Chiangmai's Celadon Ceramics
Both Ancient and Modern
From small candle holders and ornamental figurines to massive, wide-bodied water pots, the potting and glazing of Celadon ware has been part of Thai life for centuries. At one time it was thought potting dated back to the ancient city of Sukothai (the first Capital City of Thailand) but archeological digs, and the discovery of pottery shards, indicate that it pre-dates even that. It is now known that locally produced pottery was made at the prehistoric settlement of Ban Chiang (Northeast Thailand) from the 4th Millennium BC or, perhaps, even earlier. However, the most important area for glazed Celadon items has been established as being a few miles north of Sukothai City at the settlements of Sisatchanalai, Chaliang and Sawan-khalok on the Yom River. At least 1,000 kilns were involved in the production of Celadon ware, which was exported throughout ancient Asia.
Fine specimens are on display at Indonesia's National Museum in Jakarta but China was the biggest customer for Thai Celadon. The Chinese knew it as "Sangkalok" which was a mispronunciation of "Sawan-khalok". As China also produced quality ceramics from kilns in Fujian and Guanddong Provinces, it is sometimes asked, "Who copied whom"? A few of the pottery kilns from the Sukothai period have been expertly excavated and may be inspected at the Sisatchanalai Centre for the Study and Preservation of Sangkalok Kilns. Historically, the city of Sukothai and its satellite settlements fell as war swept the area. People moved south to establish a new capital at Ayutthaya but the ancient craft of pottery and ceramic glazing moved north to Chiangmai.
The term "pottery" has many forms. Here in Chiang mai we can see locally produced Benjarong Ware (beautifully decorated with 5 different colours and high glaze Benjarong used to be reserved for Royalty); classically sculpted Terra Cotta and Sandstone, the very traditional Blue & White Ware associated with the Orient, "folksy" Stoneware and, of course, Celadon. But what actually is the Celadon pottery and glaze that is so much admired? Experts technically describe it as containing iron oxide, which has been fired in a high temperature, reduced atmosphere (oxygen starved) kiln or oven to give a finished green jade colour. Traditionally, vessels are shaped, from specially prepared clay, either entirely by hand or with the assistance of a potter's wheel.
After drying, designs either traditional or something more modern, are etched into the clay and then the glaze is applied. Celadon glaze is made from certain wood ashes (which contains iron oxide) and other special ingredients. With pots, flasks, plates and other items to be fired stacked within, the kiln temperature was boosted up to 1,250 degrees Centigrade (a skilled task given there were no thermometers in ancient times) using bamboo and hardwoods as fuel. It remained thus for eight to sixteen hours before being allowed to cool slowly over a period up to four days. Then the kiln was opened to reveal, with luck, the beautiful, green richness of true Celadon ware.
Nowadays there are several reputable Celadon manufacturers in Chiangmai and a visit to their showrooms is a look into a world of what used to be classified as "useful pottery" but is now regarded as high-art admired and used for décor as well as its traditional, functional purposes. Shapes and designs can be ancient or modern, the finished glaze may be slightly rough as in olden days or glistening smooth thanks to modern techniques. Colours range from lighter jades to cobalt blues (modern techniques can add a little cobalt to the liquid glaze) and no two pieces are exactly the same.
Each piece has its own "individuality" the hallmark of any handcrafted item. Choices are almost infinite copies of ancient shapes and textures or "today" artists exercising their design talents. Whichever your choice, Thai Ceramics and Celadon carries centuries of skill, knowledge and craft secrets which will beautify your home or garden. All showroom outlets can arrange shipping of larger items direct to your final destination. Whether they are urns, pots, vases, figurines or plates Chiangmai's Celadon artifacts are sure to enrich your garden and home with that exotic touch of Old Siam!
Visit Celadon Products at : Mengrai Kilns, 79/2 Araks Road, Soi Samlarn 6, Tel. 053-272063, Fax. 053-815017 and Siam Celadon, 38 Moo 10, Chiangmai-Sankampaeng Road, Tel. 053-331526, 332437, Fax. 053-331958.