Cottage industry-type villages producing folk pottery are situated throughout Thailand. Koh Kred, up-river from Bangkok, specializes in making unglazed earthenware flowerpots, which are used as containers for garden plants. A Typical form is a conical-shaped body, a wide mouth reinforced with a pie-shaped rim, and a base with a hole in the center. A separate tray collects water as it drains from the pot.
Although small, the manufacturing process has the earmark of mass production. It is highly specialized, with each stage of the process being delegated to specific workers.
The clay is transported by boat to Koh Kred from a neighboring province. It is mixed with sand and formed into cylindrical blocks by machine. The form is thrown on a potter’s wheel using a portion of the clay from the machine-formed blocks. Sometimes simple geometric patterns are incised into the semi-hardened clay. The vessel is dried in the open air for about five or six days. Then it is fired for twenty-four hours in a brick kiln, which is fuelled with dry palm fronds. After firing, the color is a bright orange.
Potteries around Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, specialize in making a particular type of water container. It is well known for its properties of keeping water fresh and cool. The globular body has a tall neck that is built with coils. Local sandy clay is used to shape the hand built forms. A red slip is applied with a cloth and the surface is polished with a stone disk until a shiny texture is achieved. The bottle is low-fired and two colors emerge depending on the type of firing. If a kiln with a thatch roof and wood fuel is sued, the bottle emerges a purplish-brown color; if the bottle is fired in the ground and covered with sawdust, it turns black. Whichever color, the form is one of the most popular pottery items for sale in Thailand today.
Beside unglazed earthenware, utilitarian vessels made of glazed stoneware are also produced at small village workshops in Thailand, particularly near Ratchaburi, west of Bangkok, where the clay is ideally suited for thickly potted, high-fired vessels. These functional wares have been used for centuries with little change stylistically. The most popular type in this category is a medium-to-large brown-glazed jar for storing food and liquids. It is a container for water, fermented rice wine, oil, rice or preserved foods.
The most common form is ovoid with swelling sides, or barrel-shaped with straight sides, a thick round lip and a broad flat base, which is structural assurance of strength. The diameter of the base and mouth are approximately equal, giving the jar a well-proportioned and balanced profile. Storage capacity ranges from 27-80 liters.
Large jars (in Thailand called klong jars) are ideal vessels for water storage. Strong and sturdy, they are not likely to overturn and spill the contents. The density also helps to keep liquids cool, and the thick round mouth rim enables the jar to be sealed with a cover (made of aluminum or wood) for protection from insects and dusts. As many as ten or twenty large storage jars may be placed around a typical house in rural Southeast Asia. Some jars are used to collect rainwater for drinking. Others, filled from the nearest natural water source, such as a river or tributary, are used for cooking and washing.
Because of its large size, the jar is usually potted in three sections, which are later joined together. Alternatively, it is formed by coiling. Starting with flat base on turntable, walls are built up to the desired height with thick clay coils. If this method is used, an irregular surface made by the coils can be felt on the interior. After shaping the form, the exterior is smoothed by beating, which also strengthens the walls. A mouth rim is added after the jar is dry enough to be handled without collapsing.
A combination of three methods may be used to decorate the jar-slip decoration, incising and stenciling. White clay mixed with water to a liquid consistency, is used for slip decoration. Its application is unique. Generally, the slip is poured, brushed or sprayed on, but ion Southeast Asia a craftsman dips his fingers into the clay with a pointed implement. Some artisans incise deftly using a comb. Auxiliary designs may be stenciled into the clay. However, this method produced a rigid look and the vitality of hand-painted motifs is lost. Sometimes the name of the purchaser is incorporated into the design using the stenciling technique.
The dragon is one of the most popular motifs. The scaly serpentine body of this fabulous mythical creature coils around the middle of the jar. It looks ferocious with its large; building eyes, open mouth showing sharp teeth, spiky wings and bird-like claws. In spite of a fierce appearance, the dragon symbolizes goodness and is associated with protective powers and the assurance of fertility of the fields.
