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.

 

 

Korea is such a great place

Janine and I have been invited back to Korea. I have been here several times to do research into Sericite porcelain. I was invited last year to give the Key Note address to the first International Porcelain Conference, along with other speakers from Japan and China, as well as local Korean presenters.

I have spent all my life researching the use of local stones and other endemic materials for use in ceramics. A somewhat weird but very interesting and rewarding hobby. I have spent the best part of the last 20 years specialising in research into the use of Sericite in single stone porcelain bodies. That research got me the guernsey to last years conference. While I was there, I gave a copy of my latest book ‘5 Stones’ to the director of the Porcelain Museum and Research Centre. It turned out to be a very rewarding gift, as Mr Jung, the Director of the Museum must have been impressed, he invited me back again this year to speak about the book.

The Yanggu Porcelain Museum and Research Centre together with sponsorship from the Yanggu Gangwondo Min Ilbo Daily Newspaper have bought the rights to translate and publish the book in Korea. We get free return tickets and an advance royalty so that we can meet with the translator and publisher to set out the ‘tone’ and final content of the Korean edition. The book is about my 15 year research in 5 countries investigating endemic sericite porcelain and its history over a thousand-year period.

The story takes place back and forth between China, Korea, Japan, the UK and Australia with plenty of asides and digressions as I blunder about like the proverbial bull in the China shop smashing my way through cultural niceties and taboos with some incompetence and plenty of ignorance. It’s not so much a scholarly work as a light-weight travel journal. I’m not too sure what the translator will make of the puns, ceramic in-jokes and Australian/Western cultural references. I have already done a Korean-sensitive re-write and edit to make it specifically more appropriate to a Korean reader. As it stood in the original edition, about a third of the book took place in Korea, as Korea is such a culturally fertile place for porcelain with its extensive ceramic history.

I was so lucky to have all the stars align for me a few years ago when I first decided to go to Korea and try my luck in finding a few sites where porcelain had been independently invented and developed locally. I couldn’t have been luckier as it turned out. One of my past students from the Art School, ‘Clauda’, has now become a very popular teacher herself and just happened to have a Korean student in her class. When she heard that I was planning a research trip to Korea, she asked her student ‘Jane’ if she had any contacts that might be helpful to me. It just so happened that Jane’s brother is a potter in Korea. He invited me to visit him and offered me work space in his studio. He also knew an under-employed ex-employee/friend who could speak good English and was interested in a temporary job as my driver and translator.

It couldn’t have worked out better. I was beyond lucky. Miss Kang turned out to be the most amazing person. Creative, enthusiastic, engaged, interested and as a ceramic graduate, knew enough about my interests to make excellent decisions and able to do research into each topic that I mentioned in our conversation as we drove about the country. I found her to be very quiet and reserved at first. Very measured in all her conversation. However, over the first few days of being crammed together in her small car, we developed a working relationship that turned out to be very productive.

As it turned out, my two-day offer of work organically developed into a very long road trip that lasted a couple of weeks and covered a lot of the county, as Miss Kang followed up leads on her phone, ‘googling’ and ‘Navering’ various locations and key words. Initially, she had no knowledge of sericite or single stone porcelain. Her knowledge was all of contemporary Korean ceramics. Together we learnt many things about Korean historical porcelain and its development. We discovered several historical porcelain stone sites and were able to collect a lot of samples for me to post back to Australia for analysis.

I had initially offered her this small job to drive me from near Seoul, down to the south of the country to visit an ancient porcelain site, stay over night and then she would return home, leaving me there to do research. I was to meet up with another Korean potter, Mr Ji, a contact that I had made remotely, by email, from Australia. Mr Ji lived locally, and it was he who was to take me to another site and so on, following whatever leads I could find. It was my intension to do all this other follow-on research by public transport. However, Miss Kang became interested in the detective work of the research and stayed on for the duration of where-ever the leads took me. I couldn’t have been more fortunate. She turned out to be one of the most resourceful people I have ever worked with. I couldn’t have written the Korean chapters of the book without her research.

