5 days in a perfect world

I fly in from China with my cargo of porcelain bowls safely stowed in my hand luggage. A dozen good reasons to feel happy.

I have one day to do 3 loads of washing and pack up the car with camping gear. We have season tickets to the National Folk Festival in Canberra. It is held over the 5 days of Easter each year. They bill it as 5 days in a perfect world. And this is true, but not for the reasons that they think! I’ll return to this later.

We enjoy the music, the food, the people, catching up with friends. It’s all good. We get to catch 3 different concerts with Heath Cullen, always good, but this year, 3 times better.IMG_1785

I also catch up with Mal Webb a really ‘out there’ performer working at the edge of what is possible with mouth percussion, 12 instruments and a loop machine!

A really great week.

We return home and work the washing machine to the max. I have a kiln to collect from the galvanisers. I welded it before leaving for China. It’s been ‘hot dipped’ now, and ready to collect. I have a week to fettle, clean, etch, prime, and top coat it before Janine and I fly out to Cambodia, at the end of the week, where we are volunteering for a couple of weeks.

To say that there is a lot a poverty here is such an understatement. Almost everyone is dirt poor. There is so much ingenuity here to ‘make do’. I’m so impressed with these people’s resilience in the face of grinding poverty.

If I ever hear another Australian winge  about how hard their life is……

We live in a perfect world. We are so lucky. We just don’t know how lucky we are.

A little time away working in a third world country really grounds you.

Porcelain, blah, blah, blah!

Not all porcelain is white.

The countryside around Mittagong is one of the few places where native porcelain stone occurs. 15 years ago, I discovered porcelain stone and it has enabled me to develop my wood fired porcelain and proto-porcelains made from this native rock. They aren’t the most translucent or the whitest of porcelains. But they are mine. I’m not pretending that just because I dig the stuff up, it makes for good pots. Good pots are made by good potters, by skill, judgement, intuition and innate ability, coupled with loads of practice. The ‘stuff’ doesn’t necessarily come into it. I’m not a good potter, but I enjoy what I do, and sometimes I think that I’m getting better, as some of my pots turn out to be quite lovely. But only some. There is still a lot of luck involved.

During the development of this work it became obvious to me that if I wanted this ground-up rock to have any sort of plasticity. It would need to be aged for several years. I set about doing this in ernest, over a decade ago.

This work is my attempt to produce a local product. Something that has all-but disappeared from Australian and other first-world economies in recent years. This work, with all its limitations and faults, and all its local character, can be described using the French word, ‘terroir’ that expresses some of this unique quality of ‘locality’.

The search for a personal aesthetic based on the essence of my locality and life experience is also the search for the essence of the potter. This is such an unpopular and old-fashioned concept, but I believe that this work grows out of the fact that I have lived and worked here for over 40 years. I’ve walked a lot of this country. I’m assuming that this is not an issue for most other potters, but it is for me. I exist and work, intimately connected to this place where I live.

I am a ceramic lacavore, I have chosen to limit myself to the 50 km palette of materials. I grow a lot of my own wood. I make the fire bricks for my kiln by hand, from local refractory white bauxite. My glazes are made from the porcelain stone or other local igneous rocks, shales, gravels and ashes, all crushed, processed and milled in my workshop inefficiently, in small batches often by hand, in a workshop built by my partner Janine and myself from mud bricks that we made from local clay. We also grow all our own green food in our extensive vegetable gardens and orchards.

It couldn’t be more wholesome, corny, or sickeningly idyllic. Homespun, organic and self-reliant as it all is, it is not for everyone, in fact, it’s most likely not for anyone these days. The sixties are over! But it suits me, someone who still believes in romance, passion and ideals. I’m firmly rooted in the  truth, i.e. (pre)post-truth era!

Many potters these days love to use the international, trans-global, ultra-white, concoctions of porcelains. These ‘international roast’ of clay bodies. They are very good! So white! But a lot of the work starts to look a bit the same for it. One local show of porcelain was apparently described as just so much ‘blah, blah, blah!’ recently, I wasn’t there, but I think that I know what one of those ‘blah’s might mean. One gallery director said that any work that values the material that it is made from or the method of its making can never be considered as Art.

Fair enough, I call myself ‘potter’, not artist, just a person revelling in the innate qualities of my own unique, wood fired, local porcelain stone. The wood firing draws out some unusual and interesting surfaces, not normally identified as those of porcelain. So what is porcelain anyway? Seeing that it is concerned with material ‘stuff’, it can’t be Art. The Orientals would have us think that it is all about the sound, what one hears when a porcelain bowl is struck. So, therefore its all about glaze fit. I don’t mind a bit of crazing, in fact I quite like it. So my work doesn’t always ‘ring’. One definition involves light shining through the thin sections. So that’s translucency. However, most people would think of the supreme whiteness, but porcelain isn’t always white, mine certainly isn’t. My pots don’t always ring and they don’t always show light through either. So my work only contains a bit of ‘blah’! Maybe it’s not porcelain?

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really know what defines porcelain. What I do know is, that whatever it is that I’m crafting here in my pottery through old fashioned techniques and lots of attention to detail, but mostly a lot of time. It ends up having some lovely qualities that I can’t seem to achieve any other way.

