high fired, listen!
Just about one week to go and we’ll be back in Yixing just in time for this years tea season. I plan to pick and make as much tea as I can and I might post about it here too so stay tuned…
Yesterday I wrote about stone mills for clay and I just thought of a picture I took a while back in the little teapot museum inside Zisha Factory No.1
Item name: ShiMoHu / 石磨壶
Artist: WangYuMei / 王玉美
Not exactly a pleasant day to go for a walk or to do any sightseeing, but since there was a power-outage all morning we went out anyways to see Zisha Factory No.1
More fancy shops with well known owners and there is also a museum. Well, at least that’s what the sign says but its more a collection of pots and objects the artists made who have a shop in the building. Some have rather interesting pots on display, like the one in clay-mill style or the extremely flat fei xiang hu.
Now we asked people and walked around to see if there is any clay stored anywhere or maybe even produced or sold. Guess what, after wading along a muddy road we found it and there is a massive amount of clay!
Now, if you paid close attention to the picture with the little pushcart and if you can read Chinese it might dawn on you already. The clay in there is not high quality clay used for teapots, but to make large flower pots like these:
Sorry to disappoint you, but no old clay is being stashed away in Factory No.1
The artisans we spoke to there had of course already told us that the clay they use is not from inside Factory No.1 but that they have their individual sources and storage.
The other day I wrote that I’d post some impressions of Yixing clays, so here we go. We visited a local (and official) clay factory. Its name is 亨利陶瓷厂(Hēnglì táocí chǎng) and they are a supplier XuJianQing uses(not exclusively though).
as this post would probably be too picture heavy if I include all the pictures I list thumbnails instead.
all of the above clays are readily available to basically anyone who pulls out the money. Next time I’ll show some pictures of the processing equipment used as well as the storage of unprocessed material which has been sitting in their yard for years. No clay sold in there is younger than at least 6 years I have been told.
Well, lets see what we’ve got. Maybe upfront, I could find 3 Dragon Kilns in Yixing all of which I visited.
First maybe the kiln I already blogged about, the DragonKiln behind the Jun-Glaze factory. It is still a historic site, and it is still protected. Recently there have been made some efforts to make it accessible to the public and maybe as a touristic site. New stairs have been built alongside the kiln as well as the roof and a fence around it. In the future it might cost a little fee to see it. It has not been fired in recent years. The kiln is hidden behind the factory which is currently being used by Han Xiaohu as his studio and showroom. He was nice enough to let us in and we had some Hong Cha together after-wards.
Another kiln, actually the first I visited that day, is the QianShu Dragon Kiln. I underestimated the distance from where I live to the QianShu kiln a little. I had not been there before and had to ask more then 10 times for the way and still missed the little road leading there. There are a few signs on the way, but somehow for the last turn that was omitted. It took me about 1 hour to get there on my bicycle and half an hour for the way back. This kiln, interestingly enough, is indeed operational and has been fired more or less recently. I have been told about one year ago. This is a rare occasion and mostly for cultural purposes and to prove it works. Not really much reason for hope that one could get their hands on a contemporary piece of Yixing pottery that has actually been fired in a Dragon Kiln. Not much of that around.
So, whats left? Backyard Dragon Kilns!
There is a smallish(in length) Dragon Kiln called Zisha LongYao inside ChangLeHong on tongshu road. It is quite roomy inside though, one can even stand upright. Unfortunately that Dragon Kiln is decorative and by the looks of it used for storage of larger pottery items. It is not in active use, although it might work, sorry to get a but fuzzy on the details here, it probably never has had any useful output. It was a bit late by the time we arrived there and didn’t have much opportunity to ask.
The looks of the surface inside speak for themselves though…
Well, there you go. Sorry i haven’t got any better news for you, but it looks like there is currently no Dragon Kiln in regular use in Yixing, at least that i could find. If you heard differently and have an address please let me know, I’d like to go and have a look.
Maybe there is one more thing to add, reliable information is quite hard to come by. For me at least, asking about stuff just doesn’t cut it, i like to go out and see for myself if possible. For example the nice guy who had the key to the QianShu Dragon Kiln and unlocked the padlock to let me in said there is no other dragon kilns in Yixing but the one I was standing at….
I’m not sure what to think about that, but anyways, just go out and check for yourself if you can.
in How zisha clay teapots are made [part 3] near the end I wrote something like “just needs to dry out for a while and off it goes to the oven” and some of you might have wondered what oven I am speaking of.
Traditionally Yixing pottery has been fired in a kiln, specifically a dragon kiln like the one in these pictures.
Rather impressive structures and it’s easy to see how the name came about….
Nowadays though, none of those traditional kilns are used anymore in Yixing, at least as far as I know. However, the one in these pictures is a protected relic and the Jiangsu Provincial Authorities will probably keep it that way for future generations to gaze at. Practically all contemporary Yixing pottery is fired in modern electric, coal or gas powered kilns.
Since our pot is still completely closed and has neither nozzle nor handle it is now time to attach them. Holes are punched which later allow the tea to pour out as well as hold back the leaves. The prepared nozzle is placed over the newly punched holes and aligned with the handle.
The tool to cut out the hole for the lid can later be used to cut a piece for the lid itself which will fit exactly. Our pot is ready, it just needs to dry out for a while and off it goes to the oven.
I hope you enjoyed reading about how to make a zisha teapot. The hands in these last posts are not mine and neither is the pot, so in one of the next posts I will show you how a teapot looks like if one already knows how its done but is as clumsy as myself 😉
Stay tuned to see the result of my first pitiful attempt at making a zisha clay teapot.
In the last post I showed you the tools used to make zisha teapots, now I’d like to give some impressions how that is actually done. It of course all starts with a piece of zisha clay, also known as purple clay which is portioned. For most classic teapots at first two pieces are flattened and shaped, one will become the teapots wall and the other the bottom.
In the next steps the wall and bottom pieces are aligned and brought together and soon thereafter the individual shaping starts. Whilst the pot is rotating the wall is supported with one hand from inside whilst shaped by continuous hits with a paddle from the outside. The paddling is also what keeps the momentum of the potter’s wheel.
…but more on that in my next post.