Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Norwegian Cup: John Skognes

I know the title of this post sounds like the award from some international sailing event or golf tournament, but it really is the title I have given to some remarkable Norwegian teacups.
I also know you come to Morning Crane Tea for Korean Tea and Teaware but just like the old hymn, “A Song of Peace” says,
My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, 
  and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
There are just a few non Korean ceramic artists that I will introduce here at Morning Crane Tea.  Each brings to us what I believe to be truly exceptional examples of the type of work they produce. In this case, I’d like to introduce some extraordinary tea cups by the internationally respected Norwegian potter John Skognes.
An aside: With nokcha (green tea) I truly enjoy the small traditional teapot, 3 teacups and a cooling vessel. They connect me in a near ceremonial way to the freshness of the tea and its vitality.  Those nokcha moments are memorable.
However, anytime the temperature goes below 50˚F or 10˚C I reach for my Norwegian cup and and a bag of Korean balhyocha (oxidized tea) and approach Tea another way.  The Norwegian cup will accept the entire teapot’s infused contents, possibly two, and allows me to sit for a longer time relaxed by the fire slowly sipping my tea.  It both warms my hands and heart.  The drinking of nokcha and balhyocha in these respective ways both bring meditative moments but different in feel and style.

This is John Skognes, a master potter and as a gifted guitarist and singer is, in my mind at least, also Norway’s Willie Nelson. (working on a video to upload here)
John is truly one of Norway’s master potters.  He has been salt firing with wood for more than 30 years and has mastered the craft.
For those of you unfamiliar with salt firing, it is a process developed originally in Germany and interestingly also in Korea in which rock salt crystals are introduced into the hot kiln.  Sodium from the salt crystals reacts with the silica in the clay body to form a glassy coating of sodium silicate.  The colors change because of various minerals in the clay body and fly ash from the wood that is in itself also a glaze.  The process is simple and at the same time also very complex.  Imagine all the variables of clay, wood type, quantity and type of salt, placement in the kiln combined with the fluctuation of temperature and condition throughout the kiln.  Of this process John simply says, "I have been doing salt glaze for thirty years, it suits my temperament and I find that it goes especially well with shapes made on the wheel. . . and the very fact that it is such a simple technique makes it so difficult."    
His cups and chawan receive both great praise and great price in Europe.  Because John and I have been friends for some time he has agreed to offer some of his cups through Morning Crane Tea.
Let’s look at a few of his cups.

click images to enlarge
A: Dark clay. Stamped star pattern. Wood fired salt glaze.   9 x 12 cm or 3.54 X 4.72 in.
B: Dark, high alumina clay with chips of feldspar. Iron glaze, china clay slip inside. Very hard fire.   11 x 11 cm or 4.33 X 4.33 in.

C: Dark clay. Rope pattern. China clay slip, iron glaze inside. Fired inside saggar.  8 x 10.5 cm or 3.15 X 4.13 in.
D: Dark clay. Thin china clay slip all over. 9.5 x 12 cm or 3.74 X 4.72 in.

E: White clay. Stamped wave pattern. China clay slip all over. Fired inside saggar filled with grass. 9.2 x 12 cm or 3.62 X 4.72 in.
F: Dark clay. Stamped pattern. Iron glaze all over.  8 x 12.5 cm or 3.15 X 4.92 in.

G: White clay. Rope pattern. China clay slip all over. 8.7 x 11.3 cm or 3.42 X 4.44 in.
H: Dark clay. Stamped wave pattern. China clay slip all over. 8 x 12.3 cm or 3.15 X 4.84 in.

I: Dark clay. Partly hidden wave pattern. Silky touch. Very hard fire.  8.5 x 12 cm or 3.34 X 4.72 in.
J: Buff clay. Scratched and stamped. Low fire.   9.3 x 10.5 cm or 3.66 X 4.13 in.

K: Dark, high alumina clay with chips of feldspar. Wax resist. China clay slip.  10.5 x 11.5 cm or 4.13 X 4.52 in.
M: Dark clay. Stamped pattern. Iron glaze all over. 9.7 x 13 cm or 3.81 X 5.11 in.

L: Chawan: Dark clay. Rope pattern, trailed white slip. Fell into fire box during firing.  8.5 x 15.5 cm or 3.34 X 6.10 in.

N: Buff clay. Incised.  9.3 x 11.5 cm or 3.66 X 4.52 in.
O: Dark clay. Stamped wave pattern.   9.3 x 11.5 cm or 3.66 X 4.52 in.

P: Dark clay. Partly hidden wave pattern. Very hard fire. 9.5 x 11.5 cm or 3.74 X 4.52 in.
R: Dark, high alumina clay with chips of feldspar. Beaten pattern. Low fire.  9.7 x 11.5 cm or 3.81 X 4.52 in.

Q: Chawan: Dark clay. Rope pattern. Five running drops of white slip inside and outside.  8.5 x 15 cm or 3.34 X 5.90 in.
I personally use my Norwegian cup primarily for infused balhyochas but their size and form makes them suitable for any tea including whipped matcha.  They are priced like a low to moderately priced chawan at $195.00 USD a cost that is far less than the price in European galleries. 
Each of John’s Norwegian cups has its own personality, no two are alike and like a chawan each brings to the participant a unique contemplative peaceful moment.  What more can we ask of a cup?