Thinking of travel.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Where oh where have my little ducks gone?

I went visiting my duck pond looking for some of my early friends.  I was saddened to see many no longer listed, many on indefinite vacation and a lot of shops empty of goods.   I hope they are well and floating in another duck pond.

Some have had a bad shake and others are just tired.  I am sure they will return some day.

Until then.  I will be thinking of them swimming around in my duck pond.

silverWARES=  On vacation until further notice.

eclipse= On vacation. No indication when the shop will be active.
AtabbycatArts= On vacation. Will be back when they get back.
 ACelticgirl2= Empty shop. 
bluefingerstudios= On vacation.  Will respond to convos.
alyanna=alyanna Just the shop profile. 
dragonfyrestudio=  Empty shop.  No explanation but URL to facebook page.
thewhimsytrove Member no longer listed on etsy.
bencandance= Store open but no listings.  No explanation.
blueditty= Store open but no listings.  No explanation.
upzndowns=On vacation.  No return date.
CoastingAlong= Shop open but no listings.  Referal to Artfire.
DiscordThreadsMember no longer listed on Etsy.
thewhimsytroveMember no longer listed on Etsy.
Member no longer listed on Etsy.
DesignedByLucinda= Shop empty.  Family crisis.  Hopes to return soon.
 Member no longer listed on Etsy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A trip to China
Sanbao International Ceramic Art Institute offers residencies to visual artists who work with clay, paint, sculpture, photography and printmaking as well as many other mediums

I first went to Sanbao as a Fellow in 2003.  I have since returned three more times.  This is an account of my arrival for my first Fellowship.

My Sanbao Experience
The small van carrying me from the airport arrived at Sanbao, just before the evening meal. Stepping out of the vehicle and looking around, my inner thoughts told me that I was about to experience an adventure unlike any other that I had known. Something told me that this experience would have a profound effect upon my life and my art. It would form my interpretation of Chinese ceramics and give me the opportunity to know the Chinese people and their culture.

Chinese mythologicle characters
and heroes, stared at us.

The walled residency compound, rich with the rust colored adobe surfaced walls welcomed me. Red banners hung vertically on each side of the entrance, displaying large calligraphic characters, wishing prosperity and long life to all who entered. Paper lanterns suspended like giant crimson cherries, swayed lightly in the breeze. We crossed the threshold and entered an inner courtyard that was a beautiful garden of subtropical fauna and delicate flowers. A gaggle of ceramic, Chinese mythological characters and heroes, partially hidden amongst the thick foliage stared at us as we passed by. A narrow wooden footbridge carried us across a small tributary to the entrance of the inner court. After climbing a few steps of hewn stone, past numerous clay pots, bowls and piles of fused Ming and Qing shards,we entered another smaller court yard. A few chickens as they went running by and small band of puppies were frolicing in the shade of a small tree. The delicious smell of food cooking and the soft banter of other artists partaking of their evening meal greeted us. We had arrived, and my education was about to begin.

Founded by the international
ceramic artist Jackson Li 

Full clay studio facilities
Li Jiangshan the President of Sanbao
The Gateway to Jingdezhen 

The Sanbao Ceramic Art Institute, founded by the international ceramic artist Jackson Li, is quietly nestled on the banks of a small river that meanders down through a lush green valley, surrounded by steep, densely treed mountains and rolling foothills. The valley is a quilt of waving rice fields and vegetable gardens. Jackson Li founded the institute about ten years ago. It has since grown to international stature, promoting a clay art exchange throughout the world. The residency program offers visiting artists and residents full clay studio facilities, sumptuous meals and most comfortable accommodations. Sanbao is truly a “Club Med” for ceramists and potters.
Sanbao was also to become my gateway to the city of Jingdezhen, noted for the famous blue and white porcelain ware that was a key trade item on the Silk Road and during the time of the wind filled sails and foreign clipper ships.

