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.

While the kiln cools

While I wait for my kiln to cool I have a day to look around. I am travelling with my friend Len Smith and our guide/translator Chen. We decide to take the few kilometre walk down town to the new Tao Xi Chuan Ceramic Centre. This was just in the early reconstruction stage 2 years ago, when I was last here. It is now open and looking very up market indeed. There were apparently 10 major government owned fine porcelain factories in Jindezhen before the economic reconstruction. There are now none, but this one has a new lease of life as an arts precinct. Now renamed as “Ceramic Art Avenue”.

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All the old factories have been cleaned out made into retail spaces, small workshops and cafes. The old kiln cars are re-purposed into planter boxes. It’s all very swish and up-market.

Later we catch the No 18 bus out to the Royal China Works. There is an excellent museum and a display centre where we watch the workers paint blue-on-white and poly-chrome enamels. The level of craftsmanship is astounding. Len was here earlier in the week for a meeting while I was head down and butt up throwing and turning. He tells me that he saw this same lady starting the drafting out of this vase. Now at the end of the week she is half way through it.

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Next we watch a bloke spend 5 mins painting 2cm of one colour of one part of a border decoration! The lines so steady, so fine and so consistent. Then the lady who is applying on glaze enamel, slowly but surely in-filling the original blue-on-white pattern.

Next we visit the throwing room to see a virtuoso thrower turn 60 kilos of clay into half of a 2 part pot. He has spent the morning making 20 bases and now close to 5 pm he is making the last of the 20 top sections. he rattles them off every 5 mins.

It is a 2 man job to centre the 60 kgs and then open it up and throw it out into the open vase form.

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They go at it with astonishing efficiency. The wedger has the next series of 15 kg lumps ready as the last pot is carried out the back to the drying area and the new pot is on its way.

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If I didn’t already feel a bit amateurish I surely do now.

45 seconds in the life of China

We have just watched an amazingly skillful potter make upwards of 700 pots in a day without seeming to put any effort into it, and without getting any clay splatter on himself either. Amazing!

This potter fills the workshop shelving to capacity in one day, then moves on to another workshop. He’s a professional thrower. Everyone here is a specialist. I explain to my guide and translator, Chen, that I do everything myself. He is amazed when I tell him that I do everything myself from digging the clay(stone), crushing and grinding it, to making the fire bricks for my kiln by hand. He just can’t get his head around it. Why don’t I just employ a specialist to do the boring bits? I tell him that it isn’t like that in Australia. There aren’t any specialists to call on.

Two days later we are back in the same workshop to see the ‘turner’ at work. He has arrived now that the pots are firmed up to trim the bases. He works in tandem with the ‘thrower’, following on behind him with a 2 day gap. They work together but never meet. Always separated by the drying period. The thrower has thrown 3/4 of a tonne of clay into these flower pots on this occasion. The turner guy has to trim them up into shape, removing the excess clay from the base and correcting the form if necessary around the rim and foot. He gets through 10 double-ended turning tools each day. Wearing them down to a level of bluntness where they no longer work efficiently enough and slow him down. He travels with a bag full of them.

I ask the turner guy through my friend and interpreter, Chen, how all this works out. The turner removes about a 1/4 of the weight of the pot. The bases are thick when thrown off the hump. The thrower doesn’t use a wire. It slows him down too much. He just twists the pot off the hump with a flick of his fingers, leaving a very thick base. The turner has to remove all of this. It takes the turner almost twice as long to turn the bases, as it takes the thrower to make the pot. However, the turner gets paid almost twice as much. The thrower gets 1.5 rmb. per pot. That’s 30 cents. The turner gets 2.5 rmb per pot. That’s 50 cents. The turner will be here for almost 2 days to clear the shelves.

It works out that these highly skilled guys are earning about Au$200 each day. That’s really good money in China. But their job-life expectancy is very low. They burn out fast. I ask politely through Chen, how long will he be doing this? 10 years is enough. It’s far too boring to do it for very long! What will he do next? He is saving money to start his own business. This is only a means to an end. A better future awaits him somewhere.

