ART Gallery of NSW

I’ve had some very good news to end this year. A couple of months ago the Art Gallery of NSW purchased 12 pieces of my ceramics for the collection.

They wanted a selection of my ‘5 Stones’ sericite porcelain stone bowls. A pair of bowls from each of the two Australian sites that I discovered and developed over the past 20 years, and 2 each from the other sites in Korea, China, Japan and Cornwall in the UK, where I spent time researching and collecting samples from ancient sites and quarries over that time

I’m very pleased to be in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection. When I started out on this experiment almost 20 years ago I had no idea how it would pan out and change my life. I’ve always worked I was brought up without formal religion in a loosely buddhist/Quaker background, in a ‘green’ household, long before ‘The Greens’ were invented. Where the values of Humanism and environmental concerns were high on the agenda. The saying, atributed to Aristotle, “Give me the boy till he is seven, and I’ll give you the man”, couldn’t be truer in my case. I am that man.

So, thinking of the environmental/humanitarian consequences of my actions is in the fore-front of my mind in every activity each day. It is the way that I approach everything in my life, so using what is naturally available around me for free, has always seemed preferable to buying some sort of imported, manufactured, product from a shop. Hence my self-reliant lifestyle, from food to fuel, to shelter, all the way through to my creative aspirations.

I seem to have become an expert on hand made sericite porcelain, with a few of my books being translated into both French and Korean. It’s not that what I do is so hard to achieve, it’s more a case of it being so ‘out-there’ in a weird and exotic kind of way, such that no body else in their right mind would want to do it.

Now, as I said before, I’m so very pleased to have this important 2 decades of research and creative work in the AG NSW collection. I think that it will be an important resource for future generations who might want to know more about this holistic approach to living, thinking and making.

I have to thank several people, my agent, Sonia Legge, and particularly Glenn Barkley for proposing the development of a ceramics acquisition program for the gallery here in NSW in his Presentation on the ‘Red Clay Rambler’ podcast. Then I have to thank Vicki Grimma for donating a significant amount of money to the Gallery to fund some of the acquisitions. Lastly but not least, I have to thank Wayne Tunnicliffe at the Art Gallery of NSW for his support. There are of course others that need to be thanked, like my partner Janine King and friends and associates that gave advice and support along the way too numerous to name individually, but thank you to you also.

I don’t know the full story of how it all came to pass. I don’t move in those sorts of circles. I grow fruit and vegetables, make pots from stones and do a bit of writing. However, I’m really pleased that my work has been recognised. I didn’t set out to do something ‘special’. I just started following my inclination and my inquisitive nature led me here, to explore and research on and on, and this is where I’ve ended up.

It’s a good place to be.

After the fire – one year on

The summer solstice has passed in a very different way from this time last year. Last year we were in a prolonged draught and then on the 21st the catastrophic fire that ended our year. This year has been wetter and everything is starting to look green. We spent the first 6 months of the year cleaning up burnt buildings, garden and dead blackened trees and stumps.

I’m really glad that the cleaning up part is over now, it was so depressing working with blackened, charcoal covered stuff every day. I eventually developed an allergy to the black sooty charcoal dust. Anyway, I’m really glad that that part is over with. Since mid year, we have been more constructively involved in the rebuilding. We moved the orchard over winter to the front of the land along the road. We built a fire resistant fence along the street frontage, all 110 metres of it. It is almost finished, just 3 metres to go. We built a stone retaining wall where the orchard was and levelled the site in preparation for the new pottery shed. Then things slowed down.

We paid for the new tin shed on the first of July with an expected 5 week delay while the steel components were to be manufactured in the factory in Campbelltown. 5 weeks turned in to 5 months and we are just having the builders here now this last couple of weeks. They told us that they would be finished, with the job at Lock-up stage by Xmas, and so it came to pass. They finished the last roof yesterday evening and took off. The only thing that they left behind was a pile of off-cuts of rusty old gal roofing, 3 huge bags of plastic wrapping and a bill for $28,000 for the work. Oh! and about 2,000 dropped tek screws in and around the job site!

