New Sericite Clay Samples

I was recently in China doing some research. I have written a little bit about that, intermittently, in the last month or so. While I was there, I arranged to get my hands on some new and different sericite samples. These have now just arrived here last week and I have done my first tests with them.

I now have 4 different Chinese sericites to compare.

Although it isn’t immediately obvious from the image above. If you look closely, there are 4 different colours of rock samples from top to bottom, white, cream, grey and pale buff. They all look more or less white, but they each have various tints or shades of colour to their whiteness. They all do have one big thing in common. They all throw badly, the palest ones being the least plastic and most difficult. They feel a lot like my local Mittagong porcelain stone, only better behaved.

I felt like I’d gone all the way around the world and come home again when I threw these tests. They felt so familiar.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the results fired. I had a bit of trouble with the usual shrinkage and drying cracking problems, but I did get some of them through successfully. But I lost quite a few. Still, nothing that I’m not used to, and I’m getting good at recycling the turnings and failures.

I almost filled the tray on my old wooden kick wheel with turnings after trimming just 12 small bowls. I must be removing at least half of the weight of the original material to get them thin enough to look and feel like porcelain. I aim for 2mm at the rim and 3 mm lower down, graduating 5mm at the foot. This tapered wall thickness allows the best translucency at the rim and higher up the pot, while retaining sufficient strength to hold the pot up against gravity while it sits at 1300oC in the kin to develop enough glass in the body to be come translucent.

If I’ve done it right, the whole finished, fired, ceramic mass, has the correct quantity of primary and secondary mullite crystals to glue it all together, while becoming glassy enough to allow plenty of light to pass through.

Too glassy and/or too thin and it slumps. Too thick or not fired high enough and it stands up straight, but isn’t very translucent. It’s a bit of a fine line to tread.

not too bad.

As I sit and grind away at this damp, ground-up rock dust with my tungsten carbide tools, I realise that I’m truely happy doing just this. There is a gusty wind outside, but I’m in here sitting in the sun and I don’t want for anything more at this moment. This is fun. I can’t wait to get them into the kiln.

It has all the promise of something special about to happen.

I love that.

27 Kilns in 27 Days – vol 4

We get to spend a day in the Longquan Celadon Museum. I am travelling with my friends Len Smith and Robert Linigan. I am very interested in these old Celadon pots, particularly from my point of view of the inspiration that I can gain from the best pieces and equally importantly from what i can learn from the shards and broken sections. There is so much to glean from being able to see inside the clay body and looking at the interface between the body/glaze layers.

I love these rich and sensuous fatty celadons, guans and ‘ru’-like glazes. These are some of my favourite pots. It’s not too surprising that I like to try my hand a making glazes with this kind of influence. I wish that I could make something as good as this. It’s a quest.

In particular, I am keen to make my clay bodies and glazes as authentically as possible, by digging up all my own minerals, rocks and stones, then mixing them with ashes from my fireplace, where I burn the wood from my own forrest. It’s a complete commitment to my philosophy of self-reliance, not just in ceramics, but in my life. This coupled with a keen interest in the soft delicate beauty of ceramics the way I envision it. Not just the look, but also the feel of the surface. Equally important to me is the tactile impression -‘feel’ and balance of the pot in my hands, as well as how it will function when I eat or drink out of it.

My favourite coffee bowl at the moment, for my morning bowl of coffee, is a small white tenmoku bowl that is very translucent and very white, made from one of the Chinese sericite bodies that I have experimented with. It gives me a lot of pleasure just seeing it and handling it, even before I drink the coffee from it. It is beautifully balanced, only slightly weighted to the lower half for stability. It looks and feels gorgeous. I’m particularly fond of the slightly out-turned rim that is an essential quality of the tenmoku form. I’ve been using it for a year now and I’m still not bored with it.

Some of the unique qualities that I find I really engage with, are all its ‘faults’ – if that is what they are. I prefer to think of them as being part of its unique character. You can’t buy this bowl from Aldi on special for $2. Their white bowls may look superficially similar, but this pot has a story embedded in it that is only very slowly revealed over time as you get to know it.

For instance, because I’m not a very good potter, I don’t go to all the trouble of trying to make things perfect. Simply because I realised long ago that perfection only exists in the mind of the beholder, therefore can never be achieved, so why bother. Better to make things with character. This bowl for instance has a slightly mottled surface to the glaze, it has a very gentle undulation where the very thin clay body saturated during dipping and the glaze didn’t adhere perfectly. I have come to love this slight quirk of its appearance more than the very smooth glazed surfaces that I can sometimes make. This is a special part of this pots own history of its making.