I ask what he does at night i.e. does he have a hobby or other interests? No! He just watches television while he sharpens all his blunt tools ready for the next day. I ask why he doesn’t use tungsten tipped tools? He replies that he doesn’t understand the question. After some probing, it transpires that he hasn’t even heard of such a thing. Everyone here uses these cheap, locally made, mild steel, black-smithed turning tools. They are cheap and readily available and easily sharpened with a hand file. They also go blunt very fast. He is used to spending a few hours each night filing them sharp.

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I notice that he uses a rubber glove and the cut-off fingers of a rubber glove on the other hand to stop the abrasion of the clay from wearing out the skin on his hands, just the same as I do. However, I only use the rubber finger stall on one finger

I ask him what he thinks about all the dry clay dust floating off the turnings. Why isn’t he wearing a mask? He is generating a small mountain of dust all around himself. I can’t even see the wheel, as all the turnings are piled up and flowing down and away in a cascade of dust. He doesn’t understand this question either. I explain, through Chen, that clay dust causes lung disease if inhaled over a long period of time. He replies that he has never heard of this theory. Neither has Chen. I leave it there. I have sown the seed.

When these pots are bone dry the glazer will turn up and spray the glaze on them. That will take a couple of days. Finally they will be passed on to the decorating girl. She seems to work 7 days a week and hand paints each one. She does about 100 per day. It’s a never ending job. The thrower will be back next week, as soon as the shelves are emptied. This team seem to keep half a dozen potteries busy.

On the way home I can’t help but photograph the amazing wiring that is in use here. As the holder of a limited electrical licence, I’m quite in awe. I love the dual function of clothes line and high voltage wiring.

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China is an amazing place. I’ve been thinking about these amazing potter specialists here. As I place my own few pots out in the laneway, in the sun to dry. I’m thinking, one pot every 45 seconds! I reflect that I have been here for 2 weeks and so far only managed to make forty-five 2nds! I live in hope.

From the Jaded Economy to the Jade Empire

I’m safely returned from my most recent sojourn in China. I was there to experience the amazing porcelain stone that they have there. This is an amazing rock! When milled up into a fine paste and wetted down. It releases its clay and mica content into solution in a water suspended state. This ‘slip’ can then be processed into clay body as we know it. These days, this slip is stiffened up to plastic form in a filter press and then pugged and bagged. But it was only 12 years ago when I was here that I saw it being pounded and crushed by water driven wooden hammers, then blunged by hand and stiffened on drying beds. Things have changed a lot in a decade. Everything is mechanised now.

The finest grade of white translucent porcelain is now the best that it has ever been. I was able to spend a few weeks throwing and turning this remarkable ultra fine, extra white, clay body called Gao Bai Neantu. This clay is now so good, it’s a real eye opener. Twelve years ago, this mica-based, clay-like, material was good, but difficult to work with. Now the plasticity is so much better, while the degree of fine cracks is much lower. I’ve been lucky enough to see and experience it go through all of these amazing changes and improvements on my various visits over that time.
However, the same can’t be said for the air quality. The pollution is still just as bad as it has ever been, with some days when the visibility was down it just a couple of kilometres, the sun came up all orange and we are not in a big city, but out in the country side. I found it difficult to breath on a couple of days and was constantly coughing.
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We get to watch a bloke who throws 700 pots a day. And he does it without getting any clay on himself. He wears plastic shopping bags tired around his shoes, ad the design of the potters wheel means that his feet are in the slops tray. Otherwise he is immaculate. We time him at 45 seconds per pot. It’s not really believable unless you see it happen in front of you. We saw him at 5.00 pm. at the end of his day, when he was tired and at this slowest and wearing whatever splashes of clay had landed on him throughout his busy day! Which was none!
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I stamp my work made here with the ‘Made in Jingdezhen’ workshop stamp. I’m renting studio space in the ‘Fragrant Garden Studio’. Everyone is so very helpful and accomodating. Its an amazing experience. I’m a lucky man.
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Among other things that I accomplish while I’m here, collecting samples of porcelain stone and visiting clay makers and processing sites. I get to make 45 or so porcelain bowls. 12 of which make it to a first class finish from the stoneware kiln. I stash them into my back pack, wrapped in bubble wrap and carry them as carry-on luggage.
I’m here representing the old ‘running dogs’ of capitalism. but I find that the young puppies of Communist inspired capitalism are no longer penned in and are now set free. Everyone is busy and hoping to get rich. There is so much energy here and so much enthusiasm. I can’t see anything stopping them. The puppies are out. They are inquisitive and they are starting to wander. Meet the new running dogs.
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Amazingly, on the return trip. I get allocated a seat on the plane in the middle row of 4. where I am the only passenger. I get to sleep laying down across all 4 seats all night!
I said that I was lucky!
It helps that I was the very last person to book onto the flight, really late, just before they closed the gate. I get there with just 9 minutes to spare. I’m left with 3 spare seats beside me.
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Best wishes from the tired old bitch of capitalism, fat, bloated and complacent, snuggled up by the fire and giving the occasional half-hearted bark at the passing new running dogs.

