Edmund de Waal's talk on his book The White Road

April 09, 2016

A truly inspiring talk by Edmund de Waal at the Cambridge Literary festival has to be noted down.
A little history: Edmund de Waal exhibited at Primavera many years ago after he studied at Trinity College in Cambridge.
Thus knowing this and loving his work I made sure I was in the audience.
Edmund spoke about his new book, The White Road, a journey to discover the origins of Porcelain.  The white clay which is formed of two minerals and so it is unlike any other clay.  The whiteness too is interesting and so is the way it has been made to make magnificent vessels. The best I find are the pieces which are unglazed so they are translucent and it is magical to see the light escape through them. The lightness too is mystical; I ask myself how a pot can be so light.
This then makes me think of the craftsmanship, the person behind the pot, the person who has slaved away at the wheel to make this magnificent vessel.  I have not worked with porcelain but know that it is a difficult clay to work with, for example once you have thrown the piece it then shrinks whilst drying.
People have been making porcelain for thousands of years, one of the places Edmund travelled to was Jingdezhen in China where upon a hill were hundreds of fragmented porcelain pots. During his talk his collection of a handful of these fragments were passed around. I had a great feeling of being able to touch something that has been made by someone so long ago.
I think half the beauty of a ceramic pot is to touch and feel the piece as well as looking at it. In that act of touching the pot one does not only feel the fragility of the piece but also the time, essence and craftsmanship behind the piece.
- Sophie Thwaites