Another point of interest for me is the hint of the remainder of the clay slurry on my hands left embedded in the surface of the clay after I finished throwing the pot on the wheel. I left it there as a reminder of the touch of my fingers. It is almost imperceptible, but it remains. I wasn’t aware of it presence initially, but it slowly became apparent to me as I got to use it, handle it and wash it up often. Not all my pots have this effect left in them, sometimes I wipe the inner surface clean with a fine textured sponge. At other times, I turn the inside of the pot with a trimming tool when I turn the foot. It all depends on how I am feeling about the pot as I make it. I never quite know how I am going to feel about what I make on the day. So its a surprise to me to be reunited with my own pots, post firing, and to re-discover their special qualities.

I can just see this swipe of my fingers in the image above. You won’t find that in a pressure cast or jigger-jollied bowl from IKEA.

This bowl also has a single iron spot in the glaze, just below the rim. It’s a bit like a beauty spot. I didn’t put it there, but I’m OK with it. This is a real object of beauty and interest. It isn’t perfect. It’s just gorgeous. It also shows my two stamp impressions. One is my initials, the other is the workshop stamp.

Finally there is the total lack of an obvious foot ring until you turn the bowl over and look underneath. I hid the foot recess inside the bowl form to minimise the weight, so as to keep this delicate bowl as light as is possible, but still have an elevated form that lifts it up off the table in a continuous elegant curved line. This is not true tenmoku form, but I think the it is better on this pot.

In the Longquan Museum we saw a lot of shards with loads chipped edges, shattered rims and broken bases. I loved this part of the display. It was all real. Many of the perfect examples had long ago been taken away to other larger collections, as this is only a smaller regional Museum. What was left in this Museum were all the other pots. I learnt a lot form looking inside the shards to see the very same qualities, problems and faults that I get in my work, using very similar materials and and almost identical techniques.

What I found particularly reassuring was that I am not alone. Someone else, 800 years ago also went through all these technical trials and difficulties to arrive in a similar place. Ultimately, there is the reward of the occasional lovely piece that survives.

This bowl is lovely, but what others probably don’t see, but I did, was what, at first glance, appears to the an incised line inside the bowl. That is easy to see, but it is in fact not an incised line, but a remnant of its making that appeared in the kiln during firing and wasn’t there when it was packed in the setting. It was formed in the fire. That wavy line is the raw glaze surface drying out and cracking slightly. The crack then doesn’t completely heal over when the glaze surface melts, but remains as a line in the glass. Perfectly fused, but hinting at its life before it became ceramic. I get it often in my glazed surfaces. It used to annoy the hell out of me, as there was no way that I could see to prevent it happening, if you fire long and low to make that particular satiny surface, it’s just what sometimes happens. If you fire hot, it disappears in the fluid melt at top temperature. This ‘scar’ is a relic of its process and making. I now look on these healed over cracks as an authentic product of the unique process that I indulge in.

Nothing is perfect. Nothing lasts. Nothing is ever finished, and that includes learning.

27 Kilns in 27 days – vol 3

Vol. 3. Recent industrial wood fired celadon tunnel kiln.

While in the Longquan traditional celadon region researching celadon, we took some time out to visit a former celadon factory, that was forced to close when the economy was modernised. It has now re-opened as a celadon museum/cultural park.

I found it a bit shallow and lacking in depth. That is to say what was there didn’t grab me. It may be of interest to the more general tourist, but there wasn’t enough there to speak to me, as I’m interested in the more intricate details and technical information/insights that could be included, but weren’t.

However, there was an old wood fired tunnel kiln that had been restored. This kiln was the main means of firing the celadons here right up until 1998. One can understand why it went broke and couldn’t compete with more modern factories with up to date facilities and equipment.

There was also an clay processing section that used the old fashioned water-driven, wooden clay hammers, that is a technology that dates back 1000 years. It was exactly fitted with the age of the kiln technology, So out of date for a factory setting, it is hard to believe that it managed to last right up until the 1990’s.

Clearly, this equipment hasn’t been used for many years, possibly since 1998? Just like the kiln.

All the pots produced in the wood fired tunnel kiln, were packed in saggers to protect the ware from the fly ash from the wood fuel, which is so important when making a subtle glaze like celadon.

It is interesting to see that sometime between 60 and 20 or so years ago, they wrapped some parts of the wooden roof frame with ceramic fibre to stop it singeing or charring during firing.

The saggers that were used in the kiln firings are these days used as retaining walls and breeze way walls.

27 kilns in 27 days. vol 2.

Vol. 2. The Long Quan Celadons

We take the bullet train out of Shanghai for the three and a half hours trip heading South West. We arrive at Lishui station and wait for a cab. There isn’t much at the station and the crowd that we arrived with soon disperse, but are soon replaced with another hoard of people from the next train. They all swirl past us, coming through in waves every 10 mins. There are just so many bullet trains passing through here with astounding regularly. It’s hard to believe. This is a very popular service. It must be on the way to somewhere more important, because this place isn’t anywhere in particular, that I’m aware of. But with 1.4 billion people needing to get around, even if only a small fraction of them live and work around here, it is keeping this service very well patronised. 10 years ago there were very few of these super-fast trains in China. 20 years ago there were none.

