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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Alone, Like a Shag on a Rock

I’m here in the very pleasant little village of Bangsan, just outside of JungGu. Porcelain stone has been mined here since the 1300’s. It isn’t known exactly when. But a ‘stash’ or ‘horde’ of porcelain and silver ware was unearthed up on top of a local mountain when some workers were building a fire break. The box contained a few porcelain pots, two of which have inscriptions carved into them. One indicates quite clearly that it was made in the Koryo dynasty. 918 to 1392. I know this because the Yang gu Porcelain Museum on-site here has the pieces in its current exhibition. I’m lucky to be here at just the right time.

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There is still some of the porcelain stone still around. At one stock pile site that I walked up to. It was stacked up in rows of stock piles that dated back centuries. Apparently, This was all the reject stuff that wasn’t good enough for the pots of Royal Patronage, possibly because it had a few iron spots? This material has sharp edges and looks hard, but shatters easily. It is mentioned in historical documents as being transported out of here to other places for manufacture of porcelain under Royal decree at the rate of 70 to 80 tonnes per year, since the Koryo dynasty. Usually transported down the river twice a year at times of high water in spring and autumn, although some porcelain was made here onsite too. Large amounts of the stone were won and stock piled, then suddenly the trade seems to have stopped and the stock piles remained untouched until recent times.

Although the original mine site  of this particular stock pile is completely unknown. That is, until very recently. It was known to have been mined somewhere around here. There is an ancient kiln site across the river from where I sit and write just now. The site has been excavated and preserved. Covered with an impressive shed to keep the weather and shard hunters out. Then, just behind it. Higher up the hill, there is a museum of the sherds that were unearthed during the dig. Porcelain has most certainly been made on site here for a very long time.

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Now this following part must be taken with a grain of salt, as it is third-hand via interpretation. So maybe I’m completely of the mark, but as I understand it. A few years ago the current source of the Yang Gu sericite was discovered. There was a bad flood that changed the banks of the river that flows through the village here. It exposed some material that looked promising. A few years later, there was a severe drought and the river level dropped dramatically. This allowed Mr Jung, the Director of the Porcelain museum here, to get in and excavate some samples. It turned out to be sericite, so a large machine was brought in and the lens of sericite was removed to higher ground and stock piled.

It seems that the old kiln was built on the banks of the river here for a reason. I notice that there is a leat let into the banks of the river just below the kiln. Possibly to run a water driven clay crushing hammer in the past? I’ve seen exactly this in other countries like China and Japan, where porcelain is made! It all comes together?  There are a few examples of replica water hammers around the village. Non of them working, just for show these days.

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The original Yang Gu sericite material from the stock pile site is a hard, glassy, stone like many other porcelain stones that I’ve seen. However, the new material is somewhat softer and more friable. I can crush it with my fingers. I imagined, when I first saw and felt the raw material in the stock pile. That it might be some sort of kaolin based clay. It reminded me of my ‘Mafia’ deposit of halloysite/illite/quartz/felspar, near Mittagong at home. However, this proved to be completely wrong. I’ve had my samples from my last trip analysed and the material here is almost totally composed of sericite and some quartz. I must say that it is amazingly plastic, for a body that is almost completely free of clay. I say almost, because the material is so glassy and fusible at high temperatures, that Mr Jung has brought in some sericite with a kaolin component to firm it up a bit at stoneware temperatures. This material comes from JinJu farther south. I really had no idea of just how plastic mica could be. This place is pretty special. I consider myself very lucky to be able to be here and enjoy these amazing experiences.

I am being housed during my stay here, in a student residency building about two kms away from the workshop. I am currently the only person in the place, as it is the first days of summer and all the other residents are away on summer holidays. I do the 2 km walk each day to the workshop and back along the river.

The river is very lovely. It’s low water at the moment, but still running consistently and clear. I can see from the detritus that is hooked up on the iron work along the top of the old bridge, that high water can be at least 7 metres high and possibly more. There is a water bird working the shallow shingle rapids along the river bed. He’s very fast and efficient. He seems to be catching something every minute of so. I see him sunning himself on one occasion sitting alone, up on a rock. I know how he feels.

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This morning the weather was foggy and overcast. There was a beautiful mist hovering around the mountains. Their silhouette is reflected in the water of the rice fields. The rice has doubled in size  since I arrived. Lots of water and some warm weather is all it needs.

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So Much Water, So Far From Home.

