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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas


Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas NOVEMBER. 01, 2020

[88-365] 1st. November 2020- An indoor sort of day today although I had to do yet another running repair on the fence as we have had more high winds. It is being replaced in the Spring but at this rate the guy replacing it won't have much to take away because it will already be gone, somewhere out in the English Channel.

So once again looking for interesting things to photograph inside, I decided on this little Raku pot. I studied it closely this time and for the first time noticed this little area that looks a bit like Stylised Japanese Characters. Apologies to anyone Japanese, reading this. It has some lovely subtle colours in whites, greys and turquoise blues.

I knew roughly what Raku was but when I read about it in more detail I discovered that what I considered to be Raku was actually a Western development of the Japanese method. The cracks in the glaze are part of the natural process of cooling and the black colour a result of the burning process. Raku means "enjoyment".

Raku ware (楽焼, raku-yaki) is a type of Japanese pottery traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies, most often in the form of chawan tea bowls. It is traditionally characterised by being hand-shaped rather than thrown, fairly porous vessels, which result from low firing temperatures, lead glazes and the removal of pieces from the kiln while still glowing hot. In the traditional Japanese process, the fired raku piece is removed from the hot kiln and is allowed to cool in the open air.

The final phase in the Western technique of raku was developed in the 20th century by studio potters. Typically wares are fired at a high temperature, and after removing pieces from the kiln, the wares are placed in an open-air container filled with combustible material, which is not a traditional Raku practice in Japan. The Western process can give a great variety of colours and surface effects, making it very popular with studio and amateur potters.

Turquoise is my word of the day. If you think the colour turquoise sounds French you would be right, it also sounds Turkish. I can recommend the book Colour, Travels Through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay. I read it some years ago and it tells the amazing histories behind all the pigments used in history, their rarity, where they originate, their symbolism etc.

Turquoise- The word turquoise dates to the 17th century and is derived from the French turquois meaning "Turkish" because the mineral was first brought to Europe through Turkey, from mines in the historical Khorasan of Iran (Persia).

This is another great example of a word that derives from the place from whence it came. Words like this often change from place to place precisely because, where I source the item may not be where my supplier sources the item. To someone in Europe four hundred years ago Turquoise came from Turkey, but the Turks wouldn't have used that name because they were getting it from Iran. In the modern world where the ancient names still linger it can cause confusion as we now pretty much know where everything comes from, so some of the names don't always make sense.

Iran has been an important source of turquoise for at least 2,000 years. It was initially named by Iranians "pērōzah" meaning "victory", and later the Arabs called it "fayrūzah", which is pronounced in Modern Persian as "fīrūzeh". In Iranian architecture, the blue turquoise was used to cover the domes of palaces because its intense blue colour was also a symbol of heaven on earth.

Ultramarine, another blue, derives from Middle Latin ultramarinus, literally "beyond the sea" because it was imported from Asia by sea. It mostly came from Afghanistan. The first recorded use of ultramarine as a colour name in English was in 1598.

Other words derived from their actual or perceived place of origin.

Angora- A type of wool collected from rabbits and it actually came from Turkey this time Ankara, which was formerly called Angora.

Chino's- The fabric traditionally came from China.

Damask- Damascus in Syria

Jeans- A fabric from Genoa, Italy

Suede- A French word used to describe gloves imported from Sweden made from the leather using the reverse side of the hide.

Muslin- From Mosul in Iraq.

Denim- A type of serge from Nimes in France or Serge de Nimes. Although where that leaves us with Jeans from Genoa made from serge from Nimes I'm not sure. I said it got confusing.

Back to Turkey, and how the bird got it's English name is also interesting. Many European languages derive their word for the bird from the name India, like the French "Dinde", meaning from India, this is thought to be because when the birds were first introduced from the Americas Columbus had been searching for a shorter route to India, it's why we still use West Indies today and why Native Americans were called Indians until recently. In English however the bird is called Turkey and there are two possible reasons, both relate to imports from Turkey and the fact that merchants from the ottoman Empire were called Turkey merchants. One product traditionally sold by Turkey merchants were Guinea Fowl also called Turkey Cocks. When the bird Turkey was discovered in the Americas it is possible that it was first misidentified by English speakers as a type of Guinea Fowl and they were called Turkey Fowl or Indian Turkeys. It is also possible they were first domesticated in Turkey and exported by the same Turkey merchants to the British. The first notion sounds more likely to me.

So I leave you with that short trip around the world inspired by a little pot on my window ledge.

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