These days you can get to near almost anywhere quickly using this service, but mostly on the eastern side of the country. The government has produced a miracle in building this high speed rail system so extensively and quickly. Half of it is bored through the mountains in tunnels and the other half is suspended on concrete pillars above the valleys. It’s a masterpiece of engineering and it appears to run like clockwork. We comment on how Australia takes 5 years to make a 3 km road tunnel across Sydney. While the Chinese are building 3km of high speed rail infrastructure per day here.

Here in Lishui, we are about an hours car journey from our destination, as we wait for our car to pick us up. We try the local station food. This is just OK, not what I would usually want to eat, but I’m in a foreign country, so it goes down a treat.Anyway, there is only one choice. It’s a bowl of monosodium glutamate clear soup, with some fried tofu skin, 2 very small dumplings, a couple of dreadfully, scarily, luminously, bright pink ‘sausage’. I use that descriptor very loosely, and this is brought to life with some really great, bright red, slices of HOT, I mean very hot, chilli. A few drops of oil, some pepper and a lot of salt. It’s fantastic! I love it, but I try not to think about what was in the bright pink, extruded, sausage-like objects. I’ll never know. But when in Lishui, eat like a Lishuan! It was delishuious.

Our car arrives and drives at a little bit scary high speed to get us to our hotel for the night. We settle in and have a dinner of stirred vegetables. Soya beans and onion, mushrooms, fried tofu, steamed and then stir fried green beans, something brown that I don’t recognise, either in shape or in taste, which is quite bland and finally some little, green, mild chilis. something more akin to a small capsicum. It’s all delicious. but there is a lot of it, so I pass on the steamed rice and the soup.

The next day we are off to see the local Longquan Museum of celadon history. Longquan was a centre for the production of Celadon wares for several hundred years, from about the mid 900’s, through to almost 1600 – and it still is an important producer of high quality ceramic Art wares based around celadon.

Apart from Celadon, they also have some Guan ware and something that looks suspiciously like Ru ware, but can’t be, because Ru ware was only made in the Northern Song Dynasty. We’ve been tipped off, we have some local information, about an important new archaeological site. We spend our time dutifully taking in as much as we can in the Museum. But more importantly for me, there is the recently excavated archaeological site. I want to get some understanding of the early celadon manufacturing in these surrounding valleys. I have my pet theories, the possibility of seeing this site takes preference for me over other possible things to see and do while we are here.

The site is a half hour drive out into the country side. We wind our way out into the hills away from the fertile valleys. This is all very familiar to me. Even though I have never been here before. It is the same story. I can see it all unfolding. It has the ‘look’ that I recognise. These fertile valleys were colonised for food production first and pottery came later. The potters had to make do with the hilly surrounds where food production wasn’t a premium.

This is the same story or scene in so many other places where I have been researching in China, Japan and Korea. It also just happens that there are useful minerals to be found exposed in the wash-away edges of the streams up in the hills. This liminal country is very rich in feldspathic material I can see that from the car window. I’ve seen it all before. I call out to stop the car at one point. I say “We must be getting close now”! I can see out of my window, that we are passing a deposit of kaolinised porcelain stone. This is the local geology writ large in the road cutting. I recognise it from all the other deposits that I have studied over my lifetime of fossicking for porcelain stone and glaze rocks.

A pale vein of kaolinised feldspathic mineral, exposed in the road cutting.

If this is the local geology, of course someone would have been inquisitive enough at some point in time over the very long history of human occupation of these vallieys, to just pop a bit of that paler stuff into the existing pottery kiln where they were making earthenware and then later, stoneware, until finally they made porcelain. But it was only because the ‘stuff’ was here and available on site. No sericite and kaolin, no discovery of porcelain. It’s that simple.

The story is much the same where ever it happened in several different sites in a few different countries. If the suitable material was there, exposed near the surface, then it happened. If you are a potter, or several generations of potters. You can’t not make it!

We drive on, eventually reaching the dig site. All digging has now been completed and written up. There is a sign that tells all – but it is mostly in Chinese script and I can only decipher a bit of it using my phones translation app. But this is of little or no consequence, as the signage has a small section of English translation. How very thoughtful! Anyway, I’ve been in this situation before, and I know what I’m looking for and what I’m looking at in the most general sense. I can see what I need to see. As we wander the site for an hour, even making our way down to the small runnel of a stream at the bottom of the hill. There are even a few bits of broken shards in the water, all ground and polished into rounded edges of pale green celadon and off-white/grey-olive, guan-like glazes.

The story board tells us that along this stream was once a well-worn track along the banks that is mentioned in old documents. The finished ceramic work was carried out of this valley along here. We make our way back up to the kiln site. It’s a long tunnel kiln – or was. Only the base is left now. This site dates from 1000 to 1300. There are several layers of occupation/development on the site. The kiln has been partially excavated to reveal at least 3 layers of different kilns on the site over time. This site is called “Fengdongyan” and is 4.5 kms up stream from the small village of Daoyao. Daoyao village is where there would have been other potteries at that time. This higher and more remote pottery site was an ‘official’ government sponsored site. So it must have been important. Or so the info board tells me.

