The Yanggu International Poreclain Conference in Korea

Mr. Jung explains to me through the translation abilities of Inhwa, about the program for the inaugural International Porcelain Conference at the Yanggu Porcelain Museum. He has paid my travel expenses to get me here from Australia and explains that I will be the making the Key Note address to the conference. This is a little bit of a shock to me, as I usually play 2nd fiddle (or cello). He goes on to say that the idea for the conference occurred to him after he first met me 2 years ago.

He wasn’t aware of me or my research or even that Australia had native porcelain and he certainly wasn’t aware of the early work of William Cookworthy in Britain that pre-dated Wedgwood. I crashed onto his radar that day with Miss Kang as my pilot and translator and we soon developed a professional friendship based on a mutual interest in single stone porcelain.
Mr Jung had been thinking of ways to promote the unique situation of Yanggu porcelain in Korea, as Yanggu was the original source of the Royal Porcelain for the Korean Court. He has spent his career, building up an excellent Museum and an exceptional research Centre for post-graduate training in Porcelain skills to an amazing level. I’m so impressed with the quality of the work being created here. i wish that i could have been exposed to this level of support in my early career. Instead of the Chaotic, random experience of making do and following ones own impulses without guidance. I had approached the late Ivan McMeekin at the Uni of NSW in the early seventies for some post graduate experience, but I was rejected. so I had to find my own way on my own.
The Research Centre provides free housing and workshop space for approved students who have completed higher degree level studies, majoring in porcelain. There is a 3 year tenure in the centre to develop an individual approach. The selected students have to pay their own food, fuel and clay costs. It’s an amazing deal for the lucky few Korean post-grads who make it there. Currently there are 7 places for prospective students, but Mr Jung has planes well underway for a small village of residencies, not too far from the centre. He has secured the land already and there are 3 new residency buildings on the site, along with a gallery and cafe building. He has plans for another dozen residencies in the future as finances permit.
After I had explained my project to him at that time, to make porcelain in each of the 5 countries that had developed their own single stone porcelain tradition. He conceived of the idea to hold a conference and invite someone from each country to speak about their research. Hence my invitation. It took him 2 years to organise it and raise the finances. I’m still a little shocked to be up front on this, but I know my work backwards now after 15 years of research and the successful launch of my book ‘5 Stones’ at my big exhibition at Watters Gallery in Sydney just a few months earlier. It’ll be a piece of cake!. Well, it ought to be!
The first day of the conference involves us all travelling by limousine coach to a number of local galleries and museums to experience the full nature of the district and it’s history. I find out a lot more about the Yanggu district that I had known or learnt before on my previous trips. I have always travelled on a shoe-sting with only the absolute necessities allowed for in my budgeting. I have always restricted myself to a narrow vision of what each location presented, concentrating on the porcelain. Now we are all treated to the full Monty of tourist excursion sights. There is an amazing Traditional Arts Museum, A Museum dedicated to a very famous local painter in an amazingly simple but exquisite stone walled building, buried partially underground. Then there is the museum of philosophies, specialising in local philosophers and poets. I really liked this place and its curator. lastly there is the local contemporary Art museum, that has 3 venues. The most impressive was the current show of virtual Van Gogh. The curators had ploughed the extensive fields all around the building and planted a wheat crop for the summer, while the show was on. The vista outside the extensive gallery glass facade was a very real shimmering golden wheat crop bending and responding to the eddies and zephyrs of the breeze. This was such a beautiful concept to me I was quite viscerally touched. The actual ‘virtual’ show of Van Gogh works wasn’t as impressive!
The next day, Mr Jung opens the proceedings with a 20 min intro explaining the importance of Yanggu and why it is a suitable place to hold such a conference. There are a couple of hundred people present and all the seats are full in the auditorium.  Only standing room for the resident students and researchers. Mr. Jung introduces me as the Key-Note speaker. I have a dedicated professional translator to translate sequentially as I present each image and talk to it. It all takes a bit longer than I had imagined, allowing for the time in translation.
I speak for the best part of an hour with plenty of images to illustrate my points. I go to some length to show the importance of local geology and why sericite is/was so important to the invention of the original porcelains in each place in Asia and England. I make reference to some very recent archaeological research that seems to indicate that some of the earliest porcelain ever made was in Korea and not China!
I am followed by a potter from Jingdezhen who delivers a short dissertation about their unique porcelain and then a potter from Arita who talks about the Izumiyama and Amakusa porcelains.
In an amazing turnabout, it just happens that ‘Manni’ the Chinese potter from Jingdezhen, remembers meeting me coming into his shop earlier in the year in Jingdezhen. I look at him in some combination of disbelief and incredulity. He’s right. I look into his face and recognise the talkative guy trying to sell me everything in his shop in March. I ended up buying just the basic fine white porcelain clay, a couple of 17kg, bags every couple of days. Then to cap it off. Just to prove that the world is a very small place and that there are less than 6 degrees of separation, I find myself in conversation with the potter from Arita and we establish that he is good friends with 3 of my own close friends in Arita! I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. It’s a very small world!
Best wishes
Steve and Janine in Korea

