About The Author
Edmund de Waal is one of the world's leading ceramic artists, and his porcelain is held in many major museum collections. His bestselling memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes, is published in 30 languages and won the Costa Biography Award and the RSL Ondaatje prize, was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize, the Jewish Quarterly Wingate prize, the PEN/Ackerley Prize and the Southbank Sky Arts Award for Literature, and longlisted for the Orwell Prize and Samuel Johnson Prize. He lives in London with his family.
In his new book, The White Road: a pilgrimage of sorts, now out in paperback, Edmund sets out on a quest to tell the story of porcelain and discover more about the people and landscapes that made it, were inspired by it, made rich or heartsick by it. His journey, which begins in Jingdezhen in China, takes him through Venice, Versailles, Dublin, Dresden, the Appalachian Mountains of South Carolina and the English South-West, and gradually leads him to a more profound understanding of the material he has worked with for decades, and which retains a special place in the world's history and imagination.
Below, you can read an extract from the book and also take a unique view inside Edmund's workspace as he talks with Will Rycroft about what he needs to create his pots, the unique material that has been his obsession for most of his life and why breaking is as important as making in the history of porcelain.
The Author At Foyles
Extract from The White Road
To find my third white cup, I’m home in England.
William Cookworthy, my Quaker chemist, paces around his workshop. Everyone wants to stop. This is madness. Sixteen hours shovelling coke, naked to the waist, feeding this kiln, this man’s obsession. Look at the notes, this is two hours longer than the last firing. Another twenty minutes and another test is pulled, the glazed ring swings and settles in the water and it is bright and clear and white.
Bricks are put across the chimney to keep in the heat. The doors are clammed with wet clay. The men wash smuts from face and hands and chest from barrels outside the door. Gulls wheel over head. The kiln still hums. You have to leave. You have turn away and go home, walk over Coxside and then up to Notte Street, through the side door and hang your hat, wash in the scullery, open the parlour door. You open your notebook and sit still. You still thrum.
Patience will reward the virtuous man.
And it is near dusk the next day when Cookworthy breaks the clay from the front of the kiln, and the bricks are piled scrimshanks rather than in the neat pile he ordered and out comes the first saggar and its placed on the floor and the lid is broken off and he sees, immediately, that it has worked. You hold it by the handle. You tap it. It rings clear. Plymoth Manufacy around the arms of the city, smudged, and some flowers, smudged. Plymouth made me. And on the base March 14 1768 and an italic C.F., Cookworthy Fecit in cobalt blue. I was made by Cookworthy.
The white Cornish earth has become this white vessel. It is the first piece of true porcelain ever made in England and this cider tankard with its vernacular handle and its curly italic inscription, its smudged symbol for tin on the base, is already slightly out of date.
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Edmund De Waal
Edmund De Waal
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