To extend my earlier proposition of the thesis that potters migrated up into suitable nearby valleys, Actually, I believe that they were pushed out by the farmers. I propose that the potters were originally farmers, who grew crops and made pots part time. Pots made from mineral rich clays from the valley floor. Something akin to red earthenware, fired in bonfires, or simple up-draught kilns made from mud, straw and shards. Over eons of time the space on the fertile valley floor became too precious for pottery making and firing. The potters who had by now become specialists, were relocated off the fertile valley floor and the now well developed paddy fields and their sophisticated watering systems.

the stepped tracing of the steep slope of the pottery site.

The potters now finding themselves on higher sloping ground, built their up-draught kilns into the sides of the slopes, becoming more like cross-draught kilns. This resulted in them achieving higher temperatures much quicker and with ease. The clays that they were close to on the slopes and valleys were better drained with certain fluxing minerals leached out. The clays became less fuseable, lower in iron and more refractory, needing the higher temperatures that were now possible, so paler stoneware bodies were evolved. etc, etc. Eventually semi cross-draught, down-draught tunnel kilns were developed because of their greater fuel efficiency and ease of achieving the higher temperatures. The rest is history!

When sites with porcelain stone were located nearby, in these valleys, it is impossible for me not too believe that someone like me, an inquisitive potter, could have resisted trying out this new white material. It needed a bit more work to get the kiln to mature it, it needed to go in the hottest spot, but it was possible, and therefore, at some point in time, it happened. The same porcelain stone body used for making the pots, could be mixed with limestone or wood ash and this now became a proto-celadon glaze that could be raw glazed, it’s that easy! It could be done, so it was done, it’s still being done! You only need 2 materials. Later, saggers were developed/employed to maximise packing and firing efficiency, but also to keep a lot of the wood ash off the beautifully refined glazes. Of course it didn’t happen over night, it took centuries. So much experimentation by generations of potters, each adding just a little refinement to the overall knowledge. That’s my thesis. I believe it. What is missing here is a clay supply. Why, this place so far up the valley?

When we were finished looking at this early Long Quan celadon site, we made our way back up the hill to the road, and on the other side of the road was a short track, that I hadn’t noticed previously, this led to an ancient mine site of very friable, crumbly weathered porcelain stone material. So this is why these potters migrated up here, 4.5 kilometres up this valley, away from the village, into this more remote spot, between 600 to 900 years ago. Now it’s obvious to me. They came here, all this way, simply because this is where the best material was to be found in its easiest, most workable form. No crushing required, just washing/blungeing, settling and stiffening. It all makes perfect sense to me. I’m dying to step off the walkway and go in and steal a little sample for analysis, but I resist the temptation. I’d put money on this stuff being a mix of sericite and silica, perhaps with a small amount of kaolinite or something similar. But I’ll never know!

In a way, I don’t need to. I already know. It’s just like every other site in a general sense. This place would fit very well into my book of ‘5 Stones’, except that I’ve already finished writing it. Every one of the 11 sites I studied in the 5 different countries, all fitted the pattern in some way, and every sample that I collected and and had analysed, with only one exception, contained sericite mica! That exception is Mittagong, where I live, where the mineralogy is similar but the mica is in the form of illite not sericite.

The mine site is quite extensive, it goes in two directions. I might imagine that they simply followed the softest, most plastic, easily dug material. I can see 300 years of potters endeavour, scratching out this hole here. It all makes so much sense to me.

I’m feeling really chuffed. This has been a really rewarding day. Even if nothing else happens on this trip. It has already been completely worthwhile for me.

Last Truffle of the Season

It’s so wonderful to be home again. I love being away somewhere exotic, learning something new and having experiences that lead me to make synaptic connections that I hope will lead to new ideas.

I really like to be back in my own kitchen too. I was very happy eating steamed and stir fried vegetables with offal every meal while in China. I cook a lot of steamed and stir fried veggies my self. I do tend to go a bit light on the intestines though, most, if not all of the time. Actually totally all of the time.

I’m back just in time to get the last truffle of the season. It was harvested while I was in China. My son Geordie kept it for me while I was away. He had it in his fridge for a week, safely stashed in a sealed container with 4 eggs on a bed of rice.

The weather has warmed up a lot this last week. I’m pretty sure that the last frost has gone. We have planted out a lot of summer veggies in the open in the garden. If I had been at home, I would have got some early seedlings planted out under my portable shrink-wrapped closhes a few weeks earlier.

We shared the truffle with Geordie, half each. It is a real beauty, so aromatic! A wonderfull, deep, earthy, sensuous, almost hormonal fragrance.

We decided to make scrambled eggs with shaved truffle and some garden fresh asparagus. Perfect!