The Search for the Soul of Seoul

In Tokyo, It’s the tail end of autumn and the Ginkgoes are turning yellow and loosing their leaves. breakfast is nato, rice, pickles and seaweed, with miso. Wonderful!

Janine and I eventually leave Tokyo after several days of art and culture. Tokyo seems to have changed since I fist came here 30 years ago. I can’t put a name to it, it’s just a feeling, but it has changed.

Or maybe its me? I know that I have.
IMG_8413 IMG_8428 IMG_8523.jpgThe future and the past.
We fly out to Seoul. We miss our scheduled flight and have to catch a later one. A much later one. We have a very nice, but basic hotel to go to, but it’s 1.00am in the early morning by the time that we navigate our way out of the airport, then through the underground rain system, changing lines on  route to where our hotel ought to be. Even though its way past midnight, there are heaps of people out in the cafes and on the streets. All well behaved, civilised and ever so helpful. They offer to guide us to our hotel, but ultimately they are not correct and we find our own way there. As soon as I realised that we would be arriving late, very late! I emailed our Korean friends from the airport in Tokyo and asked them to phone the hotel, to tell them that we would be arriving late.

Theoretically, the front desk should be closed by now, but by the time we find our way there, the wonderfully helpful man on the late-night desk has waited up for us and is there practising his guitar as we walk in. I’m so pleased and very thankful!
This will be the first of our wonderful experiences in Korea together. There will be so many more in the days to come. This is my 4th trip to Korea, but this is Janine’s first time here, and it’s my first experience to spend any time in Seoul, instead of just passing through.
Our experiences here lead us to believe that Koreans are so much like Australians. Open, friendly and engaging. I found this on my various earlier trips into the deep hinterland, but it becomes abundantly clear now on this adventure in Seoul.
We have a few contacts here. The Amazing Miss Kang, my former translator, driver and cultural guide. Then there is Ji, a friend and ex-student of one of my former students. She has visited us at our place for an open-day sale a year or so ago, as part of the Southern Highlands Arts Festival, She has offered to show us around Seoul. Ji had also rung the hotel for us as did Miss Kang, to warn of our late arrival. It’s all worked out quite well. We are so lucky to have such wonderful friends.
Miss Kang had advised me months ago, when this trip was first muted, to book place in the north of the city, in a place close to, or in Anguk. It was a very good advice indeed. We find ourselves close to the older, interesting, cultural centre of old Seoul. We spend our first day wandering aimlessly through the local area. It’s great. Old streets, traditional housing, many now converted to craft workshops and artists galleries. It’s a culturally vibrant area.
‘Ji’ has arranged to take us out for the day, for a tour of the cultural highlights of Seoul. We meet at the local station and she has an amazingly dense, solid packed, itinerary of people and places, galleries and shows to visit during the day. She is amazing! we are so thrilled to have someone local to offer to show us around and translate for us. You learn so much more about a city when you are given inside knowledge by a local. Ji won’t let us pay for lunch either. I try and dodge past her to get to the till first, but I’m outmanoeuvred, and she speaks to the sales girl in Korean and they won’t take my money. Instead they take her card. I’m out-classed here. I have so few words of Korean to call on. She has her way, and we are grateful, but I’d rather have been able to pay to show our gratitude for her days support, guidance and education.
We can’t help ourselves but buy a few small culturally significant items that will remind us of this warm experience. We can’t carry much, as we have a long trip planned and this is still very early on in our itinerary. So we collect all our little objects of importance and consign them to the Korean postal service. We will get our own belated xmas presents in about 3 months time, when the ship comes in.
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We learn how to carry 700+ eggs on a motor bike!
At the end of the day, Ji takes us on a tour of the Emperors Mausoleum. It is only open one day per year, so we are lucky to get to see inside.
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The next day is the weekend and we are able to meet up with Miss Kang again. She drives us for several hours, across to Yeo Ju to re-visit Beom Chan and his family – her old boss. It’s wonderful to see them all again. I take them all out to lunch. It’s the least that I can do to repay all the help that they all gave me last year when I was doing my research into Korean single stone porcelain sites.
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Like so many Korean meals that I have experienced in the past couple of years, the meal is very healthy, with so many vegetables and pickles to go with the very small amount of meat on the BBQ. After lunch, Jun Beom and Miss Kang drive us to an ancient Kings burial site. It has been extensively restored and preserved.
