to wrap a towel around my neck in place of a scarf. I didn’t bring a scarf down to the kiln shed with me when I came dawn, and I don’t want to go back into the bedroom and risk waking Janine.

The kiln isn’t warm enough yet to give off any heat, even though I’m snuggling up close to it, there is very little reward. I can hear the dawn about to break in the sudden emergence of bird song from the surrounding trees. The birds know what time it is, even though it is still dark to my eyes.

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I loaded my truck with hob wood for this firing yesterday and parked just outside the kiln shed. One load like this is enough to fire my kiln. Today I’m using a mixture of half local pine, one quarter Stringybark from our land and the other quarter is cherry ballard from just near the wood shed. Although the truck is just outside, I can’t see it in the dark, as there is no moon showing through the cloud tonight. However, as the dawn breaks the truck become visible, and through out the day, as the firing progresses, we slowly whittle away at the stack until it is almost gone. Just enough in reserve to allow for contingencies. The chickens are always hanging around to help us do what ever it is that we are doing. Today they are fascinated by kiln firing and wood stacking. You never can tell when a termite or cockroach might appear from under the bark of a piece of wood.

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The morning breaks to reveal a lovely frost.

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Weekend Woodfiring Workshop

Winter brings on the season of wood firing workshops. We can fire our wood fired kilns almost all year round. With the only exception being the days of total fire bans in summer. We cope with this restriction, by packing the kiln as soon as the work is ready to fire and then we sit and wait until the fire restrictions are lifted, usually after a patch of rain. The pots can sit in the kiln comfortably for any length of time, as long as the kiln is sealed, so that no little animals can get in. We haven’t had  to wait long, a few weeks at most.

However. we can’t run a workshop kiln firing schedule on this basis. If we book in dates to run a wood firing weekend, then it has to go ahead as planned. Everybody has made their planes around the dates and is relying on it. We can’t cancel at the last-minute due to a fire ban. Our solution is to only book dates that are outside the likely fireban season.

We have had 3 weekend firing workshops over the past month since I returned from my last research trip to Korea. We were lucky to be blessed with fine weather most of the time. We are getting cold frosty nights, but many of the days are wind-free and warm in the sunshine.

We spend most of the week in-between each workshop in preparation, cleaning up and transforming the space into a safe, functional firing environment. We also spend a lot of time collecting and preparing the wood. We use mostly dead wind-fall branches from our eucalyptus forest around the house and dams. throughout the year, these branches fall to the ground and need to be collected up and stacked, out-of-the-way, so as to keep the ground clear for mowing through the hot months for bushfire protection. This stack then needs to be sorted and cut or broken-up to a suitable length. The smallest twigs go to kindling and the first part of the firing. Thicker pieces up to 50 or 60 mm. dia. are used as-is for the main part of the firing, and anything larger is cut to length with the chain saw and taken up to the wood shed and split into suitable thickness, then returned to the kiln site. It all takes time, but the chickens help. They just love to be at the centre of the action.

We tell ourselves that all this exercise it is probably good for us 🙂

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Throughout the year I get fire bricks, stainless steel sheets and all sorts of other material delivered here on Pallets. Some of them. The ones with beautiful straight-grained wood, get dismantled and used for building things. It takes quite a bit of effort to dismantle a modern pallet. They are assembled with gang nailed corners and hot glued nails from the nail gun. I spend a fair amount of time priseing them apart and de-nailing them to save the wood in good re-usable condition. A successful pallet re-cycling session gives me a great sense of achievement – and usually a sore back and shoulders from all the bending, lifting, stretching, levering and hammering. But it’s worth it. I hate to see good wood wasted. It’s just another small step towards self-reliance, through making do, recycling and making the most of what we’ve got.

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As we have 11 workshops booked in for this winter. We will need a lot more wood, than has fallen from the trees around the house over the summer. Janine has been making expeditions out into the ‘wild woods’ farthest from the house to drag back dead limbs to add to our stock. For this firing I also called in to visit the local mower shop. He gets a lot of his machinery delivered on Pallets and he has to pay to take them to the tip/recycling centre, So they are happy for me to remove them for them.

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One of these pallets is a monster. It has bearers with a cross-section of 200 x 100 mm. and beautiful solid decking of 25 x 150 or 200. All beautifully straight-grained and knot free. I made an effort to keep it all as pristine as possible. It’s so nice that I think that I may be able to make a beautiful chair out of it for the house. There are of course also a lot of ugly pallets. These are easy to deal with, because all I do is chainsaw off the ends of each side and the pallet falls apart into perfectly usable thin lengths of fire wood.

The students turn up knowing nothing of all this. The wood is ready and stacked in the trailer on-site. The kilns are all prepared and the glazes are out on the table. The days events proceed calmly and in an orderly fashion. Every thing happens as planned and the sun is warm in the middle of the day. Everyone seems happy.

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The result of all this effort on everyones part is some beautiful pots.

Marmalade and Mushroom Sauce

I’m home and it is mid winter. Everything is dull and bleak. The sun is low in the sky and the days are short. The trees are bare and there isn’t a lot of variety in the garden. I can pick a goodly sized parsnip and carrot. A hand full of broccoli and some Brussel sprouts. This will be dinner with the addition of some potatoes from the kitchen store.

We have the basket of goodies at the sink ready to wash when our neighbour John drops in on an errand. He sits down for a chat and we share a beer. He tells us that his favourite butcher has just given him a kilo of eye fillet in exchange for a favour. He asked what we will be eating for dinner. I show him the garden bounty, all freshly picked at the sink.

He looks quite concerned. “Are you really going to eat that! That’s it for dinner?”

Yes indeed. That is what we are going to eat. “Why?”

He mutters something along the lines of “You poor hapless bastards!” “for f*%$#’s sake, don’t you have any real food in the house?”

He tells us that we should come to his place and he’ll feed us up. He adds, “Bring your veggies, I’ll cook the steak.”  We do, and he does. He has a special sauce for the steak. It’s delicious. He asks us what we think is in it. I can see mushrooms. I can taste a soupçon of ginger, there is pepper and salt, all the usual suspects, but there is something else that I just can’t guess. It turns out to be a spoonful of our very own marmalade that we gave them the week before. It’s a really interesting and delicious sauce.