Korea is such a great place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Korea is such a great place for me to be.

Cornwall and Devon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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 yangggu. 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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