I steamed the asparagus for a couple of minutes, quckiy drained and sautéed in a bit of butter with course ground salt and fresh ground pepper. Pretty yummy by itself, but totally excellent in combination with the truffled eggs.

I served it with a few shavings of piquant pecorino for balance.

I’m so glad to be back in the kitchen! The truffle was so big that we were able to get another meal out of it and have a repeat the next day for lunch. This time with a small glass of very fragrant and complex, wooded chardonnay.

It’s a hard life. But someone has to live it. I quite like being retired!

Clean air in Shanghai

I’m recently back from China. It’s my 4th trip there in 15 years. I’m always amazed. Each time for different reasons.This time I was amazed how clean the air was. We had only 3 days of smog during the month. On previous trips in had some days where I found it hard to breath. Maybe their efforts to clean up their environment are working? But I don’t travel regularly enough to know. It just could be good luck?

This is Shanghai where we arrived and spent a day in the museum. We were there at the Museum before the doors opened and stayed inside looking at everything until they asked us to leave when they closed the doors.The Museum was a very popular destination it seems, as there were already a 1000 people in the queue to get in when we arrived early. Everything beautifully organised with people queueing in a very orderly fashion, in the zig,zag, hurdles, just as you get in airports to keep it all neat and orderly. As it was 38oC the Museum had placed water misting fans at various places along the queueing system to help keep us cool. There were also a few industrious folk selling very cold water in bottles from ice filled ‘eskyies’.
The Museum had erected shade covers all along the lines of waiting patrons. It was all most impressive.

The Museum was great. It’s a good collection, of course I was especially interested in the ceramics, which didn’t disappoint. I won’t bore you with too many images, suffice to say that there was too much to see and 7 hours wasn’t enough, but was too long, in the way that we get when we spend a long time in Museums. We get museum blindness, so after 2 or 3 hours we have to find the coffee shop. Which doesn’t exist in China, not even in Shanghai with all its international flavour and influences. So I spent a month without real coffee, or any coffee at all. No big deal. There was a product by that name, but it wasn’t coffee!I got used to weak green tea. Quite different from the Japanese super strong, slightly slippery, alkaline tasting, high caffeine, sen cha. The Chinese green leaf tea is mild by comparison. We got through the day with just 2 art-blindness, sit-down, recovery breaks.

This was a nice pot!

This begonia? bowl looked to me to be every bit like a simple microcline or possibly a plagioclase felspar and water, kind of pink blushed shino glaze. I wouldn’t have called it a celadon, but hey. What would I know? It appeared to be very low in calcium with no hint of green about it.Colour me confused. It was a really gorgeous pot!
This was a very nice opalescent glazed object. Interesting use of both ‘zun’ and ‘jun’ in the English translation of the Chinese?

It had a lovely depth to the milky opalescence. I’d have a guess at there being 1or 2% phosphorous in there somewhere, as bone ash, with the rest being 2/3 , or 3/4 felspar and another 1/3rd , or 1/4 ash? Somewhere between 2:1 and 4:1.


This Guan bowl was also very nice. Pity about the images through smudgy fingerprinted glass.

This is a superb pot. I really like guan ware. No! I love them! They really hit my Ge Spot. I’m an old guy and I have an old guys tastes. As always, I am principally interested in all the oldest pots. I start to loose interest at about the Ming. Maybe that is when my blood sugars start to run low:)

So that’s it. I won’t bore you with any more. That’s 7 hours and 1000 images condensed into a 5 minute read, and 12 images.
I didn’t go to spend too much time in Shanghai. It just happened to be where the airport was on this trip. I haven’t been there before, other than in transit. My real interest was in getting out into the country side to visit the smaller pottery towns and villages. Our next stop was to check out some celadon wares.

Sericite Journal 4. Out of the fire and into the flying man (’s baggage) 

While my kiln is cooling down. I go for walk along the river, the runs behind the Museum.
Today I see a white crane stalking the shingly shallows, although he doesn’t look to be doing much business this morning. Maybe he is so full already that he is having a rest?
I also spot a black cormorant, ducking and diving. Popping up again here and there, working the deeper river pools.
Slowly a fisherman comes into view, he is strolling quite slowly up stream with his net in hand. He is working the river between the road bridge and the foot bridge. He stops to cast his net out occasionally, apparently with little or no success. I’ll put my money on the cormorant any day.
The sun is well up and I can’t see the sun. The air is just as dirty today as it was yesterday and will  be tomorrow. I imagined when I arrived here this time that it was just some intermittent phase in the air currents. I don’t remember it being this bad before, one, two, three or even 4 years ago. This is my 5th visit to work here. Miles away from the industrialised region of Seoul and it’s the worst that I’ve seen it. The air should be cleaner here. It used to be. I remember being appalled on my first visit here when I returned to Seoul to fly out. I couldn’t see the sky scrapers through the coach’s windows until I was right next to them. This is awful, I was appalled before, simply because of the contrast of country and city. I feel my chest tightening each day. Now the smog is every where. There is nowhere where it isn’t thick and grey.