This has to rate as one of the best Xmas presents that I have ever had!

The next job is to dig all the trenches around the shed for the down pipes to carry the rain water collected off the roof, down into the 2 huge 120,000 litre water tanks that haven’t had any water flowing into them for the past year.

The garden is still feeding us with loads of zucchinis, tomatoes, cucumbers, the first of the hot chillis and the last of the broccoli. We have finished all the young berries and logan berries. but the blue berries are in full swing. We have harvested almost 10 kgs so far this summer and we are only just past half way in the season.

We are eating a lot of grilled zucchinis, steamed zucchinis, zucchini fritters and stuffed zucchini flowers at the moment. I will insist on eating with the seasons!

Zucchini flowers stuffed with seasoned, low fat, cottage cheese .
Zucchini flowers with Zucchini, with Zucchini, with cucumber in garlic and yoghurt dressing

Wishing everyone a relaxed, quiet, cover safe, non-commercial seasonal break.

Berry Tart – Eating with the Seasons

It’s been so wet this last week that the builders have given up and left. There is more rain forecast right up until Xmas, so It looks like there is nothing to be done except wait. I’m getting used to that. It doesn’t look like we will have a new pottery building until next year now.

In the mean time, the berry crop continues to ripen, although it will be coming to an end soon. During the rain, I am mostly spending my time inside, I have reprinted my ‘Laid Back Wood Firing’ and ‘5 Stones’ books, as I have completely sold out. Damned Xmas Shoppers! 🙂

Yesterday I spent a little bit of time in the kitchen baking. I tried making a berry tart using our current crop of Youngberries and Loganberries. They are a bit more juicy than the Mulberries that I have been using so far this season, so the recipe had to be adjusted to allow for the extra moisture in the berries.

It has come out pretty well, but I think that I need just one more try to make sure that it is as good as I can make it. I was thinking that I might dust it with a bit of powdered icing sugar, but it smelt and looked so appetising and delicious, that we ate some of it straight away, then the rest later. We just managed to save a small amount to give to our neighbours when they called in for a visit.

The blueberry crop is well under way now, so the next baking adventure is a blueberry tart.

We have so many blueberries coming ripe just now, Janine harvests a bowl full each day at the moment. This recipe for fruit tart is very old and I have used it for a long time to make prune and almond tart, but it also works really well with sweetened and spiced lightly stewed pear slices.

So using todays blueberry crop I made a blueberry and almond tart.

400g of blueberries, soaked in a little brandy + 1 egg + 35 g of almond flour + 55 g of sugar.

After soaking the fruit for half an hour, drain off the brandy, mix it into 200g of mascarpone and add the almond, egg and sugar, then mix well.

Blind bake a pastry base , add half of the berries, pour over the almond mix, then pour the rest of the berries on top.

Bake at 190 oC for 45 mins

This is self-reliance, living and eating with the seasons.

First Peaches of the Summer

We are only 10 days into summer and we already have both our first tomatoes and now our first peaches. We’ve been picking zucchinis and cucumbers for weeks already. Nothing quite like the flavours, tastes and aromas of the summer garden. Although this all sounds idyllic, it’s possible because of the worlds unabated consumption of carbon based energy. With global heating racing away, unabated like it is and coupled with an embarrassing total lack of political will here in Australia. We also have to accept the changing weather patterns associated with all this heat, like catastrophic bush fires and massive storms. From someone who has lived through a catastrophic fire event. I can clearly say that I’d rather not have to experience it again and the early tomatoes are not worth it.

Back in the garden, the pumpkins that I planted on the 12th of September are now 3 months old and taking over the bottom of the garden.

From this to…
to this!
They are setting a nice crop.

Strangely, we are just harvesting our citrus crop now almost half a year out of seasonal sync. We should be picking them in the winter. Everything has been dislocated by the extreme weather and the catastrophic fire event. All the citrus got burnt, some very badly, such that we lost half of the trees facing the pottery as it burnt. The citrus grove was planted next to, and on the north side of the pottery, using the building to protect the trees from the worst of the winter’s southerly winds. Sheilded in this way and facing the north winter sun, they were in a bit of a sun trap and it suited them very well. We had good crops.