It’s mine, it’s local, it’s ethically sourced, it’s low carbon, it’s pretty much unique to here and I love it. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!

What else do I need to know?

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Writers Week

Janine and I managed to get all our work done and we spent last week at Writers Week. As always it was a thoroughly engaging time. So many great stories and discussions. 84 sessions to choose from, so many topics and so many books, so many writers. We find ourselves entertained, inspired, engaged, and challenged.

A thoroughly rewarding week out of the workshop and into the realm of ideas.

This year there was a lot of discussion about the death of the book, it cropped up again and again in different forms and forums, but that was the steady undercurrent this year. I’m not too worried. I believe that the book will survive in all its various forms for a long time to come. I’m sure that it will see me out.

I’m not digital native, so I still like to handle the thing in itself, to feel the weight, the smell and the texture of paper and ink. but then again, I’m very old-fashioned. I stubbornly insist on writing letters on nice paper with ink and a fountain pen. Sure its old-fashioned and out-dated, but so is making pots out of clay! Plastic replaced ceramics last century for all intents and purposes, but pots still persist as an art form and a better quality product. So that is how I see the book. Invoices have all graduated to electronic form, as have cheques and banking. Email has replaced most letters and fair enough. Electronic books are OK, but not for me. Not just yet anyway.

The book as an art form will persist for a very long time. I even attended a session on ‘The Book’. I even bought the book on ‘The Book’! and it’s a beautiful thing, as I also have his earlier book on some lesser known typographic characters.

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You can just imagine the Sumerians saying,  “I don’t get these Egyptians, I can’t see papyrus catching on. I just love the smell of clay, and the texture and weight of a good clay tablet!

Tomatoes and Stale Bread

We recently had a lot of people here for our house concert. After we cleared up the next day, we found that we had a lot of food left over. We found that we had a half loaf of Italian bread. We decided that we would have a lunch of tomato on toast.

I pan fried the bread in a little olive oil with garlic and chilli. Then a slice of ham, sliced fresh, ripe garden warm tomatoes and cucumber, a few fresh torn basil leaves, plus a little fake salt and real pepper . WOW! delicious.

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With what was left over, I cubed it and toasted it in the oven, so as to make a tomato and crouton salad. The roasted croutons were mixed with oil and balsamic vinegar dressing and then finely sliced red onions from the garden, with chilli, capsicum, and lastly big chunks of tomatoes. all tossed together with the seasoning s of your choice.

The croutons become softened on the outside with the tangy oil and vinegar, while remaining crunchy on the inside. This with the fresh fruity aromas of the herbs and tomatoes. It makes a great salad. So summery!

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The First Ratatouille of the Summer

Ratatouille is one of those recipies that has a lot of different interpretations. It’s that time of year again, when all the necessary ingredients are all ripe together at the one time in our garden. We simply use what we have that is ripe on the day.

Today that is egg plant, capsicums, chillis, zucchini and red ripe tomatoes. I brown some of our onions and garlic that we have hanging in plaits in the kitchen and out on the verandah. Add in all the chopped ingredients, along with a small jar of tomato sugo that I bottled in the autumn. A few sprigs of sweet basil are added in and the whole lot is simmered together for a few minutes, until softened and then served. It couldn’t be easier or more immediate and wholesome. Not to mention delicious!




A Decade-long Project, Finally Completed

For the past ten years or so, I have been working on a long-term project, to save every champagne, prosecco and sparkling wine, cork capsule that we opened and make Xmas decorations out of them. I decided, for better or worse, that I would make a string of capsules hung all around the front verandah of our house.

In the first few years, when it was only a few feet long. I was able to take it down after the Summer Solstice holiday was over and put it away till next year, but as it grew longer year by year. I found that it was very easy to get all tangled up with itself. It became a tiresome job to un-tangle it each year and re-hang it. As we were adding to the length by about 4 feet or 1.5 metres a year. It soon became apparent that I should leave them up permanently. So it has become a fixture ever since. No-one sees it anymore, it’s become just part of the house.

So, I was very pleased today, to finally complete the bling-string by adding this years collection of sparkling wine capsules and found that it finally reached the other end of the verandah.

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Now that I’ve completed this epic art installation. I think that i will start on there BBQ area. It could use a little bit of sparkle too!

A good job well done

Last week, I delivered the latest kiln to its new home at the Sturt Pottery in Mittagong. Fortunately, everything went as it should, no drunks coming along to ‘help’. No neighbours off their ‘meds’, no visits from the police. Everything went just as it should.

I loaded the kiln on my truck and delivered it to the site. Dave turned up and met me there with his big crane truck, That crane is just the most amazing piece of technology. Every ten years, when Dave replaces his truck, he gets a new crane and it gets bigger and bigger each time. This one is so powerful that he doesn’t even have to turn the truck around to get the crane closer. It reaches right over the truck and lifts the kiln into position perfectly and without effort – but not without cost!

Dave is fitting me into his busy Xmas schedule, between other loads that he has booked in for the day.  The old kiln was moved out and the new one lifted off my truck and onto the lifter trolley. While we push the kiln into position, Dave packs up his crane and it is all over in 30 mins. Just as it should.

A big think you to Mark, Simon and Dave for all doing their essential parts. The kiln now has a new home for many years to come.

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