The Kiln is known as a dragon kiln or a snake kiln. It is about 60 m ( 200ft) and slopes up the side of a small hill. The domed structure is made of brick and stone.
Around the Kiln (actually in this studio there are 4 kilns) there are several workshops which are little adobe rooms with thatched roofs and a main villa or house. This was probably occupied by a landowner or business man years ago , then by the local bureaucrat/factory manager during the cultural revolution and now by the workers themselves and their families.
Some of the workshop buildings are used for storage of raw materials such as clay and others for building the pottery. Some have kick wheels where smaller 14” and down pots are thrown . Others have large heavy wheels where larger pots are created by the coiling process. Large cart-rope thick snakes of clay are coiled from the base up to about 12 “ high. They are allowed to dry and strengthen for a few days and then more height is added by coiling. The process is repeated until the pot is the required height. The process has been used for thousands of years for pot making and for sculpture and is the same process used by the artisans who created the Terra Cotta army in Xian. This process can be used to create a pot of any size. (in Spain today they still use the process to make giant wine vats known as Tinjeros.)
Once the pots have been completely built they are slapped into shape by the potters using two stone paddles beaten on the same spot– one on the inside surface and one on the outside. This creates greater uniformity in the sides of the pot. The picture of the tattooed potter demonstrates this process.
The pots are then allowed to rest for days or weeks depending on the weather while they dry out. (see picture called sentinels)
In some cases pots are made by pressing clay into plaster molds. This technique is becoming more prevalent as pot building skills die out with the older generation. Still the skill of building and designing a plaster mold is a job that demands much skill and is fascinating to watch.
In the meantime the kiln is loaded up with pots that are already dry or close to being dry. The bottom of the kiln is loaded first as in the picture of the mouth of the kiln. Before firing, the kilm will be filled from bottom to top. Side entrances into the kiln are used to add more and more pots all the way up. As these entrances are blocked with pots they are filled with bricks and sandy clay to seal them. Once the kiln is loaded the fire is begun at the lowest point. Here pine needles are heaped through the little side windows of the kiln . they feed the fire as it rises all the way up the length of the kiln. The heat from the fire below helps to dry pots that may not be completely dry at the top. Once the firing is completed the entrances are opened with a crow-bar and the pots are removed. This is often a tense time for the potters. If something went wrong in the kiln an entire production could be destroyed. They don’t know until the kiln is opened. The potters, wearing straw sandals to protect their feet from the hot floor, rush in and empty the kiln. They carry two pots at a time hung from two ends of a bamboo pole across their shoulders.
Once the kiln is empty the potters go back to making another batch to repeat the process. When a truck comes to pick up the pots the potters themselves will load the truck. Then the truck must make the arduous journey out of the village over potholed roads on its way to the big cities.
The pottery is loaded into containers, and shipped to the USA. I should also say that our outstanding pottery is thanks to the superb taste of my wholesale supplier (we are copied quite enough, I can't share that information). Finally, my taste guides the selection of the pottery available at the nursery. The artisans craft the pottery using century old methods, and as in centuries before, we appreciate the beauty and function of frost resistant pottery.
The Paddler's work is very physical as this photo demonstrates.
This large kiln, called a snake kiln, is actually used in the firing of our Chinese pottery.
Sentinels during the drying phase
Kiln Interior, unloading process
Pottery comes out of the Mold
Fully Loaded Wobble