The main design is enclosed above and below with smaller, repetitive, border patterns. A cloud scroll, symbolic of rain and fertility, is one of the most popular designs. Other border patterns include stylized renditions of key fret, the sun, and flowers. Horizontal bands are used abundantly to delineate pictorial designs and to divide the decoration into registers.
The jars are tightly stacked in the kiln for thorough firing and to minimize damage.
After firing, the shiny glazed jar emerges from the kiln with rich, golden-colored designs against an olive brown background, a combination of earth tones, which is a hallmark of these jars.
The original place of production of this type of storage jar is southern china, where it continues to be made today. Other shapes produced by the same technique include an egg jar, a medium-sized vessel for storing preserved eggs, and a wide-mouth basin used as a decorative flower container for the garden, or as a receptacle for washing one’s feet before entering a home.
Antique Copies = several modern factories in Thailand specialize in making ceramic copies that resemble antique Asian wares as closely as possible. The two largest centers of this relatively recent type of factory are in Thonburi and Ratchaburi. In both cases, the factories began as small workshops producing glazed utilitarian wares, and expanded to making a blue and white and polychromes when consumer demand for these types of wares grew. The products are for sale locally and are exported to other parts of Southeast Asia, and in limited quantities to Australia.
The idea of copying older ceramic shapes, designs, and glazes originated in China, where ancient art has always commanded an exalted position of respect and reverence. Ceramics fashioned in the style of earlier pieces was a common practice, especially in the Qing period. Copies were made as a tribute to the ancient ceramic artisans. Today, abetted by improved technology and mechanization, antique shapes, designs, and glazes continue to be reproduced with artistry and assure craftsmanship. However, the motive is not always as scrupulous as it was in the past. Moidern cermaci factories are commecailly oriented and the sale of the end proeuct is parpamont. Reputable factories sell their wares as straightforward copies of antique pieces and are proud of their skill at reproducing quality ceramics. Others, lured by potential monetary rewards, sell copies with the intention of deceiving the purchaser.
This problem is more prevalent with decorative porcelain, such as Ming blue and white ware and Tang three-colored polychromes, than with folk pottery. Admired today for simplicity for shape and design, functional purpose and skilful use of natural materials, the ancient utilitarian wares never achieved a high level of acceptance in former times.
At the largest ceramic factory in Ratchaburi, copies of decorated wares are made with skill and exactness but the mainstay is the production of dragon jars. The two types operate side by side, each one using different materials, a separate kiln, and specialized workers.
The steps in the potting process are still done by hand. A jar is turned upside down and balanced on tow sticks of wood across a basin. The glaze is poured over the jar and the excess runs into a basin, which sits on top of another jar. A modern addition is the use of plastic wrapped around each jar to shorten the drying time; the dome-shaped roof of the kiln is stacked with firewood. During firing, the color and size of the flame are carefully attended, and workmen are stationed beside the fire holes to insert more firewood to increase and maintain the desired temperature.
The painting of blue and white requires the most skilled workers. Artisans meticulously and patiently reproduce every detail of a pattern in an effort to make an exact copy. Often they have an original antique to use as a sample.
Ban Ko Noi – A second example of a modern operationa producing copies of antique wares is at Ban Ko Noi, near Sisatchnalai in north-central Thailand, where a joint Thai-Australian archaeological team has been working on an excavation of a ceramic production site for the past seven years. In an effort to involve the villagers through education about the historical value of the site, and through monetary rewards, a contemporary ceramic production center was established. Replicas of the ancient kilns have been constructed using original materials. Workers from the local village are being taught potting skills and are producing faithful copies of celadon figures.
