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A History of Celadon in Siam

traditional thai art using celadonThe high grade stoneware, Celadon, first appeared in Thailand about 700 years ago, and has since been an intrinsic part of Thai culture. Although ceramics were produced in Thailand as far back as the 9 th century, the expertise and techniques for producing Celadon came from China in the late 13 th century, around the time when King Ramkhamhaeng united the Thai kingdoms of Chiang Mai and Phayao with the capital at Sukhothai, north of Bangkok . From these beginnings, Sukhothai became the centre of Celadon in Thailand , then known as Siam .

Siam ’s first Celadon was produced from factories outside Sukhothai, at Si Satchanalai, where the ancient craft of stoneware-making had been practiced for about 300 years. As the Celadon industry quickly expanded, factories were built in Sukhothai, and further north towards Chiang Mai where the precious stoneware is still produced today.

Wars with Burma wrought havoc on Siam’s stoneware industry for about 350 years until the 19 th century. Many Siamese craftsmen were captured and enslaved in Burma but, when hostilities between the two countries subsided, Burmese craftsmen migrated to Chiang Mai, where there is an abundance of good clay, and once again Celadon began being produced in the shadow of its past traditions.

Traditional techniques of manufacturing are still used at today’s Celadon centres in Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi and Sukhothai with a few 20th / 21st century differences. Kilns are now fired by gas rather than wood and in the crafting of Royal Siam Celadon no chemicals are used. The process is just as it was.

Manufacture

House of Thai Herb & Beauty have commissioned one of Thailand’s leading manufacturers of Celadon / stoneware to produce containers for its exquisite Royal Siam Collection, drawing on a recent revival of interest in the ancient craft of Celadon.

Celadon derives from the ancient Sanskrit, Sila or stone, and Dhara which means green; green stone being the natural colour of Celadon’s distinctive “crackled” look, obtained when the clay and outside glaze cool and contract at different rates.

The clay used in Celadon is especially important. Reserves of quality natural material are found both in the north, at Lampang, and in the south, at Narathiwat, Surathani, and Nakorn Srithamraj. The “Royal Siam” collection is made from southern clays, highly prized for their very fine texture.

At the beginning of Celadon manufacture, the natural dry clay is mixed with water and milled for 15 hours in a rotating 10-ton capacity ball mill, a metal drum containing small alumina balls. The balls repeatedly pound the clay into even finer particles, sufficient to pass through a 325 micron sieve. Iron particles, natural ingredients of the clay, are eliminated by means of a magnetic sieve. Water is then also squeezed from the resulting ‘slip,’ leaving a dry cake.

After being left in the open to age for two to three days, the clay is once again mixed with water, and kneaded in an extruder machine, sometimes called a pug-mill, to remove air bubbles and to improve plasticity. At this stage, the clay is ready to be hand moulded by a master craftsman, and the desired products are left to dry naturally for a day. Any engraving or painting is carried out before the clay is completely dry.

High quality standards are maintained through vigorous inspection. A rejection rate of about 25 per cent is not uncommon, for example, because of hairline cracks that appear during the drying process. Any rejected items can be immersed in water, and the softened clay used once again at a later stage.

The surviving moulded articles are referred to as “green-ware”, and “leather hard,” as they have the texture and feel of leather. Larger green-ware items require a longer drying time and are placed in the sun to speed up the process.

After drying, the moulded pieces are Bisque fired in a kiln at temperatures between 600 and 800 degrees Celsius, then again carefully inspected. The Bisqueware, as it is now called, is finally dipped in a special Celadon glaze containing kaolin, calcium carbonate, silica, ball clay, potash feldspar, and sodium feldspar, mixed with ash from various woods, a coveted technique known to only a few.

After allowing the glaze to dry, the glazed stoneware is fired once more, this time to a temperature of 1,270 degrees Celsius for about 11 hours. The distinctive “crackled” look beneath the glaze, by which Celadon is instantly recognised, occurs in the cooling.

Originally, according to tradition, the special glaze was developed to simulate the appearance of jade which, for thousands of years, has been revered by the Chinese as the royal gemstone. Like Celadon, jade symbolises everything natural and noble, with the hint of power to bring its owner good luck and success. So closely associated are jade and Celadon, that collectors refer to it as Emerald Jade.

The Royal Siam Collection will complement the magnificent home spa products they contain, as well as your bathroom and is assured to bring beauty to any home.