I get to make another visit to the clay processing building, as there is a problem with the rock crusher that they have just acquired, 2nd hand. Apparently the electric motor starts to smoke after 20 mins of use, i have a close look at it , just from the outside. I can see that the motor is recently reconditioned, the over-spray is still evident on the motor housing and wiring. I’d say that it has burnt out the motto previously in its past life, That may be why it was for sale 2nd Hand?

I suggest t hat they do some research on other new models of this kind of machine and check out what sort of horsepower in really needs. I typed this last sentence in 10 seconds just now, but last week it took me about ten minutes to say all this is several goes at it using the translation app! Waiting for them to formulate a reply or ask another question, then I type my one fingered reply on my tiny, phone virtual key board. It takes a long time.

That’s just the way it is here with me and complex ides and a language that I can’t speak. I feel like I’m a child sometimes. I ave some complex questions that I would like to ask, but when I start to formulate the sentences. The moment has passed and I can see that i will al lot more contextual material for this all to makes one sort of sense. So i give up and wait for another occasion. They must think that I’m stupid sometimes.

It’s a fantastic resource to have available to them to efficiently process their own sericite porcelain from the excellent, but slow, ‘wet-method’ from ball milled slip, filter press and vacuum pugmill.

Colour me ‘Venco-Green’ with clay processing envy!
I the afternoon Mr Jung takes me for a ride, up to the South/North Korean border. There is a lookout post where you can see over the no-mans-land. The road takes us to the east of here through a volcanic crater that is called the ‘Punch bowl’. It is intensively farmed due to the rich volcanic soil within the extinct volcanic crater. It reminds me of the Rutherglen region of Northern Victoria. Great wines are grown in that rich soil and concentrated micro climate.
The lookout post is on a high ridge that is part of the caldera’s edge. I was not allowed to take any photographs of the Northern side of the border, facing the other way, as it is forbidden, and the solder/sentries on duty at their posts make sure of it.
I can report that there is absolutely nothing to be seen. Is this because there is so little development in the North? Perhaps. But I am skeptical. I think it more likely that The North, knowing that there is a clear view into their territory from this high place, have made sure that there is absolutely nothing to be seen.
Imagine the image below with no roads, no farms, no power lines, no clearing, no development of any kind. Just the green rolling hills, going on into the distance. That’s what you can see of the North from here.

 

 Last year when I was here for the Moon Jar conference, the streets in the village were being dug up, deep trenches dug and piping installed. The workers were so very efficient. We were amazed at the time how quickly the work was completed. 3 days for each street, excavated, piping installed, road rebuilt to as-new standard. Fantastic. So little inconvenience to everyone.
I wondered at the time what was being installed.
Now on my return, I can see that every home now has a reticulated LP Gas line and meter next to their house. The homes that are also restaurants, also have a small storage tank as well. I’m assuming that this is to allow peak load at the lunch time and dinner time rush hour, so that they don’t drain the pressure from the street.
This little village is miles from anywhere and a very long way away from Seoul, but the government is committed to reducing the air pollution. One way is the stop the use of coal briquettes being burnt in the countryside where this old anachronism is still in common use.
Coal is a very dirty fuel at the best of times, and the use of crude briquettes in an up draught stove is a real 3rd world solution to cooking and many thousands of women die of respiratory disease each year. Korea is a very technically advanced nation. They built my electric car for me for example. However, way out here in the countryside. Miles from anywhere. Some of the households are still using coal, as they have for 100 years. It’s a credit to the current government that they have funded this development in such a remote place.
I can’t imagine that the gas is pumped all the way from Seoul. It’s just too far to imagine. I assume that the liquid, compressed gas is trucked here from the refinery, to some local depot, where it is stored, evaporated and reticulated in the local network. I’m impressed, as I am with much that is happening here. They still need to stop building and selling diesel engined vehicles though.

