Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Long-Enduring

The chance of war planted our family temporarily in Tirschenreuth, Germany in 1944—a place where porcelain manufacturing was a significant industry still, then. In consequence of that, I learned, while still in grade school, all about kaolin, the silicate mineral (officially kaolinite) from which china is made. Kaolin is also called china clay—and it delighted me to learn that the word itself comes from the name of a village in Jiangxi province, in China, Kao-ling.  Well, in our then region in Bavaria, kaolin was mined and made into porcelain. Kaolinite is a rock. You have to heat it in kilns to a temperature 2,192 to 2,552° before it can be poured as a liquid.

Was it because, as a child of ten or thereabouts, I studied the making of porcelain and awarely examined the product, that I came to admire finely-made porcelain? I’ll never know. One of life’s mysteries: we can’t know what might have been had we ended up, say in the much larger Regensburg, and Tirschenreuth china had not been there for me to admire, to caress, carefully to read the maker’s name when turning the plate over. The pleasure remains—and the thought that perhaps, in this world of flux, something in us comes alive when we encounter the long-enduring and incorruptible.

Porcelain can break, of course, but one of its oddities is that, even broken, it retains its enduring essence—and archeologists of the 15th millennium, digging up the shards, polishing them with a rag, will behold a wonder from the past, absolutely unchanged.

Stone figures, vast stone structures, belong to this category too—uniting durable nature and the human touch. But stone weathers faster; it endures millennia as well, but its features soften.

The image I bring is that of two Chinese moon flasks, dated to 1723-35, from the Qing Dynasty from Wikipedia (link).


  1. We have a favorite porcelain piece: the bust of "Baron" Schmiedel (by Johann Joachim Kandler, 1739) contributed by Henry Ford to the DIA.

    There are two other examples of this design with some small variations, one in Sydney, Australia, the other in the Zwinger in Dresden.

    My wife first discovered one when she was in Dresden with her brother in 2003. My brother-in-law looked exactly like Schmiedel... probably acted like him, too.

    When the arrived in Dresden, they were to stay at the Bulow Residenz, so when he got to town, he called out to all and sundry where the "Klaus von Bulow Residenz" was.

  2. Those dates interest me, e.g. the "Baron" Schmiedel piece in 1739. Suspect that the *technology* of porcelain-making was brought to the West quite late. Need to look it up.

  3. A very nice post. It's good to focus on any of the many, lovely, creative products of man when overwhelmed by too much observing of the deteriorating social structures around us (i.e. reading the paper!).


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