To Get Rich Is Glorious

To get rich might be glorious – but, to be content has its merits too.
We are packed and ready to leave this special place with so much history and future potential. The old and the new worlds are co-mingled here. We breakfast in the street on food cooked on the back of a bicycle and then go looking for a driver. He’ll be here some where along this little bit of road. As we walk along, we are reminded again of how we are seen as being quite exotic here in this remote part of China. There can’t be too many foreigners like us around these parts. This is made obvious to us by a giggle of teenage girls who point and talk about us as we pass. Suddenly, a couple of them run along after us and then past us for a few metres. Once out in front, they quickly turn and take our photo on their phones. Then look nonchalantly straight past us, into the distance, back down the street, as if they are just looking back along the street as if there is nothing unusual going on, just as you do every day! Then, as we get level with them, they turn sideways and snap our image again, but this time in profile, from side on. They run back giggling to their friends to look at the images and chatter and laugh. I turn and wave at them and they wave back, then burst into chatter and laughter once again. We have made their morning more interesting!
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We are looking for our amazingly honest driver from the other day. The one who returned Leo’s wallet full of money. We want him to drive us on this last leg of our journey. He was so honest. We find him in a cafe on the corner. A few days ago we paid him Y80 for 4 hours. Today he wants Y200 for 2 hours. I don’t hesitate in agreeing. He was honest enough to return the wallet, which he could easily have ‘forgotten’ to do. After-all, “to get rich is glorious” in China! Or so he has been told. And that windfall wallet, would have been an easy start for him towards glory. But he didn’t and in so doing restored my faith in the goodness of people. So I thank him and think that the Y200 is like a reward for goodness. He’s a nice guy, and I like him. Even though I can’t tell him.
I smile. He knows.
So now I’m finally back home again.
It’s good to see The Lovely again and be back in my own familiar life. My own home, my family, my bed.  I’ve only been away a few weeks, but there is so much that needs to be done. I was busy before I left. Now that I’m back, the work load seems to have multiplied. First, I need to help The Lovely catch up with house work, then, the weeding of the garden and we have several weekend workshops booked over the next few weeks of winter. She has done one while I was away, with the help of our good friend Val, and the next one starts today. So it’s up early to get the portable wood-fired kilns out onto the site. I have built 3 new portable wood fired kilns since we last did these workshops, this time, a year ago. They are a great improvement in speed, ease, size and effort.
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The day goes well and the new larger kilns perform really well, being the most productive and popular kilns on the day, turning over the work, faster than the older kilns.
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Fortunately, I am home just in time to see the last few tomatoes ripen in the window sill. I cook them with a few of the last capsicums and some garlic, broccoli, pumpkin and lentils cooked in marrow bone stock.
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This evening, I set about making a new batch of stock to replenish the skerrick that is left in the fridge. There is something very positive about messing about in the kitchen in the evening, fussing over the wood-fired stove, roasting, simmering, reducing a vegetable and marrow bone stock. There is something so essential and wholesome about it. It warms me! In every possible meaning of the word. In some ways, It defines my existence here, living this, positive, practical, hands-on life. Making something out of (almost) nothing. Creating capital, forestalling waste, making do and in so doing, avoiding buying some inferior mass produced product that is probably bad for you, as all the packaged stocks that I’ve seen are made up with artificial everything and loaded with a lifetimes allowance of salt to boot. What I make is a concentration of leggy vegetables that are on their way to seed, a few marrow bones and some garden herbs, reduced down with a bottle of good, local, red wine, into a firm jelly-like essence of flavour. Using a spoonful of this home-made delight beats using a stock cube of unknown origin and content.