As I walk down the street today I can see that one house is still using the dirty coal briquettes, as the spent bisque fired, low quality, circular coal briquettes are stacked up out side the dwelling. I know that some of these spent fuel blocks are crushed and used as a fertiliser. I’ve seen the remnants of them scattered through some of the vegetable patches.
I remember reading an old book back in the 70’s, called ‘Farmers of Forty Centuries’. It was a really interesting book that described the life of farmers of Asia, in China, Japan and Korea, their lives and techniques. I say that it was an old book, because it is! It was published in 1911. There was a chapter about digging silty clay out of the irrigation channels and making mud bricks from it. The bricks were made into a ‘Kang’, a wood fired stove that has an extended horizontal flue area that doubles as a warmed bed base at night after dinner.
After several years, the ‘Kang’ is demolished and recycled. The mud bricks, wood ash and whatever other minerals have been absorbed by the bricks are all crushed to powder and spread through the vegetable garden as a fertiliser! 110 years later, the old technique is still practised by some of the older residents of this village.
The other thing that I see that is different in the village is the new solar powered telephone. This is very new and quite impressive. I’m mostly impressed by the fact that the phones here aren’t  vandalised and still work. I must say that I’ve never seem anyone in there using it, as every young person in the village seems to own a mobile and the signal is very good here. There is also a new electric car charger in the car park!
The other thing that is a huge difference here is the construction of the new Museum extension. It is HUGE!
It looks to be about 3 or 4 times bigger than the old single room, exhibition area and offices building. The existing space was very cleverly divided into a lot of smaller ‘rooms’ using divisions to visually break up the big single volume, into more intimate spaces, each with a small specialised minor subject, display or video, used to explain some particular part of the amazing local history of the discovery and development of the single stone sericite porcelain story, that is endemic to this place.
The new building will occupy the entire length of the grounds from the road frontage, right down the side of the old Museum building and all the way down the side of the site, to the river-frontage walkway at the rear.

