Črna valley and her kaolin

Kaolin is a material porcelain is made of.

I went back into the valley, just few days after I first visited it. I wanted to go on Monday, but there was snow. White sign from the sky telling me to wait to see the white earth. Waiting triggered a switch in me, looking for kaolin now became my mission.

I took Živa with me this time. Prior to departure I again read an article in which thoroughly explained locations and positions of mine gates and kaolin deposits. I read it 3 times, again. I was determined I was going to find kaolin. So we headed there, early in the day, so that way we would have plenty of daylight. I wanted to explore the quarry. We turned right after Kamnik, crossed a stream and instantly drove into the narrow valley. In the beginning we immediately noticed piles of clay on the right side of the road and an excavated hill on the right. Someone was preparing the land to build something, maybe a house. And it seemed, brought all the materials dug out to the left side of the slope, just across the road. There was so much freshly dug out grey clay. Živa suggested it came out of the stream, since few kilometres back, they were also repairing the riverbed of the same stream we later crossed. It could be clay from both sites, brought to the place of dumping. But we did not want grey clay, we wanted white. So we drove forward towards the middle of the valley. Živa was driving and I was carefully looking on both sides of the road, looking for signs of mines, clay and kaolin. I noticed something – across the stream was a concrete entrance, an entrance to the mine. It didn’t look closed. Just overgrown with forest behind it, concrete all covered in green moss. There was a sign on it, but I couldn’t see what it said, we drove onward. Then Živa notices some kind of concrete silos on the left. It had mining sign with two crossed hacks and a year written on it: 1961. It must be from the mines. Across the road were wooden sheds, where they must have been making wood logs to install into the mines, to support the earth surrounding the tunnels. We stopped the car a little more down the road, looked out the window closely, but then did not decide to see the silos since there was a house next to it, with people and cars in courtyard. We drove on and finally got to the quarry.

We parked on the opposite side, and stepped out. I could hear a machine digging. Digging, now? I read that the quarry is closed from last year. So why would they be digging in it now? We went in, knocked on the door of a trailer – a mobile office of the quarry, but no one answered. The excavator stopped digging. Nothing happened. We stood there, waiting in silence. No one came. Why did they stop digging? We looked toward the opened hill. All kinds of coloured rocks were stripped barren with heavy duty machines. There were all shades of yellow and orange, some grey, and light pink. There were dark black as well. The valley is called Črna, which means black, due to the black shale rocks being found all around the valley. I think it is very funny, that rocks of the valley are black, and the name is black, but the material the valley is famous for was white. Black was sometimes turning to grey and to white. Could this be kaolin? I know now, that the piles of yellow-pinkish clay-like materials on the right is calcium clay. But, I thought, among all the rocks showing their face from the hill, surely some must be kaolin.

We drove a little further, but then turned and decided not to go back into the quarry, because of that excavator. Which was still still and silent. Maybe he shouldn’t be digging around in the quarry, since there is no permit, a concession from the country. All quarries needs country’s concession in order to mine minerals which all belong to the country.

We drove back and turned right above the concrete silos, we stopped on the road above it and wanted to have a look. Only I went down to silos, and as I was walking down the hill I crossed a backyard of the old building falling apart. On the wooden door it said: ‘Entry only for employees’. It must have been a former factory’s building, now falling apart and being a roof to some farmer’s junk and farming machinery. I went inside the top floor of the silos, hoping to spot some white signs, leftovers of kaolin. But they were long gone, washed by the rain, wind and time. Only locked gates and some junk again. I looked down and noticed some black rocks and the rocks had a greenish shine. In a way they were dark dark green black shales, after which the valley is named for. I went back to the car and drove back, leaving the valley behind. Živa did not show interest in going back to the quarry and I also wasn’t sure that that is the best choice, considering the machine we heard and seen far away up in the slope of the quarry.

We went back, looking at the slopes of the mountains on both sides of the road, looking for white. Now I know how it is to be obsessed with white, obsessed with porcelain. In the past they called it ‘porcelain krankheit’ – mad about porcelain. I was getting mad too, I guess. We didn’t see anything, so we went back to collect some grey clay from the side of the road we’ve seen earlier. Collecting was done disappointingly, as a comforting act for not finding any kaolin. So why I am so possessed with finding kaolin? Partly because Slovenia does not dispose with it abundantly; in fact there is only one known deposit of kaolin and it is in the valley I am currently researching. Secondly, I want to make Slovenian porcelain from it. Thirdly I want to see how it fires in the high temperatures of the wood fired kiln. Every location on Earth is unique, an so is the material found at it. Porcelain from this valley has never been fired in a wood kiln to very high temperatures in an reduction atmosphere exposed to direct fire and ashes. I want to be the first one to do it!

I came back home and went straight to computer. I researched again. I found many articles and documents from history. Interestingly there is also one blog about the valley. A blog! For a small village in the valley, who would have thought! I found two books I want to check, one about the valley and one about the extracting kaolin and calcite from the valley by author Vilko Rifel. I saw one article about mining problems in the quarry, I read one very old pre-war article about geological survey of the valley. This article was so interesting! It was very difficult for me to understand, because the language was very old styled geological, but I found some important information about the valley’s kaolin. Geologically is formed from the black shale, after eluting removes the irons out of it, making black shales deposits directly neighboured to the newly formed plastic white kaolin. Kaolin is being in fact illite, but the name kaolin stayed due to the commercial purposes. Article describes how they were mining kaolin. It was sometimes pure white and sometimes greenish white. Could this also be linked to the completely black and greenish black shales – the one we saw in the quarry and next to silos? Porcelain industry only lived a short amount of time, and after it was gone, the mine switched production to kaolins for paper industry. But they say they were too abrasive for the paper industry, so in the 1996 they stopped the production and closed the company. Leaving Slovenia kaolin-less.

I will dig deeper, I will go back to the valley soon. I will find kaolin.

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