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The following day we take our selves to the southern part of the city on the subway and visit the Major Museums, The National Museum and the Leeum Museum. We have lunch in a cafe and although we have identical meals. I get food poisoning. It could only have been the chilli pickles that I added to my meal and Janine didn’t? it takes me by surprise half an hour later as we are walking into the Leeum. I manage to walk the distance to see almost all of the display, but the feeling that I’m about to throw up doesn’t leave me alone and although I thought that I might disgrace my self in the polished black granite foyer, I make it out to the street and eventually throw up at the bus stop. It’s so humiliating and degrading, and poor Janine gets splashed shoes for standing by me and supporting me. Fortunately, there was a garden bed and low hedge behind the bus stop for me to despoil. I cover my disgrace with some dried leaves and some compost before departing.
IMG_8722 The offending meal!
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The National Museum has an amazing collection of old pots, as you’d expect. I love the moon jars – everyone does! I’m also taken by some of the old stoneware, high silica, rice-straw-ash, early opalescent glazes.
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As we are leaving the National, we realise that the gardeners have spent the day wrapping the bamboo plants in the tubs along the entrance walkway. Some are done up in traditional rice straw rope, but only those on the right hand side. On the left side, they only seem to be getting the glossy colour magazine paper treatment? I don’t know what this is all about and have no way of finding out. I can only guess that it is something to do with protecting the plants from the intense cold weather that is coming in the winter?
The following day, I’m feeling better and we go to the industrial street of tool shops. This long street is cram-packed with little cubicles. Each one specialising in a different type of tool or piece of equipment. I’m here looking for some specialised diamond cutting discs. I know that they are here, but the exact fittings that I’m looking for prove hard to detect amongst the mass of industrial ‘stuff’ without specialist language skills. On this occasion, charades and sign language don’t cut it. I even have a photo on my phone of the sort of thing that I’m after. But all to no avail. I leave with just two little items that aren’t quite what I had in mind. Still, they were cheap and it was a great half-days entertainment!
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On our way home that night we walk past the Japanese Cultural Centre in Seoul for the umpteenth time and as usual there are two police men standing outside the doors. They are there at all hours of the day and night, not dependant on whether the place is open or closed, rain or shine. I stop and ask the police man why they are always there. He answers me quite frankly and honestly in good English. He tells that because of Japan’s past aggressive history towards Korea. There is still a lot of bad feeling toward Japan and its representatives. The permanent police presence is there to off-set any chance of hostility or vandalism breaking out. Very honest and straight forward.
IMG_8803The view form the bus as we depart Seoul.
We only have a 4 day stay in Seoul, and we need to be making our way up into the North to the little village of Bangsan, up on the DMZ. We catch the subway train the the south-eastern city bus terminal. From there we can catch a bus to Yang gu, via Chunchoung. From there we will have to change to a small local bus to go the final leg of the journey to Bangsan. I’ve done it before, so I’m not too phased about it. Its several hours. We buy our tickets and while we wait for the bus to depart. Janine watches the Korean news channel on the big bus depot TV. it appears that President Trump has just flown in to Seoul somewhere. It crosses my mind that it would be unfortunate if there was a dummy spit and temper tantrum on this day of all days, when I’m here with Janine. The day passes and we make all of our connections and arrive in Bangsan in the afternoon. We walk our suitcases across the road and down the lane to the Yang gu Porcelain Museum and Research Centre. We make our way to the pottery room, but there is no-one in there at that moment. I can hear clay being pugged in the clay room next door. I walk in and everything stops. I know the two workers and they recognise me. They lead us back out into the pottery room and My Jung magically appears, as if he has sensed our arrival. I’m not too surprised. I sent him a ‘KaKaoTalk’ text message from the bus terminal in Seoul, advising our departure and approximate arrival time.
My Jung greets us warmly and takes us straight away, across to the research building where Inhwa Lee and her husband work. Inhwa speaks good English and My Jung want her to translate for him, so that we are clear about what he has planned for the afternoon. Inhwa makes us coffee in her porcelain cups. I know from my last visit that she collects hand made spoons. So, the day before we left Australia, I found some time to make a few stainless steel spoons, forged from my kiln off-cuts, so that I could give them away as presents. I was reluctant to give these people hand made porcelain, as they do it better than I do! The spoons are not very professional, but they are somewhat unique! Anyway both Inhwa and My Jung both choose one as a gift.
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Best wishes from Steve and Janine in Korea