The staff of Sanbao was to become my mentors. They encouraged me to discover the local and distant landmarks. They invited me to delve into the mysterious Chinese cultural activities, to appreciate their music, and experience the generous hospitality of the local residents.

A small city in Chinese terms
 Jingdezhen is a small city. The guidebook Lonely Planet lists the population at about a million, four hundred thousand strong. The city lies on the banks of the Chang Yang River near Gaoling; a small village that was rich in supplies of the kaolin clay which is a crucial ingredient of porcelain. The Chang Yang River was the conduit to the sea that allowed the blue and white porcelain to reach all parts of the world
Jingdezhen creates porcelain objects
A bustling center of activity
Porcelain transport
 has the right of way.
I found Jingdezhen to be a bustling center of activity, dominated by the ceramic industry. Some inhabitants say that one third of the city of Jingdezhen creates porcelain objects. One third supplies the logistics and the remaining third provide the support infrastructure, such as families, schools, government agencies, local merchants and professional services.
City of tall Chimneys
Black smoke to make white jade.

The city was at one time listed as the most polluted city in the world. That was because it used coal and wood as its primary energy source to fire the hundreds of kilns required to convert the clay to the “white jade” porcelain. Today the story is different. Nearly all of the coal-fired kilns have closed down leaving only tall chimneys as monuments of the past. More efficient, natural gas kilns have since replaced them. 

There are seventy-two steps required to make a porcelain product. 
A one thousnad year ceramic industry
type=textI found that I could stand on any street corner in Jingdezhen, and I would see something connected with the ceramic industry. The Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute points out that there are seventy-two steps required to make a porcelain product. One person will be responsible for one task. They are highly focused, expertly trained and extremely dedicated to producing a quality product. They become masters at their chosen activity. 

A large factory without a roof.
The city was like a large factory without a roof. It was not uncommon to see ceramic ware, at all stages of completion, being transported throughout the streets and alleys of the town. Ceramic objects would move from studio to studio, factory to factory. Each move was to complete the next step in the process. There were the throwers, trimmers, glazers, decorators, kiln masters, transportation jobbers, wrappers and shippers. The process did not end until it was sold and delivered to the customer.

Amazed at what I saw 
Vases fourteen feet high
type=textI walked about Jingdezhen amazed at what I saw. There were factories making large-scale vases, some fourteen feet high. I saw teams of young artists moving about forests of pots, some composing landscapes, others drawing dragons. I saw a man walking down the street, carrying a large pug of clay on his shoulders. He turned up a narrow alley, and I followed. He led me through another narrow walkway, between two buildings, into the small courtyard of a clay studio. There a group of artists were creating large ceramic tiles, four foot by four foot, sculpted, in bas-relief.  
The antique market.
type=textWhere you can buy and antique that was made yesterday. 

Another day would find me wandering through the antique market looking for treasure. The antiques on sale, however, were probably made the day before. Nevertheless, they are at times considered being of superior quality than the originals. Another day found me exploring the back alleys of the city and finding an abundance of slip-ware studios. Thousands of green-ware forms, both contemporary and traditional, were basking in the sun, waiting for a customer. Hardly a day passed without a discovery.

Jingdezhen is a Meccatype=text

Yes, Jingdezhen is a Mecca for ceramic artists, ceramic lovers and anyone interested in visiting China. Did I have time to create a body of work during my two-month stay at Sanbao? Yes, I did some artwork, but not as much as I would have wished. There was so much to see, so much to learn and so much to experience. My adventures became the start of an education that will continue for the rest of my life.

If you are interested in visiting Sanbao you can find out more info by emailing me at

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In Search of the White Gold

     One of the greatest transfers of intellectual property took place approximately five hundred years ago. This pirating was not executed quickly, much like we do today when we download music or photographs taken by other artists. It began slowly during the early thirteenth century when the famous Italian traveller, Marco Polo, returned to his home in Italy from his twenty four year visit to China.
     Marco returned with many new ideas and products that would change western civilization. He returned with a large cargo of brocade silks, valuable pieces of pottery, gold and many other samples of products produced by the Chinese artisans. The valuable pieces of pottery, carried home by Marco were the items that generated the greatest interest to the movers and shakers of late Medieval, early Renaissance Italy. These pieces of pottery were beautiful, sumptuous white porcelains.

