I made a trip out to the mountains in Minamihata yesterday with my mentor to collect materials for pots and glazes, and we stopped by an old kiln site as well.
We were able to collect a good amount of feldspathic sandstone, weathered feldspar, and the ever popular grey stuff (don’t know what its real name is).
First, here is what we collected that will become pots and glazes this year:
On the way to one of the collecting sites, we passed two old Karatsu kilns, Fujinokawachi and Kayanotani. I was surprised because they are separated by no more than 70 meters or so. These were big kilns. Kayanotani was a 22 chamber climbing kiln 52 meters long! Between them, there were probably hundreds of potters working. We couldn’t really access Fujinokawachi, but we were able to walk around on the hill where Kayanotani once stood.
Front came out beautifully, mid stack as well, rear a little cool. Very top of front, mid, and rear were cold. Shelf config caused this, I think, because of the large shelves being close together, creating strata in the heat gradient. The very front shelf with guinomi and chawan was the main culprit, blocking the flame from rising, and directing it under the large shelves placed midway up the front stack.
In the future I need to stagger the shelf levels during stacking, to allow the flame to travel upward. Also, block some of the floor level flue channels at the rear of the chamber. Make sure upper flues are fully open.
These are some of the new patterns I’m playing with for the spring firing. There is much inspiration to be had from old Shino and Oribe work.
Many people don’t realize there was a great deal of cross pollination between Karatsu and Oribe in particular. There is also evidence that Furuta Oribe came to Taku at one point: one historical document mentions his name, and there are shards from the ruins of Taku Koraidani kiln that show very ‘Oribe-ish’ decoration, as well as most of a kutsugata bowl which is quite obviously made for tea ceremony.
Last year I bid on a small old Shino piece being auctioned (I bid about ¥12000, and didn’t win. The winning bid was ¥52000) the reason I wanted it was that it had a wisteria decoration on it that was virtually identical to some of the Taku Koraidani shards.
Rice plants and horse tails are both representative of Karatsu brush deco. The birds separated by a line bisecting the dish is a typical motif in the Taku pot shards.
Below is one of the pieces that I’ve started experimenting with this year. I really like Japanese brushwork but I don’t have the decades to study it for my pottery, and I’d feel bad doing a crappy job of it. I decided to try writing English with a brush, with little regard for the shape of the letters, rather letting the flow of the patterns emerge with soft, quick uninterrupted strokes. It’s intended to be gestural more than anything else, since it is quite difficult to read even if you know what it says. It has been a big hit with customers so far, and many people have thought it was Japanese script.
This cup says: “Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” It’s a quote by 11th century mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam. This is actually more legible than some of the other pieces I’ve done.
Fired with cones 6,7,8 on top and bottom shelves. Pyrometer at middle shelf, didn’t display over 1215C.
Hotter on bottom than top. By cone, looks like cone 9+ on the bottom, cone 9 at the middle, and cone 8+ at the top.
Reduction strong at top shelf, weaker at middle and bottom.
There is an old story around here about Nakazato Muan (12th Generation Nakazato Tarouemon, Living National Treasure) finding a really great white clay seam in the Azambaru area of Taku. Here it is in Japanese for those of you who can read it:
For those of you whose Japanese is a bit rusty, it goes like this:
In the year Showa 21 (1946), the Nakazato kiln was converted from a coal burning kiln to a wood burning kiln, and it was fired until Showa 25 (1950). During this time, Muan mostly used a white clay from the Azanbaru area of Taku. There is a story, told by his son Shigetoshi, from the day they discovered this clay seam (Nakazato Shigetoshi passed away in 2015, at the age of 85, so he was probably around 16 years old at the time of this story).
So they have all this clay loaded onto a cart, which Shigetoshi is pulling and his father Muan is pushing, to Taku train station.
On the way, they reach a downward slope, and without noticing, Muan keeps pushing down the slope, and they almost run into a car speeding down the road. Shigetoshi ends up diving to avoid the car, the car ends up in a rice field, and their cart ends up broken. When Shigetoshi gets angry and starts yelling, Muan says “I was so busy thinking about what I was going to make with this clay, I didn’t notice the slope.”, apologizing to Shigetoshi.
“That was the first time my father ever apologized to me.”, Shigetoshi commented.
So why, you say, are you telling me all of this? Well, the fabled white clay seam has been looked for now by other potters for decades with no luck, but due to a fortuitous event a few months ago (and several years of looking), I believe I have found it again. Here are some pictures from our excursion out to dig some sample material for testing.
Oh, and lastly, here’s a picture of one of Nakazato Muan’s coil and paddle built jars. This one is made from white clay from the clay seam pictured above. My firing tests have almost the same color as the unglazed bottom section of this jar (although it is hard to see from this dark picture).
This firing of the kiln went too long, resulting in Orton cone 11 flat. Ideally, it would be cone 11 touching, then sagging a bit.
Upon unloading the kiln this morning, one thing was immediately apparent: the right side was far more reduced than the left. Yellower glazes and more slumping. Even on the left side there was some slumping, because of the excessive temp., and because of the clay which contained some low temp high iron clay to help seal the ware against leakage.
Chosen Karatsu came out pretty good, but the white was on too heavy, running down the pots too much. It still came out looking ok because of the clay.
Most of the teabowls warped or sagged, so I only get to keep 2 or 3 of the 15. This is why teabowls are expensive, kids…
All in all, not a bad firing, but need to adjust clay bodies, and pay closer attention to cones. Also, figure out the over reduction on the right side. It might be that one burner that sounds a bit off.