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.

Home Again

I have had an amazing time in Korea. I was very lucky to meet such supportive and helpful people. Every thing had gone well this time and I am returning with a suitcase and back pack loaded with beautifully fired porcelain. So different from my last visit, in terms of the fired result.

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My last day starts foggy and overcast, but clears up.  I was walking back across the lawns from the research centre , back to the pottery workshop building , when I bumped into one of the support staff. A lady who I thought spoke very little English. I had heard her say “Australian Honey” out loud on my 2nd day in the workshop. I had given a small jar of honey to one of the staff members who had just helped me with a problem. I took several small jars of Australian varietal honey with me specifically to use as gifts. This lady saw the jar and read the label out loud. I heard this from the other side of the room and got another jar out of my back pack and presented it to her.

She asked if it was for her. I replied. “Yes, it’s a gift for you”.

She thanked me profusely, and that was the end of the matter. I didn’t have reason to speak to her again personally until now. She stopped me on the lawn and said to me in her basic English. “You leave today?”  I replied. “No, not today, tomorrow morning, very early, 7am.”

She explained to me that she only spoke a very little English, but wanted to thank me for the honey and say that I was nice to have around. She reminded me that I had helped her to move a heavy shimpo potters wheel, so she could do some cleaning under and around it.

It was very nice of her to say so, and to venture to initiate the conversation in a language that she was not proficient in. She told me that she was not Korean, but originally came from Japan and married a local Korean farmer.

I replied “So desu ka!” Is that so!, She did a double-take, blinked and replied “Anatawa Nihongo hanasamasuka?” Can you speak Japanese? I replied “sumimasen, watashiwa, Nihongo arimasen…choto dake” Not really – just a little.  It’s true, I don’t speak Japanese, but I can speak a few words, however, when I get my ear in, after I’ve been in Japan for a week or so. I realise that I can recognise a lot of words in what is being said around me, and I often know what it going on. Japanese is the only foreign language that I ever tried to learn by doing a bit of study. Some of it has stuck.

Suddenly we were off on a tangent talking in a weird mix of Japanese, English and Korean using my phone app. It was a completely unexpected, but warm and rewarding moment for both of us. I came away thrilled and very pleased at the intimate level of communication that had just evolved so organically and unexpectedly.

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I go back to my room and start to clean up and pack my bags. I have a few clay samples that I have been drying on the heated floor of my room. I eventually get everything back into my bags, plus, I’ll be leaving with an additional 20 bowls and 5 kgs of clay. I’m ready for the early start tomorrow.

The sunset is lovely. The sky is clear. The last rays illuminate the rice and the poly tunnels, that so define this place. It’s a beautiful way to remember this pleasant valley.

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Inhwa and her husband turn up very early the next morning to give me a lift with another student to the bus terminal at Yang gu. My Jung turns up too! He has stopped off on his way to work, to say a final Good Bye. My return trip to Incheon airport out of this remote place on 3 busses all connects perfectly and I arrive at the airport earlier than I had allowed for. My return flight is uneventful, I just want it to be over with really. Sitting in a seat for 12 hours is very dull. Although I do manage to find a couple of hours sleep during the night. Probably my best effort so far at sleeping sitting-up while flying. Possibly because  didn’t sleep much the night before.  Maybe I’m getting better at this? Not that I want to practice it any more. I’m over it.