I’m back in Korea again. This time I’m up in the north of the south. I came to Korea last year to do some preliminary research and to suss out what might be possible, but mainly to visit as many single stone porcelain sights as possible. It was an amazing trip and I learnt more than I had hoped for. I discovered sites that I hadn’t previously known of and got to make some nice pots along the way.
From my reading and research, it seems that Korea might have been the place where porcelain was invented, some time around the year 900. That places it about 100 years earlier than the development of porcelain in China.
Before commencing this research, I had believed that China was the source of porcelain development and the technology had spread overland to Korea by osmosis. Some doubt has now been cast on this theory and it just might have been the other way around?
I certainly don’t know. I’ll wait for the evidence to be further developed to see what happens. It makes no difference to me. I don’t see it as a race. But an excellent example of human ingenuity. 
In my own Walter Mitty world. They both came across the idea at more or less the same time, quite independently. Just as I did, more or less by accident, or good fortune. Although I do concede the truism that the harder you work, the luckier you get. McMeekin  just seems to have stumbled on his porcelain deposit from word of mouth, possibly over a beer at the Mittagong pub? Who knows. I don’t believe that this sort of information is recorded. Luckily, whatever the circumstances of the insight, he was the right person, in the right place, at the right time.
I do know that when I arrived in my small hamlet of Balmoral, I asked around of the locals, if there was any clay deposits in the area. The best people turned out to be the local bull dozer driver and the back hoe operator. They spent their days digging the dirt in other peoples places and seeing just what is under the surface. They had lots of insights. Unfortunately, non of them lead to usable material at that time.
So now I’m back here specifically to work the YangGu sericite porcelain clay. There has been porcelain made here around these hills for centuries. I’m just not sure how long as yet. That is one of the things that I’m here to find out. However, what I really want to do is to get my fingers into the stuff and make some pots. The Yang Gu porcelain stone has been mined out of these hills for eons, possibly since the 1400’s? However, no one knows just where the stone was mined. It’s a mystery still. Most likely under ground, as there is no sign of any material like it on the surface and enigmatically, no shafts have been found. However, as we are so close to the border here. the material just might be located just over the hill in the North?
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The walk to and from the studio to my dormitory is very pleasant. I get to walk past lots of little farms. There is a lot of poly tunnel agriculture here. I guess because the summer is short and the winter is very long and very cold. So a bit of extra warmth from the poly tunnels gets things started early when the ground outside would be just still too cold. I’m told that the frost penetrates down to 1 metre here.
There are several crops of beautiful garlic coming along. The outer leaves are just starting to turn colour, so they will be ready for harvest very soon. It must have been dry here lately, as I can see that this farmer has the sprinkler on the crop, irrigating it, to keep it growing a bit longer to fill out the bulbs.  
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As I walk to the village I can hear cookcoos calling from the forrest all around. All of the valley floor here has been levelled and terraced everywhere that you look. It must have taken hundreds of years of man and women hours to get the landscape so well prepared for rice culture. The terraced paddy fields go all the way up to the steep sides of the hill.   Intermixed with poly-tunnels. Then some enterprising farmer has even ploughed the slope up the hill side, where it was possible. I’m not too sure that this is a very good idea, as when the big rain events come. He will loose most of his top soil. The forrest on the hills is all heavily planted with timber species. I’m told that all of this forrest was totally cleared all around here during the Korean war of the fifties. The hills from here to the border were denuded of all vegetation so that any enemy attack could easily be seen coming. 
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We are only a kilometre or two from the front line here. Now called the DMZ. At various times throughout the day I can hear loud speakers booming out the insane propaganda from over the border in the North.  I can’t understand it and the locals tell me that they don’t even hear it any more. It’s just so much background noise, like heavy traffic passing. What is really tragic, is that a poverty stricken country like the North would waste so much energy in such a totally futile exercise.
There is a lot of water still issuing from the hills here in the form of spring water. It has all been harvested and channelled into culverts. It makes it’s way down across the valley floor and is diverted here and there in to smaller channels, ducts and eventually into local ditches that work their way around the paddies.  
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The rice seedlings have just been planted out and are starting to shoot upwards. The fields are kept flooded while the rice establishes itself. Once the top field is filled and is completely flooded. the excess water then flows down from ditch to ditch and field to field into the next, and so on. Once all the farmers fields are flooded. The excess water is returned to the fast flowing channels so that it can be used by the next farmer down the valley.
The water eventually makes its way down to the river in the valley floor, where some enterprising farmers who don’t have access to a spring fed flow. Pump the water out of the river and it starts its irrigating journey all over again.  
In the evening the setting sun shines on the flooded rice and there is a peaceful harmony about it all. This enterprise of growing wholesome food, the tinkle of fast flowing water, the quiet of the evening, the last feeble rays off the sun and me walking home in the fading light after a productive day in the workshop, its a beautiful time. As I turn into the little valley where I am staying I notice that there is a very prolific bird sound. I am staying right up at the head of this little valley, so It’s a long walk. A couple of kilometres. The forest here is alive with some sort of birdlife that I don’t know. There must be thousands of these birds, all calling and responding with a kind of hooting sound. Maybe it’s mating season?
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I can sense that there is no other wild life up here in this valley or the woods that surround it on all sides, because all the farmers fields are wide open. There are no fences to be seen most of the time. I guess that this also means the there is no issue of pilfering either. All the farm equipment is left out in full view, even power tools. It’s a lovely feeling to be in a place where there is so much neighbourly trust and respect. On the road I suddenly see a very small frog. I would have missed it except for its luminous green and black colouring. I decide not to touch it. Anything this colourful, hiding in plain sight without a care, must be very confident that no bird will eat it. I suspect that it is vey toxic. I only take its photo and not its pulse. As I walk further, I can see that there a whole lot of them that have been squashed on the road. Not only does their (possibly) poisonous skin make them totally unafraid of predators. They have no road sense either. Tragically for them, poisonous skin doesn’t deter cars.
As I walk up past all the poly tunnels, rice paddies and vegetable plots I nod and say “Anyohaseyo” to each of the people that I meet. I got a few double takes on my first trip, but now they recognise me and word has spread that I’m here and only sleeping in the dormitory building at the head of the valley. At first they responded in fast, staccato Korean. But I can only shrug my shoulders and look helpless. I can’t speak any Korean past the first few words of airpot language that we all learn to be able to get around. They smile back at me and we each go on about our own tasks. 
I’m still quite amazed that even though it is summer and it hasn’t rained since I’ve been here, and there a people watering their plants, it’s obviously a dry time, but as I walk, I can hear the river rushing, then up the valley I can hear the irrigation ditches channelling the gurgling spring water. I’m suddenly struck by the fact that here is so much water, so far from home.
Best wishes from Steve in Korea