Pots, pots and more pots

September 25, 2010

Yep, sure do feel like I’m in the ceramics heartland here!

It’s been a pretty uneventful week; I’ve been working in the studio quite a lot and have been a little delinquent with photography. Highlights of the week have been the Mid-Autumn Festival, or moon festival. There weren’t that many festivities, really, but we did go to dinner at a hot pot restaurant, which was indeed hot. Eating out for meals has given a whole new meaning to the term ‘family dining’. I have renamed the Lazy Susan the “Angry Susan” because of the frustration generated when a dish you want has almost made it around to you, and then someone reverses the direction.

Today was another field trip day,  within Jingdezhen. We went to an ancient kiln site, a big pot factory, and the porcelain museum. The ancient kiln site was great to visit. It covered quite a large area (84 hectares, according to one sign), and included quite a few working artists, a plethora of gift shops as well as the old kiln. Most of the photos on this post are from the site. In the photo with the big chimney (below the trash cans), the smaller house-like structure is actually a wood pile.

Discovering English translations is one of the more amusing aspects of life here. At times they seem intentionally funny – but given the number of people I have met who have a reasonable command of English (maybe 2), I think they are accidental. We saw this vehicle today as part of a wedding procession, and concluded that the last letter was a sideways E. You might also take note of how close the bus we were in is to the back of the car! Driving in China is not for the faint of heart.

However, I should not be too critical of anyone’s English, given my still pitiful Mandarin. We had one class this week, but none the rest of the week due to the holiday. We are spending next week in Yixing (another ceramics hub), so the Chinese is unfortunately off to a slow start.

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Field trip and freshmen

September 19, 2010

The heat has continued to be relentless here. According to my frequent weather report checks, it is supposed to cool down on Wednesday. It is not an overstatement to say that I am counting down the hours. I feel like I am in some sort of reverse hibernation – laying low until cooler weather comes.

Or I’m hiding in a kiln, as demonstrated in the photo. On Thursday, our group took a field trip to some places in the surrounding area, including to a large dragon kiln (also featured in this photo). We visited several old villages, and Gaolin Mountain, the birthplace of porcelain. It was nice to be out of the city and to see some of the surrounding area; not as nice to be in a small bus with twenty sweaty individuals.

The brown stuff on the road in the following pictures is all rice.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the stone work on some of the old houses.

During our first week , we have witnessed the Chinese version of freshman orientation, which is a sort of mandatory military training. Each day, they have been practicing marching and who knows what else in the field across from the studio. Today was their commencement, and we were required to go to the ceremonies, which took place on the new campus of JCI. It was a long morning of sitting in the sun, and was only enjoyable if you relish experiencing celebrity status. While older Chinese people generally seem indifferent to our presence here, younger Chinese are often quite excited to meet us.

There’s a lot more to say about daily life here in Jingdezhen, but I’m off of the studio so it will have to wait.


Trimming

September 17, 2010

On Wednesday, a trimmer came to the studio to demonstrate. In the US, potters generally both throw and trim their pots; here labor is divided between the thrower and trimmer.

I have long heard rumors about techniques of dry trimming and dry attachments in Jingdezhen, and they are all true. The secrets lie in a)the clay, and b) a large collection of sharp tools, and an accompanying helper to keep the tools sharp all day.

My favorite part of the demo was when the trimmer would use a pair of pliers to shape to tool so that it would match the inner curve of the pot. He did this for every new form.

I’ll try to not be a ceramic geek in every post!


Nuts and bolts

September 15, 2010

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the JCI-WVU program, here are some fast facts.

I am participating in a semester study abroad program, sponsored by West Virginia University in partnership with the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute. JCI is a Chinese university with roughly 12,000 students, 3,000 of whom are ceramics students.

Our studio space is located on the JCI campus, but separate from the Chinese facilities. There are 15 students in my program. We will also be joined by visiting US artitsts during the semester; currently Tara Wilson is here, and later on Jason Walker, Paul Dresang and Dan Murphy will all do stints.

Our time is divided between studio work, demos by Chinese and US artists and local field trips. Next week, we will start classes in Mandarin and ceramics art history.  As well, we will take a week long trip to Yixing, and in early December we will travel to Xian and Beijing before heading back to the US.

Jingdezhen is a city of roughly one million (small for China) and has a long history in ceramics, particularly porcelain. It is known for its blue and white ware. I am just starting to see the tip of the iceberg of how much clay is in this town!


First day of school

September 13, 2010

Today was our first day of school – as you can see, it was pretty relaxed!

I should mention that it is HOT here. Sweltering, in fact. I am very grateful for the AC in the dorm room, even as it continues to leak.

The two men in the background of the picture came to do a throwing demo today. The thrower travels and throws forms for decorators or factories. Here’s a few more shots:

The wedging bench (cloth covered, and at a slight angle) seems pretty brilliant to me.

We had all three meals today at JCI – we have our own dining area and cooks. The food was GREAT. Here are some shots from lunch. Dinner looked quite similar.

As for Walmart, I don’t anticipate many repeat visits.  However, I did stumble upon this treasure on a book cover.


Arrival in Jingdezhen

September 12, 2010

We pulled in to the Jingdezhen train station at 4:30 am this morning, after a fairly uneventful train ride. My first impressions here are that it is nice to have trees, it is much less crowded and the food has been a huge improvement over anything I found in Shanghai. The food comes as a relief, as I was mildly concerned following a few unpleasant eating experiences while in Shanghai.

Communication is one of the more challenging aspects of being here, particularly with older Chinese. There was a very nice man in my berth in the train, but for the duration of the train ride we did nothing but smile and nod at each other.  I just went to report a leaking air conditioner in my dorm room. With the help of a student to translate, I was sent by a man on the first floor to a woman on the fourth floor. She came to the room, and repeatedly made a hand gesture that to me means telephone. I tried to hand her the telephone from the room, and she would wave her hand in front of her face, which I believe means no. Finally we all gave up and she left the room. The air conditioner continues to drip…who knows what will happen next. If anyone has insight into the telephone gesture, I would love enlightenment.

Photos are from the studios at Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute, and our first meal (breakfast) at Food Alley. The studios here were flooded about two months ago with about six feet of water; they have been cleaned and rebuilt and look great.

Next up, a bus ride to downtown/ Walmart.


Shanghai

September 10, 2010

Hello from Shanghai!

We arrived Wednesday evening, and have a few hours left in Shanghai before setting off for Jingdezhen via a 15 hour train ride.  I’m looking forward to settling in there and getting to work in the studio.

In Shanghai, we visited the Shanghai Museum (5 stars), the Yu Gardens (weird and not very garden like) and the World Expo (very big, very commercial and overall not my cup of tea). Most of my evergy has been spent recovering from jetlag and trying to comprehend that I am really and truly in China.

Our time in Shanghai has coincided with the World Expo. Presumably, the city is much more crowded for that reason, and prices are also inflated. It is hard to know how different the city is, without any basis for comparison. It is certainly crowded!

Here are a few pictures, including  some of my favorite signs, walkways in the Yu Gardens, and the crowds of Shanghai. (The one with the bunny building is from the World Expo).