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There is a massive frost in the morning. Everything is pure white and crunchy under-foot. This is bad. It will kill off a lot of sensitive plants that were struggling on in the near absolute cold, but it is also very good! It will help kill off all the over-wintering fruit flies and while it is at it, it will ensure that we will get a better crop of apples and pears. Old stone-fruit species, especially apples, need to have a few frosts over the winter to ‘chill’ and stimulate the flower buds and make them fertile, come the spring.
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It’s winter and the citrus harvest is now reaching maturity on the trees. There are lemons, Myer and Eureka, plus ’lemonade’ lemons. Then there are ruby-red grape fruit and oranges. Plus tangelos and bitter Italian chinottos. Lastly, there are Tahitian and kaffir limes. They all go in together in a radical seasonal mix of flavour and colour.
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I try some new ideas about making marmalade. I make marmalade every year and I always like to try a new variation on the theme. You never know what you might learn. The recipe that I have evolved over the past 4 decades has changed so much that I don’t know what it was when I first started out. I use about 1kg of mixed fruit and use only the juice squeezed from that fruit as any liquid in the mix. I like to peel out all the fibrous pith from the fruit after juicing, so that I mostly use the coloured peel with just a bit of white on the inside. This  is mixed with 300g of sugar and boiled and stirred for an hour. It’s pretty easy and quick, so i can get 4 or 5 batches done during a session. This makes about a dozen small jars. Up until today, I didn’t really know what the recipe was, so this time I separated out all the parts of the fruit and weighed them before cooking. So now I know.
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1 kg of mixed citrus breaks down into;
200g  of peel
460g of juice
275g of white fibrous pith into the compost
65g of pips and other discards
Put the peel, juice and 300g of sugar into the pan and boil while stirring for an hour.
That’s it, pour into hot sterilised jars straight from the oven, 10 mins at 120oC. cap with lids that have been simmered for 10 mins at a low rolling simmer. They will ‘pop’ after 15 mins to let you know that they are now vacuum sealed and good for storage for the coming year.
Confession!
I don’t boil and stir for an hour. I just don’t have the time for it. For the past decade I’ve been using the ‘jam’ setting in the bread maker machine. We have a bread maker machine and have had one for the past 20 odd years. It’s one of the few kitchen gadgets that we own. We have even worn the first one out! But we never make bread in it! We use it for making dough, which we then roll out into bread rolls or a plaited loaf, which we bake in the wood stove, or in this case to make marmalade. It works a treat. The best part is that it leaves you free to get other things done, while it ‘minds’ the jam and it never forgets to stir, or lets it burn or stick. It even rings a bell to let you know that it’s time to bottle.
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Winter is the time for marmalade on toast for breakfast with a warm bowl of milky coffee. So french! We talk and plan the days jobs ahead. Wood splitting for the up coming stoneware wood firing is high on the list.
Working hard to make money, takes so much time, that there isn’t anytime left to enjoy the life that I want to live. So I decided a long time ago that it was best to try to live with an absolute minimum of money and have a lot more time for having fun and being more in control of my everyday life. When you get used to doing most things for yourself and making do, you find that you need less money. I guess that one reason is that I’m so tired by night time that I just don’t feel like going out.
This mentally focussed but physically demanding existence has it’s contentments, but non of them are money.
Best wishes
Steve

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.

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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’!
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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 