Through this chain of fortuitous events, my book ‘5 Stones’ became a reality along with my exhibition at Watters Gallery of my porcelain. So here we are in Korea again for the 5th time. We have been given our return air fares to make another presentation at this years porcelain forum, meet the people involved in the funding and production of the book. Work with the translator, catch up with Mr Jung in Yanggu, take part in an extended wood firing in the Porcelain Centres traditional 5 chambered wood kiln, then also spend a weekend with Miss Kang in Seoul, as she has now become a good friend and we couldn’t visit Korea these days without taking time to catch up with her.

Korea is such a great place for me to be.

Cornwall and Devon

After leaving Wales, We drive to Cornwall to meet up with our old friend Joanie. It was Joanie who volunteered to be my ‘get-away-driver’ last year on my last visit. This time we know where we need to go and what to do to collect another few kilos of Sericite porcelain stone. It’s a trivial matter this time, rather than the week-long epic of last year.

While we have a few days with Joanie, we decide to walk over the causeway to St Michael’s Mount. It’s a really interesting place, we end up spending the entire day there and miss the return tide window of opportunity, so have to catch the small boat back at high tide.

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The tide comes back in while we are still at the summit and we see people wading back  across the causeway in chest high water, until it becomes impossible.

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We enjoy lunch and afternoon tea on the island taking in the full tour of the old house/castle. A really enjoyable and informative day taking in all the history of the ancient site.

After a few very relaxed days with Joanie, we move on to Devon to visit our friend and fellow wood firer, Svend Bayer at this new pottery kiln site in Kigbear. Svend has decided to sell up in Sheepwash and move on to the next phase of his life. We really love the ancient thatched roof, cob cottage in Sheep wash, but times change, as do we, everything changes. We must adapt. It really is an exquisite place. So romantic!

We are lucky enough to get to see assembled, an amazing collection of Svend’s best works, collected over the last few years of firings here at Sheepwash.

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We are totally privileged and very lucky to turn up at just the right time to see all these wonderful, master works, before they are all exhibited and sold.

Svend’s new kiln, as might be expected, is pretty big. There are 5 potters sharing the kiln  firings at Kigbeare with Svend. It’s his way of training the next generation of wood firers, passing on the baton, by mentoring these lucky, and committed, next generation potters. It’s a huge kiln!

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We are lucky to turn up on the day of the un-packing of the kiln. There are pots everywhere. So many nice things to temp us. It’s the end of an era and the beginning of another. We are so lucky to be here to experience this moment.

We spend a few days here. The next day Svend takes us to see the local Museum at Bideford, with a great collection of local earthen ware pots.

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Earthenware pots have been made here for hundreds and hundreds of years. This is the home of the famous Fremington terracotta clay.

We call in at the Post Office after visiting the gallery, as the post office is just across the road. I have 5kg of sericite porcelain stones in a cardboard box all taped up and ready for post. I can’t carry this extra weight home on the plane. Svend is visibly shocked to hear that I just paid Au$250 for postage! he enquires how I can do this? I reply that last year I did the same and when I got home I processed the stones into its unique porcelain body and managed to get 3 very good pieces out of the firing. I sold them for $900, $750 and $500 respectively, through my Show of ‘5 Stones’ at Watters Gallery in Sydney. They were nice pieces and found good homes. The return covered the cost of the postage, but not the 3 months of processing, making and firing.

Still. I don’t do this to make money. If I wanted to make money, I’d have got a job. I want to live an interesting, engaged and well-considered life. As long as we can get by, I’m happy.

Tomorrow we travel on, making our way slowly back towards London.

From Side-stoking in Stoke to Wwoof-ing in Wales

Before we leave Stoke-on-Trent, we have to go to a local English restaurant and try the local fare. I have been told – and I don’t know if this is an urban myth or not – but the most popular dish in Britain is Chicken Tikka Marsala with mushy peas!

I haven’t even seen it on any menu, but I live in hope. We do try the local Indian and have a very nice meal. Shame about the mushy peas though!

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From Stoke we make the drive across country to Wales, which isn’t very far, half an hour and we are over the border. I read somewhere that there is no place in the UK that is more than 75 miles from the sea. That doesn’t seem very far, about 120 km. That is about as far as we live inland from the south coast beaches. We’ve been known to go to the beach for the day with Geordie when he was young. The difference is that we don’t have British traffic and narrow lanes.