After the fire we watered them well for the first few weeks, whenever we could find the time during the clean-up. Sometimes this meant in the dark before dinner at 9.00pm. The result was that they all re-shot leaves, some only on half the tree that wasn’t so badly burnt. They went on to flower again as if it was a new year, but totally out of sync. We got the strange out of season crop and they then flowered again out of sync, such that we are now harvesting again in summer and not winter.

The entire right hand side of this tree was so badly burnt that it has remained completely dead and needs pruning off. I’m hoping that the tree will eventually put out new shoots on the right hand side and balance itself up.

Apart from the strangeness of it all. They are probably suffering from PTCD. Post Traumatic Citrus Disorder! Also, when the fruit is ready, it isn’t the usual colour. For instance, the tangelos are pale yellow like lemons instead of bright orange. While the lemonades are green like limes instead of yellow. Strange times. I assume that they will slowly revert to the normal seasonal flowering and fruiting regime over time?

All the peach trees were burnt in the stone fruit orchard, but just before the fire. I had lifted two of the smaller trees that were doing very badly in the draught, as I couldn’t keep enough water up to them. I put one of them into a big plastic tub that was hanging around and the other into a large synthetic plastic fibre plant bag that someone had given us. I placed them in the veggie garden where I could water them better, just to see if they would survive. They had recovered well and are now ready to plant out again, but because they had flowered and set fruit, we thought it better to let the fruit ripen and plant them out next winter when they will be dormant.

The out come is that we have a dozen small peaches ripening. Amazing!

The out come is that we have a dozen small peaches ripening. Amazing! And so unexpected. Janine also picked the first apricot off one of the newly planted stone fruit orchard trees. Where the trees were doing well and growing strongly, I left one piece of fruit on each tree that I thought could cope with a ripening fruit and still grow well. That applied to one apricot, one almond and two apple trees. I just couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing and tasting the new fruit varieties.

The pottery shed is slowly progressing. Today the builders are putting the roof on the pottery studio. That is really good to see. It was ready to roof yesterday, but it was windy and slightly foggy and damp, making it too slippery and too difficult to roll out the silver roofing insulation in the wind. Today is calm and overcast but not wet, so it’s all go on the roof. I can hardly wait to get inside and see how the light is in there. We now have two roofs on. the kiln room and the creative studio.

I spent a long time working out how to get the best light, at the lowest cost, but not interfering with the structural strength, allowing for enough metal strap ‘X’ bracing, covered with corrugated sheeting to provide sufficient structural wind resistance strength. I’m no engineer, but the shed company’s computer program allowed me to input different options, increasing the glass area until the ‘Computer says No!’

Edna the Chook, came in to check out the new studio too.

I then worked backwards from there, to find the biggest size of standard ‘off-the-shelf’ cheap aluminium windows that would fit the space. No use in paying double to get a custom window made that is only 100mm larger. So I back-tracked down to the best available size. We ended up with 4 windows that are 2.4m. x 1.2m. (8 feet x 4 feet) plus a sliding glass door that is 2.4m x 2.4m.

It will end up darker inside when it is lined and not so oppressively metallic and shiny.

Pottery Shed Progress

The builders have been working here for a couple of weeks now and there is some progress to show for it. Some days they arrive later and other times they leave early, then have to work on Saturday to make up the time lost. Who’d be a builder? Trying to keep everyone happy. They have more than one job on the go to keep fully employed. Today they aren’t here. They told me that they have to go back to finish off a small job that was waiting for a few extra parts.

I asked if they think that they will finish before Xmas and was told emphatically “Yes!” Anyway, time will tell. Things will happen and everything will get done eventually.

I have been working as the builders labourer here and there to help speed things up. I keep well out of their way, but let them know I’m always ready to help where needed.

I spend the beginning of each day getting things sorted for the builders, putting the various parts in place as they are needed. I don’t have to do this. I choose to do it to keep the pace of the build up. If there is something menial to do, then it’s better that I do it, so as to keep them being productive. Then throughout the day I spend my time in the temporary workshop shed restoring doors and building windows, getting them ready for the builders. Sometimes making custom ‘flashing’ from sheet steel on the guillotine and pan break. Then in the afternoon and evening I spend time sorting and cutting old sheets of iron ready for the next day.