I’m home just before the solstice. I unpack my pots to show Janine and take a walk around the garden. The early peach has started to flower. It’s so amazingly early. The first job is to move some more big logs into the wood shed, closer to the splitter. The last time that  Idid this, a month ago. I smashed my finger. it still isn’t healed. The chickens are happy to come along and help with this job. But only because there are always a lot of bugs and creepy-crawlies under the bark for them to eat. They love the wood splitter. It provides fresh protein that wriggles all the way down. Yum!

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They have absolutely no fear of machinery like the splitter. They really want to get their heads in there as soon they can, to get the first peck, but sometime the splitter blade hasn’t even finished coming down. I’m constantly brushing them away, but they swivel around and are straight back. They trust us – foolishly.

I think that they have no fear, because they have no brain. But they are sweet things to have around and they are good company.

 

 

Thank Goodness for Inhwa

The rain is gone, so on my walk to work along the river, I notice that the flow is greatly reduced and back to its clear normal flow. The waters must be fairly clean, as there are otters living and breeding in the river. Whereas in other more industrialised areas of Korea, the otter numbers declined over the past 30 or 40 years, before making a slight recovery recently, due to increased environmental protection. Here the numbers have remained largely unchanged presumably due to the remoteness of the site. The village celebrates the otters with a fountain in the village square. I ask the assistants working here if they have seen them? They tell me that, yes, they have, but otters are quite shy of people, so you have to be patient and sit quietly. Mr Jang, Duck-jin, the pottery teacher, here in the centre, even has a video on his phone that he made last winter. For that matter, so does Inhwa and her husband, Mr Kim.

I’m at the studio early. I walk around to the gas kiln area but the door is still firmly shut and wound up. I settle at my work bench to do some writing while I wait. It isn’t long before Mr Jung comes in with one of my small bowls. and hands it too me. It’s perfect, or seems so at first glance. No warping, no slumping, no pin holes, no runs and no rubbish fallen into it from above. That’s a pretty good result. The colour isn’t too bad either. I really glad now, that I double-dipped the glaze! I was a bit concerned at the time that it might crawl again, and then when Mr Jung come in after the bisque and told me that I had probably made all my pots too thin and that this means that they might slump in the kiln at high temperature. That put the angst into me. He didn’t mean to phase me out, but at that point, there was no way that I could make any more and get them through in time. So first impressions are good. Mr Jung intimates that this is just one that he has stolen from the kiln for me to see. The kiln won’t be opened properly for another hour or more. I sit and wait.

My Jung is at the door, he calls my name to get my attention. He always calls me ‘Harrison’. I’m getting used to it now. It’s a very Asian thing. Last names first. We go to the kiln area. The door is open and pots are being taken out. I can see more of my work appearing one by one. They are cool enough to touch right away. I examine each one briefly as it is handed to me. I can see a few coming out that have minor faults like a pin hole or some slight warping. A couple from the bottom front of the setting have come out a bit neutral in colour, lacking reduction, so they look just a touch anaemic. A creamy body, with a yellowish-green glaze instead of the pale blue over grey that indicates good colour for these materials in good reduction. I start to carry them inside to give them a better examination. Mr Jung calls me back. He switches on the diamond buffing pad machine, so that  we can polish all the foot rings. It only takes a couple of minutes. Then we carry them inside. The machine does a beautiful job.

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I examine each one, not just carefully, but thoroughly, in good light. I find that I have come out of it with 22 firsts and 11 minor seconds. That’s great. I was hoping to take home a dozen of various sizes, so I’m on track. I offer Mr Jung first choice for his collection in the porcelain museum. He replies to me at length through Inhwa, who has just walked in, that he will need some time to work his way through them, before making a selection. He asks me through Inhwa, how many he can choose. I say that he can have as many as he likes. He jokingly puts out his arms around the whole lot. We laugh. I’m flattered. He thinks for a bit and then says, “how about 5?” I Reply “yes, of course, choose 6, you have first choice.” He tells me that he has got some plans for a bigger extension for the Museum. He will have a lot more space to show contemporary work soon. Maybe next year? 6 will be good. He settles in for a good scrute. But his phone rings and he is called away.

 Inhwa and her husband Kim, Deok-ho, have arranged to take me to lunch. It’s their turn. We go to the Chinese inspired Korean eatery. Every time I’m taken out to lunch by some of the staff, we go to a different place. It seems that every house along the central part of the village is a restaurant! We just seem to walk along the street and then without notice someone in our group will just walk up to a door, open it and walk straight in, and sure enough, it isn’t a house at all, but a large dining room or rooms. I don’t have the nerve to go up to one of the other buildings that I haven’t been into as yet and just walk in expecting a meal. What would I say if I just walked into someone’s home and the family were all just sitting there watching telly in the lounge room? It’s all because I can’t read Korean. there is probably some sort of sign that I’m not aware of?