A Beautiful Moment

The next day, we are out and up into the valley, wandering over the site. We have only just arrived when a man turns up. News travels fast somehow. Every body seems to know exactly what we are doing and where we are all the time. We sit down at a street stall to grab a meal of noodles and bowels and the guy doing the cooking turns around and pulls out his phone and brings up a photo of a beautiful tenmoku bowl! He knows who we are and why we are here. He nods and smiles and flips through several images. We say thank you, and give him the thumbs up. Smiles all round.
So I’m not too surprised that this guy knows about us. We are the only people on the site in the rain again today. He waves and shouts at us. He is obviously telling us some thing important. We wander down the slope to meet him. He holds out his arms, held high in front of him in a very obvious and determined way. He seems to be telling us to stop whatever we are doing and come down off the site. We meet up with him and he makes a sign that he will hand-cuff us! This is getting serious.
Leo says that he thinks that he might be a policeman. I respond that Chinese policemen don’t wear fake US army ‘cams’ jump suits with USA paratrooper air-corps logos and thongs on their feet!
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He motions us to follow him and we go back to his house in the village at the edge of the site. We are now sat down at a very finely crafted wooden table set with tea wares and loads of tenmoku bowls and their fragments and shards. We are now all friendly and tea is made and served. He proceeds to show us his collection of shards and almost complete shards. We ooh! and arrh! appropriately and ask if we can take photos. After our umpteenth cup of tea, I begin learn that if you drink the tea, he is obliged to refill the cup. So the only way to end the ritual is the not drink the tea and leave the cup full. My bladder will burst if I have one more cupful! This strategy seems to work and I’m spared any more tea for the time being.
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It slowly becomes apparent that this Dude doesn’t want us taking anything off the site, because it’s ‘his’ territory. He seems to think that he has scavenging rights and he doesn’t want any foreigners side-stepping him. Maybe he wants us to buy our shards from him!
I could be wrong, but this is the strong impression that I get. I can’t be sure, because we have no way of communicating with each other, except by charades. My colleague thinks that it will help matters along if he gets out his lap top and shows this guy that he has been in the US, going to all the great collections of tenmoku bowls. Working with the curators and examining all the tenmokus in their collections, and photographing them all for his research. Building up a data base of all the great pots and recording the various surfaces that have been made here over the 4 centuries that this valley was productive. He has an amazing knowledge of the subject now and is fast becoming the world expert on Southern tenmoku. His slide collection of all the great bowls is extensive and exquisite in detail.
He begins his presentation by writing ‘USA’ on some scrap paper, then shows a general image of a collection, then some of the amazing bowls that he has seen there in close up. Our host is greatly impressed by the images and the information. He calls his wife and then her father, and then the neighbours and their children, all over to look and see. I look on with a wry smile, because what I see happening as I observe the scene from the outside, is a mis-understanding taking shape. What I think they are getting from all this is an understanding that Leo is American, he is the professor at a prestigious institution and that he has a personal private collection of amazing tenmokus! They are all very impressed. Exceedingly impressed! When he finally closes the laptop, the ‘Policeman’ suddenly turns and faces straight up to Leo, face to face, and then suddenly gives him a big bear-hug embrace! There is almost a tear in his eye as he tries to communicate that he is so impressed that he has finally met someone with a bigger collection of stolen antiques than himself. It’s a beautiful moment. Is this a mistaken case of honour amongst thieves?
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Suddenly, all the really good bowls that he has ‘found’ are brought out from the special cupboards and we are treated to a display of gorgeous bowls in almost intact shape. Wow! so many really nice objects and fragments of rare surfaces. Next, we are escorted out of the front ’sales’ room and out through the kitchen, outback, to the work area. here are numerous angle grinders and diamond cutting discs on the floor, tubs of water, with bowls and saggars sitting soaking in them. There are several works in progress going on, slowly, carefully, relieving the bowls from their glazed-in provenance in their saggars.
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In a couple of ‘bunkers’ in the back room behind him, there are possibly another thousand bowls all stacked up haphazardly waiting their turn to be cleaned and polished ready for sale somewhere. I’m guessing that he probably would like us to buy one, but I already have several original tenmokus before I came on this trip, hence my interest. We are invited to stay lunch and we do. We are even offered home-made wine of some sort that stretches my definition of wine somewhat. I drink a small glassful. That’s more than enough for me, but he insists that I have a refill. I do, just to be polite, but it takes some effort to swallow. After that I have no hesitation in saying NO. I’ve had enough and honor is satisfied. There are sauteed snails, scrambled egg, the usual entrails, bits of pork in black bean sauce and cucumber salad with salt and vinegar.
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There are just so many nice pots here and even more in a state of partial restoration, plus lots of interesting shards and special pieces. On the way back to the village we pass a gaggle of geese on the road. They are on their way home too!
Best wishes
from Steve soon to be on his way home as well.