     The Italians named this pottery, “Porcellana,” taken from the root “porcell,”: the name of a seashell that was bright white in colour. It was not long before the royal families throughout Europe began to demand porcelain. Their appetite for it motivated the clay artisans of Europe to try to produce it. There was, however, a small problem. The means to make porcelain was known only to the Chinese and the key to its creation was well guarded.

     More porcelain began to trickle through the trade routes that followed Marco Polo, and availability of it also increased with the opening of the sea routs to the orient. The European continued to try to recreate this white hard ceramic material, but they could only imitate porcelain’s whiteness, its brilliance, and its transparency. The development of majolica, tin glazed faience, the delftware and bone china, were among their best endeavours. 

     It was during the late 17th century that the formula for porcelain began to unravel. The Europeans soon realize that there were two parts to the secret. One was the need to fire the porcelain to a higher temperature in order to change the clay into a hard white glassy form. The other part of the secret was the combination of material that went into making porcelain. There are reports that tell of English or Dutch traders bringing home samples of petuntse (feldspar), from China. They were not ceramists, so they failed to realise that they were bringing home only half of the secret mix. The Chinese were aware that the foreigners wanted to aquire the formula, so they never truly explained the whole process. When they talked of the porcelain, they used terms that could not be translated into the foreign languages. Even when they were being more generous with their explanations, much information was lost in translation. The Chinese used words such as “bones”, “meat”, and “oil” to explain the formula. They still do today.

The closest any European came to recording the complete recipe for Chinese porcelain was Père d’Entrecolles. He was a part of the religious influx into China at the time. He arrived in China just before the turn of the 18th. He travelled to Jingdezhen, the heart of Chinese porcelain production, and while there, he documented the porcelain process in two of his letters home.

He wrote in his first letter to Paris in 1712: “From time to time I have stayed in Ching-tê-chên to administer to the spiritual necessities of my converts, and so I have interested myself in the manufacture of this beautiful porcelain, which is so highly prized and is sent to all parts of the world. Nothing but my curiosity could ever have prompted me to such researches but it appears to me that a minute description for all the concerns this kind of work might, somehow, be useful in Europe”. We now know that it was. The Church not only saved souls it recorded the life in the community along with all the technical information possible. This priest was practicing industrial espionage.

While Père d’Entrecolles was busy documenting the technical details about porcelain production, he, was unaware that an alchemist Fredrich Böttger and physicist E.W. Von Tschirnhaus, two alchemists under the control of Augustus II, king of Poland, had already succeeded in producing hard-paste porcelain in 1708. This success was not made public. The making of European porcelain did not begin until 1720 at the Albrechtsburg Castle in Meissen.

News travelled much slower during this time and Père d’Entrecolles most likely thought he was the only one chronicling the procedure for the real porcelain. Even he had mixed up the information that he was gathering. Some experts say the proportions of kaolin and petuntse noted in the letter were reversed.

Père d’Entrecolles went on to compose a second letter in 1722. This epistle went into detail about the glazing and decorating techniques and enclosed detailed drawings of the kilns used, by the artisans, to achieve the high temperatures needed to melt the materials into the “white gold”. Although the letters of d’Entrecolles did not reach Europe until after the discoveries of Bottger, they were, nevertheless, considered the most comprehensive compilation of the porcelain process. The letters were published in Paris, and the procedures that were kept secret for over 500 years were now common knowledge.

Today, years after porcelain has become a common European product, the Chinese still provide exceptionally high quality porcelain that cannot be mimicked. The art of making the porcelain by hand is fast disappearing. The European model of assembly line machine made products is replacing the quality handmade pieces.

It is also easy to see that the Chinese Porcelains have had a great influence on my own work.