The drive is uneventful and we are soon with our friends Annie and David. Annie is the daughter of Sally and John Seymour. The seymours were at the forefront of the post war self sufficiency movement in Britain. We met Sally Seymour when she called in to see us at our home here in the late seventies. She had our names from a common friend who she had known in the UK.

We didn’t know who she was, but welcomed her into our house as a guest. Only in conversation over the next day or so did it become apparent to us who she was and that we already owned a couple of her books, as we have always had an interest in Self-reliance. That is why we moved here, way out in the sticks, where we could afford a derelict ruin with acres to make our projected lifes ideals come to fruition.

Sally came and visited us a few times over the next decade and even stayed and worked in the pottery with Janine for a few months while I was away studying in Japan in the 80’s. Apart from all the hard physical work of pioneering self-sufficiency in Britain with her husband John Seymour, she also raised 4 children. Their life is a very inspiring story and can be read in a series of books, 3 of which we own.

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Sally is also an accomplished potter. She learnt from her mother who was largely self-taught, as I understand it. Sally did al the illustrations for their books.

There is a new edition of ‘Fat of the Land’

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These books are available from Carningli Press; <http://carninglipress.co.uk/index.php&gt;

Sally had a stroke a few years ago and now lives with her Daughter Annie and Annie’s her husband David on part of the original farm that Sally and John bought back in the 60’s.

Annie and David are continuing on with the family tradition of self-sufficiency. Annie makes pots and David makes furniture. Together they work a few acres with extensive vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

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We help Annie pick black currents. A very labour intensive job, as they are very tiny and are suck to the bush very tight. Each tiny little individual berry has to be individually pinched and picked off the cane. after picking, the currents are spread out in trays on the kitchen table and carefully sorted to remove any extraneous material that might have found its way into the bowls. Some of the currents are washed and frozen, others boiled for deserts and puddings and some are dried for storage.

We work in the sunshine in the garden while David goes about making the days batch of  a dozen sourdough loaves. The drought is all mixed by hand in small batches. The drought is left to ‘prove’ and rise in plastic bags to keep it humid and draught free, and from developing a hard, dry top which will prevent it from rising well.

David’s small organic bread-making business is just one of many small income streams that they survive on. All the bread is sold locally to people within just a few miles of their home. Mostly people come and collect directly, but David does make a few deliveries to a some customers a bit farther away, when he goes out to do other jobs.

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It’s a pleasure and an honour to be able to take part – in just a very brief way – in this wholesome and creative life experiment. it’s also great to be able to catch up with old friends like this, spending time doing the most menial of jobs while catching up on news and gossip.

We  have a day ‘out’ to visit a local archaeological site. An archaeologist has been working around here for the past 30 years, every summer, he brings his students from the University to do a dig locally. He has been looking for the site(s) where the Stone Henge capping stones came from 5,000 years ago. It is well-known that the capping lintels came from Wales and more specifically from the Preseli mountains around here near the Carningli peak.

This year he has finally found the exact site. They have unearthed a finished lintel stone ready for transport. It is all set up on wedges ready to have the wooden rollers inserted underneath. It is sitting on a flat stone-flagged path which leads directly down to the river at the bottom of the slope. Apparently, mineral analysis has proven that this is the exact same stone as is found on-site at Stone Henge. The rest of the excavation on site has been re-filled, but they left the stone uncovered.

To my mind, this answers two questions, where they came from and how they were moved. It’s pretty obvious to me that if they built a flat, paved, stone path down to the river, then they were floated away on a raft from here. Presumably to be shifted to a larger boat down near the coast and then sailed around to Wiltshire.

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Later we visit the standing stone ‘Dolman’ burial chamber. This grade stone triptych and capping stone would have originally been buried under a hill of soil.

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On the way home we call in to visit the local Community Hall, where archaeologists have excavated one of the oldest and best preserved roman era pottery kilns in Wales. it was covered by the stage in the hall for many years, now it’s all cleaned up and preserved behind glass. Back in the day, it seems that it was just too much work to pull it down, so they built the stage over it.

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Fond regards from Old South Wales.