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…
The other day I wrote that I’d post some more pictures of the unprocessed clay in the yard of Hēnglì táocí chǎng as well as their processing equipment, so here we go.
This is what (part of) their yard looks like.
This raw clay material gets fed from above into those 2 machines which will grind it into the desired grain-size.
The resulting grain-size is controlled by a sieve which determines what is being let out of the machine and what still has to stay in until it’s small enough. Those sieves are changeable and have different mesh sizes. Here is what one of them looks like up close:
When the clay comes out it is a powder looking like this:
some mixing and mainly adding of water:
and then is being pressed into sell-able bars whilst some water is being added still:
Most of the machinery in those pictures wasn’t used that particular day (or even week, guessing based on the dust layer) the last machine which presses out the ready pieces was being operated whilst we where there and we had a chance to get all the information above from the workers on site.
So here is what the clay that came out fresh that day looked like:
That was it so far about how Yixing zisha clays are being produced mainly these days, if it is done by one of the bigger official suppliers that is, but if you remember the pictures of Huanglongshan I posted a while back, I showed freshly dug holes where people have been sourcing clay… well, that’s gotta go somewhere too, right? So next time I might give you some impressions and maybe some insights how it’s done the less official way.
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
A while back on a bicycle tour around the Dingshan area whilst [re]searching zisha clay and clay related items near here
we came across a lot of “old stuff” as some might call it. I call it Zeitzeugen.
Not many of those old mill stones are still in operation these days as heavier machinery took over, so most of them seem to have found their way here somehow. Not all of the stones in the pictures below would have been used to crush clay rocks but some where also popular for food and all other kinds of things that could be crushed with some benefit.
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.