We sit down, on the floor, as you do, at the end of a long table. There is an old couple at the other end. I smile and they smile back. They are very weather-beaten and a bit ragged looking. The man starts to talk to me in a friendly sort of way, in Korea of course. I have no idea, but Inhwa steps in to rescue me. She explains that this couple are farmers and they see me walk past their place most days. Apparently, She tells me through translation, that I smiled at them, waved, and said my “anyohaseyo” to them, then nodded my head in a modest bow in passing. Perfect! They knew that they would like me from that moment onwards. So now we get to have lunch together. Thank goodness for Inhwa. On my last visit it was Miss Kang who made sense of my life here for me. If it weren’t for Inhwa, this time I’d have no idea what was going on, and this opportunity would have just floated by in the ether. The farmers are beaming at me as Inhwa recounts some of what I’m doing here. Lots of nods, smiles and affirmative “huh”, grunting sort of noises.

We all nod and smile and get on with our lunch. Inhwa confesses to me that she is now quite embarrassed, as she has lived here in this village for the past 3 years of her studies in the research centre and she has seen this couple many times, but never spoken to them or even said “Hi” until now.

I explain that I know that I am the foreigner here. I look different. I can’t speak the language, and I’m not part of the farming community. I represent “The Other”. I suddenly arrive on the scene and I am a totally unknown quantity. I fall into “The Stranger Comes to Town” scenario. It’s one of the oldest plot lines from Hollywood. I know from my own experiences, back home  in Australia, when I arrived in my own small village, that small isolated villages, mostly inhabited by older people can be quite conservative places.

We were treated with suspicion by the locals for quite some time. We were different in every way, even though I was an Australian. Thank goodness that I wasn’t from overseas and spoke another language to boot! So, I understand what it is like to be the stranger in town, and the best bet is to engage warmly from the first instance, even though I’m not the warm, friendly, Type A personality, outgoing sort of person. I make an effort and I’m pleased that it seems to have paid off. It transpires over lunch, that these humble farmers have actually been to Australia for a visit too! Small world indeed.

A Rainy Day in Bangsan

I wake up and its raining, not too heavy, but I can hear it on the roof and dripping from the overflowing gutters. I walk to the workshop in a light drizzly mist. I spend the day turning my bowls. It’s perfect slow drying weather.

Mr Jung is the man who runs the Bangsan/Yang gu Porcelain Museum and Research Centre. He is extremely open-minded and has a very inclusive policy of engaging with outsiders, so as to make The Research Centre relevant, lively, contemporary and internationally recognised. This is exactly what I have experienced here. I must say that while I have been here there has been a steady stream of local, interstate and foreign visitors coming through the place. The level of creative work that is being produced by the research students is excellent.

I get all my pots roughed out and almost finished. They will need just one more thinning out when they are almost dry – but not quite bone dry.

I have a little time before closing, so I go to the Museum gallery and display area, to look at some of their stock and browse some of the literature. There isn’t anything there in English, but there is a thick, hard-cover book on the archaeology of the Yang gu/Bangsan area. I browse through it looking at the pictures. It looks pretty interesting. Shame that there is no English translation. Then it crosses my mind that there is. I have it in my pocket. I use ‘word lens’ on my phone. I select the app and hover the phone over the required Korean text and it magically appears in English on the screen in real-time as I move it along. I make my way through the first part of the book, looking at and reading the captions of the pictures. That way, I get another free thousand words, sans effort!

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It looks like there might be something in there worth taking in. The book is just too big, too heavy and a bit expensive to buy and take home, or post. I want to save my weight limit for my pots. I just photograph some of the more interesting pages and decide to read them later.

It’s time to go, but the weather has turned pretty nasty with thunder and lightning. I rug up in a plastic bag poncho and open my umbrella, but I fear that the wind will destroy it, before I reach my digs. On the way home, I stop to try and capture the lovely image of the rain buffeting the rice seedlings.  I have 2 goes at it, the second being a short video. But I fear for the safety of my umbrella and my phone, so stop at that.