Yesterday, I spent part of the day cutting up sheets of tin into small narrow strips to make the little facia on the verandahs. It’s fiddly and time consuming hunting through the piles of off-cuts of tin to find suitably rusty and patinated bits that all match, or are compatible aesthetically and are suitable for the use and then to order them to make a pleasing composition. They just didn’t get it at first, but now It’s working out OK. So far I’m happy with it.

Each day I hunt through the stacks of 2nd hand, corrugated iron looking for just the right ones that all go together with the same or at least compatible surface textures, colours and rusty patches that have developed on their surfaces over their previous life. The builders didn’t understand this at first. It took a few days to get them to tune in on our ‘weird’ artistic aesthetic. I love the ‘wabi-sabi’ nature of old matt grey and slightly rusty iron. The builder couldn’t understand this approach at first. He is used to making car ports and garages that are totally shiny and every line dead straight, with all the screw heads just the right colour to match the ‘colour-bond’ sheeting. I think that he found it quite confronting to be asked to use 2nd hand galvanised iron, with all its rusted patina, dents and quirky character.

To make it even harder for him, I have collected every sheet that I could scrounge, with total disregard to whether or not the different ages of sheeting, with their different variations of corrugated profiles would match. It turns out that something as simple as corrugated iron can come from different eras with different ‘standard’ profiles. So what I have learnt is that there is no ‘standard’, and that the shape changes every so often to suit the manufacturers needs, due to changes in manufacturing machinery and techniques. For instance, the oldest sheeting was rolled sideways and the newer sheeting is rolled lengthways, then there was the change from imperial measure to metric. Older sheeting is thicker and heavier, while the most recent lengths are much thinner, but made from high tensile steel.

It’s an eclectic mix of whatever I could scrounge over the past 6 months. However, with careful selection – given enough time, I have been able to go through all of the dozen piles and sort out the closest matches. I saved the best, most rustic sheets, for the side facing the house that we will see every day and also inside the pottery studio. The worst, and by this I mean the perfect, modern, coloured, ‘colour-bond’ sheeting, was set aside for the front of the building that will eventually be bricked up and covered over, using our left-over sandstock bricks from when we built the house many years ago. In this way the front of the pottery facing the street will have a similar colour and texture as the Old School building. This is an attempt to maintain the visual amenity of the street scape.

In other areas, where I have been forced to use up the mottled variations of ‘colour bond’ sheeting, green, blue, grey and cream. These will eventually be painted over. I secretly hope that I do such a bad job of this, that some of it starts to peel off and flake a bit, just to keep in relationship to some of the other flakey iron buildings on the site.

Other outer walls are just plain weathered grey gal iron look. I have to use whatever I could find. And it all has to be used, as I don’t have the luxury of having too much to choose from. It has turned out that each elevation of the complex of 5 attached sheds has its own unique ‘shed-scape’ character. It has been a little bit of an effort to explain to the builders every day, the importance to me of matching the so-called ‘shit iron’ look that I’m after. ‘Wabi-sabi’ doesn’t translate into the Australian Building code, and isn’t dealt with in the TAFE course in steel shed construction 101!

We have made progress though. The builder said to me yesterday that he thought that it has started to turn out OK. “It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would. That probably means that you are really happy with it”!

And I am!

First Tomatoes of the Summer

We harvested our first few tomatoes on Friday, 4th December. That is so early for us, reflecting on our more than 40 years of history here.

This variety is all folded wrinkly and is called Rouge de Marmande. It’s one of several different varieties that I planted this season. There a many more on the way just turning colour now. I’m really looking forward to cooking up some of our summer garden ‘passata’ or ‘sugo’ sauce.

The thing that I really enjoy most at this early stage of the season, is just brushing past the tomato bushes while weeding or watering and getting that distinctive smell, that the leaves give off when touched. That’s the promise of summer. My mouth is watering at the thought of it.