The new Museum extension will apparently consist of three new exhibition areas. Each with a particular theme. One of them will be a flexible space for a changing series of contemporary themed shows. One will have a small space for a glass case with my contributions to the continuing story of the Yanggu/Bangsan unique sericite porcelain history.
I look forward to getting to see it all finished on my next visit here.
Friday comes around soon enough and I have an appointment with the governor of the local government area or Province in his offices in the city.  Mr Jung has it all arranged. He has made the appointment a couple of weeks ago, when I first arrived and presented him with my 3 porcelain bowls made from the ‘borrowed’ sericite stones of my last visit, now all glazed with my local kangaroo blue opalescent glaze and returned to their birthplace in an enhanced form. The Premier seems to have been suitably impressed by the gift of my cultural amalgam of Australian/Korean porcelain culture.  As a way of promoting the Museum and gaining some exposure for his project, both with the political ‘machine’ of local government, who are funding the new Museum expansion, but also in the papers for local residential exposure/consumption. Mr Jung is always working to promote his life’s work and interest in sericite porcelain. Mr Jung and I are possibly the only two men in the world just now who are practising this ancient art form.
We meet in the Premiers Office. Myself, Mr Jung, Myeongki my translator and several local government minders. We are ushered into the Premiers private office, with its loverly, large round table and very plush leather lounge chairs. The official photographers are there and capture the moment for the press release. Everyone benefits from this meeting.
The Premier will be in the press showing that he is supporting the arts. Mr Jung can show that there is international recognition of the importance of his Museum. And I get to realise that I am under-dressed for a top level political meeting! After a bit of small talk, the Premier reaches out and holds my hand for the second photo-shoot.
I present him with the pots and a copy of my ‘5 Stones’ book, recently translated into Korean. He is polite and is well briefed. He says thank you for the important cultural gift, that now links our two countries. He tells me that he is impressed. They are beautiful. He also understands that I have developed a kiln design that is smaller, cleaner, more fuel efficient and less polluting than the traditional Korea wood fired kiln. I reply that I think that this is true. I have been working on this technology for a several decades now and the design is becoming quite sophisticated.
He replies that he thinks that Korea must have this technology, and goes on to express the opinion that they are intent on cleaning up their environment and doing what they can to become more environmentally friendly. Mr Jung has already made a proposal to build such a kiln at the Beakto Porcelain Village in Bangsan. The Premier says that he thinks that they should fund a project like this and also have the new wood firing book translated into Korean as well. I’m a bit shocked, is it that easy? Apparently it is.  I wasn’t expecting that!
We have tea and the locals discuss something, all in detail in Korean, that my translator describes to me in small whispered chunks, as it really doesn’t actually involve me at all. It’s secret-mens-political-business that involves the realities of the local government political/economic system. The meeting ends with much hand shaking, smiles and bowing. We leave and everyone seems happy with the result.
It appears that this was just the event to push the new kiln site and kiln building proposal over the political line. Apparently the combined project will be fully funded now, as well as the book. Is it really that easy? I think that there may have been a lot of lobbying going on for a long time behind the scenes? This may just be a ‘way-marker’ point. I mention this to my translator out in the street, adding that in Australia, politicians are renown for saying one thing in public, while doing another, totally different thing behind the scenes. She nods and agrees, politics is probably the same all over the world? Inferring that we will have to wait and see.
My Jung has managed to get the 6 million dollars to build the new Museum extension. He’s an impressive man. Maybe this much smaller, micro-project will happen too?
I cast my mind back 4 or 5 years to my first meeting with Mr Jung in 2015? with Ms Kang as my interpreter at that time. There were two architects invited in to see my presentation to Mr Jung about my research. I can only guess now, that they were there working on the new Museum plans at that time? That would make sense, as these large projects take a long time frame to evolve, develop, mature and eventuate.
The next day, the kiln is cool and my work comes out. I get to see not only my pots, but also the clay and glaze tests that I made from Mr Jung’s new glaze stone deposit from the hill behind his house.
My pots are mostly good. A few have minor faults, but most are good. A few are great, beautiful clear, rich, translucent examples of sericite at its best. I could have applied the glaze a little thicker to get a richer colour. I did give some of my pieces a second dip in the glaze to hopefully get a better result, but second dipping can lead to problems and  I didn’t want to loose all my work from a preventable problem, so just did half. These turned out the best, and now I wish that I had been brave enough to have done them all. My intuition was correct, but my caution was justified, it’s a good outcome. In the worst case scenario I could have lost all my work. So it’s all good.
It’s very interesting to me how the different sericite bodies influence the same glaze in the same firing to come out looking so different. All local sericite porcelains, each showing their own individual character.
 The glaze test results are very good. The new stone produces a beautiful satin blue celadon style glaze at 1270oC in reduction. It’s really good. I could use a glaze like this with pride on my work.
Most of the staff are there to see the unpacking, but Mr Jung has to go out to a meeting somewhere, so doesn’t stick around.
I start to explain to some of the resident researchers and a few of the staff just what I was doing with the glaze grid tile. No-one seems to have seen a grid tile before. It seems that they don’t learn much glaze chemistry in the art schools any more. Just like in Australia and the UK.
Janine and I were invited to do some work for the new ‘Clay College’ in Stoke on Trent last year. Clay College is a fantastic initiative. It’s an attempt to re-start a new hands-on ceramics course for potters in the UK, as it seems that all the universities that once taught ceramics have all been converted to ‘design’ schools, where students ‘design’ objects that get made somewhere else, by someone else, like China, or pumped out from a 3D printer?
I explain that the function of this test is to analyse the stone to find out its chemical analysis in % oxide composition. This sort of thing has usually to be done at great expense in a university chemistry lab using electron microscopes or similar.
I explain that I have developed a simple technique for achieving this using just a simple set of scales and a few ingredients.
They had all watched me make the test a few days ago. Now they see the outcome. I look at the colour and melt activity of the test tile and compare it to my data base of known results. I can quickly ascertain the oxide analysis. From there I can use ‘Segar Formula’ to adjust the glaze stone to make it do a number of different things.
I see that every one is very quiet. Eventually someone asks “what is that formula?”. No one has even heard of chemical formula for glaze calculation.  It seems that the only glazing that’s taught here is how to buy a glaze from the pottery supply shop catalogue. We are at that point here in Australia now. Nothing difficult or technical is being taught.
I give a quick class in glaze calculation. One of the older students tells me that he was taught something like that 20 years ago, but wasn’t paying attention and couldn’t see any reason to learn it at the time. Could I go through that all again slowly please.
I do and they slowly get the drift of the exercise. Not the Segar Formula part, but the compound line-blend test tile exercise. They really like the glaze quality of the result and the ease of ascertaining that result with just one test using a totally unknown stone.
They ask me how I learnt how to do this? Who told me that this was possible. I tell them that it is my own invention. I developed this testing technique during my PhD studies, as I was focussed on using local stones to make local porcelain. More or less trying to achieve in a few years what you have been doing here for 700 years!
I fettle and grind my pots ready to go. I pack them in 3 equal lots and wrap them very well in bubble wrap. One batch goes into my suitcase wrapped again in my clothing. A second lot is slid into my back pack. It just fits and the last group are packed into a cardboard box and taped up. I assume that I will have to pay excess baggage fees to get them onto the plane.
On the last day before I leave Bangsan, Mr Jung takes me up to the Baekto Porcelain village to say good bye to the resident researchers, Mr Jung wants to show me something. The money has come through as promised and work has begun on the new kiln shed. It looks like the project will be going to happen a lot faster than I could have imagined. The Premier is a man of his word.
The site has been a excavated and men are at work setting up formwork ready to cast the concrete footings for the new kiln shed. They have to dig down 1.8 metres to get down below the frost line where the ground freezes during winter. Here that is very deep as the temperature drops to below minus -30oC in winter. The frozen soil will expand and cause the ground and everything on it to crack unless the site is well prepared like this.
Mr Jung explains where my kiln will go in this huge shed. Over on the left hand side, there will be at least one other kiln in here and possibly two, in years to come. One of them is going to be a 5 chamber, traditional climbing kiln. A juxtaposition of the old and new in wood firing techniques.
Mr Jung missed my glaze lesson and asks Daewoong to ask me if I can send him my PhD thesis? I reply that of course I will be pleased to do so, but it is 120,000 words in English and academic English at that. Maybe I should just send him the glaze calculation part about rock glazes? As it happens I just happen to have a book called ‘Rock Glazes and Geology for potters’. I’ll post him a copy. I can see yet another translation project coming along in the future?
This may be my last attempt at a travelers’ tale from Korea.
I considder myself just so lucky to have met such incredibly nice, creative and supportive poeple here.
Best wishes
Steve