Later in the evening, when I have time back in my room. I down-load the Korean language images to my lap top and read them back off the screen in English using my phone language translation app. It’s a slow way to read a book in another language, but I muddle through, as I have lots of time in the evenings. It even surprises ME! as being one of the weirdest things that I have ever done to get research information!

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The next morning the weather is all clear again and I see that the river is running brown with silt washed down off the higher fields, possibly even silt washed down from North Korea over the border. I don’t know how far the catchment of this river extends into the North. There are a couple of hardy blokes fishing with a net, down by the stepping stone crossing. I stop and watch them for a while, but they don’t seem to catch anything. The technique that

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they are using seems to be for one man to stir up the stones and sediment on the bottom and try to dislodge something into the flow and then the other man tries to catch it in their net. It doesn’t seem to be working. Perhaps they are fishing for some sort of shell fish or yabbie/crustacean?

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My bowls are finished now and ready for the bisque kiln tomorrow. I have ordered a stamp that says ‘Yang gu’ in Korean text, and have marked all my work with this and my own personal seal. I ordered it through the mail order service of the amazing Miss Kang, who arranged everything for me and had it ready for me when I arrived at her house on the way here.

Tomorrow comes soon enough. I see the kiln packed during the day and started firing last thing before we all leave for the evening.  The next day, after cleaning up my work space, I go over to the kiln room to see how the firing is progressing? I assume that it was set to steam all the pots dry overnight and will be firing properly now, possibly reaching temperature in the afternoon?

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When I get over there, they are already unpacking the kiln! it has fired up and cooled down over night! I’m staggered. How is this possible? It doesn’t fit in with all my other pottery experience, where we molly-coddle the pots through the difficult trauma of the firing process, taking it quite slowly, making sure that we don’t blow anything up by going too fast or causing cracks. I guess that they do this all the time and they know what their clay will take. The kiln is electric fired and has a computer ramp controller, so it fires exactly the way that they have set it to. By the feel of the bisque, I’m guessing that it was only fired to 800 or 900oC.

I can only assume that because everything was dry before packing the firing could proceed quickly. It is summer here and very warm days and nights. And all the pots are made of powdered stone and not sticky plastic clay, so they can breath quite easily. Any way, most things come out OK. I have 5 out of my 40 or so with minor cracks, most inflicted before packing, by me I think. One has a crack around the edge of the foot, which I haven’t seen in my work before and another has a tiny hair line crack in the centre of the foot, underneath. This is a remnant clay shrinkage/drying problem.

I’m happy. I have 36 pot to be going on with. I said at the beginning that I would like to get 12 good pieces to take home if I can. Looks like I’m on track at the moment, but never count your chickens!

I spend the day glazing and fettling. I go over them 3 times to get them as smooth and dribble free as possible. The glaze looks to be a mixture of porcelain stone and possibly limestone?  I also feel that there might be some wood ash in there too? I think this because it has a definite grey cast to it and micro tiny black flecks that I some times see coming through my 60 or 80# mesh screen when I sieve our ash. The glaze seems to be very thin, so I dip them twice. It also helps to get a more even coating.

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When they are dry, my pots go over to the gas kiln shed for glaze firing. The packing seems to take all day on and off, with so many other things happening throughout the day. It’s all packed by 6.00 and ready for firing.  The gas kiln is fired manually, so it will have to wait until tomorrow to be fired through the day. It’s about an 11 hour firing to cone 7 or 1230/1240oC. in reduction. They use a digital pyrometer and draw trials to measure the temperature and heat work. They told me that they fire too cone 7, but they don’t use cones here?

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This facility has a comprehensive range of very good equipment and the staff are really hard-working, efficient and friendly. I couldn’t have found a more fertile and supportive place to study.

best wishes from Steve in Bangsan, Korea.

Making a Start, Starting to Make

Making a Start, Starting to Make

The first thing that I did after I arrived here was to go to the clay room and get some recycled clay, so that I could throw some chucks. This is the first thing that I do everywhere I go. It’s a pity that they are so heavy and bulky, otherwise it would save a lot of time to just pack them in my bag and carry them with me.

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I make a range of sizes that will suit the pots that I pain to make. I get these out in the sun as soon as they are made. I will need them dried and stiffened, so that they can take and hold the pots on top of them during turning.  The chucks are thrown very thick and heavy, so they are quite slow to dry and stiffen up,. They need to get drying as soon as possible.