Chiang Mai – Another type of modern ceramic factory in Thailand produces antique-style wares, which are a combination of ancient and modern elements rather than exact copies. For example, an antique-style piece may be a composite of an old glaze and a new shape. Commercial considerations greatly influence the form, design and intended use of antique-style wares. They are sold as modern works of art with no intention of deceiving the purchaser. This element is reinforced at a factory in Thailand, where the trademark of the company and the potter’s name appear on the base of each piece. This is an ethical practice that encourages authenticity. The primary market for antique-style wares is the tourist and, to a lesser extent, the local population and the export trade.
The foremost area making this type of ware is Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, which is the center of celadon production. Situated north of Sisatchanalia, where the original wares were made nearly 1,000 years ago, factories today closely emulate the ancient methods in an effort to turn out high-fired stoneware with a celadon glaze that resembles the high level of workmanship achieved by the Thai potters.
Raw materials used to make a modern stoneware body are mined from local quarries. The clay contains feldspar, a mineral found in crushed rich, which makes clay malleable and enables it to hold a shape when formed into a vessel. The clay is thoroughly dried before being pounded into small pieces by a machine. Next it is put through a sieve to remove impurities. If the clay is coarse, the process is repeated. Water is added and the clay is soaked until enough liquid has been absorbed to give it a dough-like consistency. Then it is put into a pug mill, mechanical mixer that kneads the clay to remove lumps and air pockets. If air bubbles are left in the clay, the vessel may burst during firing. Next the clay is put into plastic bags and set aside to mature. The epitome of modernity is revealed in this final stage of preparing the clay with the use of plastic.
Two ancient methods of shaping the vessel are used today – hand modeling and wheel throwing. The only variation in the modern system is that the wheel is driven by electricity. An additional method ahs been added to the modern potter’s repertoire. Flat pieces, such as plates, are formed by machined to achieve a uniform size; and complex shapes are molded, a technique that was not used by early Thai potters. After a shape is formed, it is dried in a shed for protection from the elements. The length of time a piece is left to dry varies depending on the size of the vessel and the weather.
Decorating is done by skilled artisans who incise designs into the clay with metal tools, or brush paint with color pigments. Floral patterns are favored.
Today, celadon is fired twice. First, it is biscuit fired before glazing at 800 degrees Celsius for approximately eight hours. This preliminary low firing makes a vessel durable, yet porous enough to absorb the glaze. Then it is painted with petrol to identify crack. Inferior wares are broken up into small pieces and recycled through the pug mill. Perfect pieces are smoothed with fine sandpaper.
Glazing is a crucial aspect of the manufacturing process. The name “celadon” is synonymous with a greenish color, and a glaze mixture containing iron oxide is necessary to achieve this color on stoneware. It is obtained from wood ash found on the leaves of a flowering plant in northern Thailand. Other elements are added so that the glaze will adhere to the vessel. Then the gravity of the mixture is checked by a machine.
Several methods are used to apply the glaze. It is poured into a funnel to glaze the interior; the exterior is glazed by massaging the material into the clay with the hands or by pouring, dipping, brushing or spraying it on to the form. After firing, a modern celadon glaze is hard and shiny with a glassy surface. A fine crazing, caused by a poor fit between the body and glaze, is a diagnostic characteristic.
In contrast to many other types of modern ceramic factories where the firing of wares has been modernized, the firing process for Thai celadon is in the ancient traditions. Wares are fired in a tunnel-shaped brick kiln with a chimney at the rear. Hardwood or bamboo is used as fuel. The kiln is kept in operation for eight to sixteen hours and reaches a temperature of 1,250 degrees Celsius. The degree of heat inside the kiln is gauged by the amount of smoke that comes out of the chimney and by color and size of the flame. After the firing cycle is complete, the wares are cooled for one to four days in the unopened kiln.
It is difficult to achieve consistency in glaze color and texture using this primitive method of firing. However, varied greenish tones and fluctuating thickness in glaze are appealing defects associated with celadon, and characteristics that have been faithfully preserved by modern Thai potters. The quintessence of the combined beauty and usefulness of modern Thai celadon is reflected in lobed, lotus-shaped bowls that can be purchased in Thailand today.