The next thing that I do is to throw my bowls. These are made from the best white sericite porcelain. I throw them quite thinly, because I can. Most porcelain looks best when it is very thin, so that the light can shine through and show off its translucency. However, this local and very ancient sericite porcelain stone body Is very highly fluxed and distorts really easily, so it best to make these pots a little bit thicker for structural reasons. This mica throws really well and is a joy to work with. They will dry out on the rims quite quickly unless they are covered with light plastic sheeting over night. The next day I get them all out in the sun again. The first of the smaller bowls are ready before the chucks are really quite dry enough. I wrap the bowls and leave the chucks out in the sun while I go to lunch with the staff.  When I come back they are ready. Its early summer here now, so the days are long and quite warm at 27oC. I’m staggered to find that Miss Kang and her boyfriend have returned yet again. They have been invited to come to lunch with us all again. I ask how the stars were last night? She tells me that they didn’t see too many, as it was a cloudy night, but it was a lovely experience up on the mountain. I gather that this is where they camped?

After lunch we all go back to work and Miss Kang and friend leave to set off on their mountain climb. I start my turning and get all the first batch roughed out quite quickly. Then I return to the wheel to throw some more. I need to have a continuous supply of work coming, depending on the drying time, so that I can be continuously busy and not waste any of my time here.

My next task is to try something larger. I make some 200 mm bowls and then, last thing, before the workshop closes at 6.00 pm, I make some 300 mm bowls. That will keep me busy for a day or two of turning. My days are filled with a mix of throwing and turning, wrapping and unwrapping. I stroll to and from the workshop along the little farm roads that wander like I do around the fields and streams, eventually always ending up down by the river.

Each trip I try and take a different route. I have tried crossing the river using the stepping stones that are provided to save the kids who live at this end of the village from walking all the way up to the bridge and back to get to school. I can tell that it isn’t used very much these days as the grass has grown high and almost covered the path. I suppose that it is because it is school summer holiday? I have plenty of time, so I take the long way around and walk past different farms and get a different view of the valley. Although it is different in detail, it’s more or less the same in general. Every farm is growing more or less the same things, at the same times, in the same way. A mixture of poly tunnels and rice fields. Very little is grown  out in the open. Potatoes, garlic, spring onions and sweet corn are all out doors. Whereas chillis, melons and tomatoes are under the protection of the poly tunnels. I can’t but notice that the melons are grown in such a way that the fruit will develop on a mat to keep it off the ground. I one greenhouse, I saw that they had little plastic dishes set out to rest the melons on, to keep them up off the matt, so as to get perfect shape as well as no dirt or discolouration and unripe white skin colouring from developing underneath.

 

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I turn all day the next few days, I slowly it dawns on me that I’m not turning like usual. I start to realise that I have finally taken the edge off my favourite yellow handled carbide  turning tool. Its taken a couple of years, but it has now lost its razor edge. It’s still sharp, but the ultra fine edge has gone. I check it against a couple of tools that I don’t use much and, yes, it’s gone. Luckily, I have brought a small diamond file along with me in my kit. I have carried it since I bought my first few carbide tipped porcelain tools. I have to break it out of its plastic bubble wrap packaging. It works a charm. I’m surprised, but not shocked. This tool is my favourite and has lasted a couple of years without sharpening. On the other hand. I have to sharpen my hand made carbon steel custom tools every hour. They are great tools, easy to make, but easy to  make blunt too, with a bit of porcelain stone work. Fortunately they are very easy to sharpen. I always carry a small mill bastard file in my kit as well and step outside often to give the edge a little touch-up as required. I always go out side to sharpen my tools, as I don’t want any iron filings to turn up in my clay. It strikes me that I’m a bit like a butcher in this way, constantly adding a little bit of a fine edge to my knives as required.  At the end of a day of using these little round handle-less gems, I have to sit for a while, out on the sunny bench and re-shape them, because they soon develop a flat spot on the curve after a day of constant use and sharpening in the same place. The sweet spot, where I use it the most, in the centre of the curve. It’s a pity that I have never seen any large flat carbide shapes like this for sale anywhere. I guess that there are not so many people using these ‘inner’ tools to justify a production run?

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The walk home is lovely, it’s balmy and there is a lot of bird call. The sun is setting and it makes the rice crop glow. It’s a peaceful, beautiful time.

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