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Feats of Clay

The master potter makes practical items like teapots and tea cups for Tibetan tea, hotpots, larger cooking vessels and storage pots. All have a matte-black finish produced by putting ashes into the kiln. The beauty of the finished items lies in the textural details. Patterns are carved into the clay, bits of mother-of-pearl are pressed into designs, and birds' heads and tails serve as spouts and handles. We got to see some of these created from scratch.

We realized that we had seen some of these pitchers in our own hotel.

First, kneading to eliminate air bubbles, and a round base is formed.

Then a perfectly even slab is pressed onto an old wooden board. The clay is scored - no ruler or measuring device used - and then the strips are formed into a bowl.

This process took perhaps ten minutes. He worked quickly but unhurriedly. He made no false starts or mistakes. There were no wasted motions. We watched, absorbed, for another hour or so as he laid out half a dozen more identical bowls, which he deftly smoothed into curves.

Miranda and Sami got bits of clay and boards to play with. Nothing recognizable emerged from under their hands but it was fun!

Notice that the potter works without a wheel or any mechanical aid. "I tried one a few years ago - but it wasn't very efficient," he said when we asked. He works, sitting cross-legged, for six or seven hours a day - more if he has a big commission, which he often does. He has been doing this since his early teens.

Meanwhile, in the main room, his son, in his early 30s, was also working quickly, quietly and with amazing accuracy. His project: turn out 300 identical individual hot pots for a restaurant order. He estimated that it would take a couple of months to complete. You can see the first 6 pots to the right.

He used a stick with a mark to make sure each pot was the same height, but that was the only "mechanical" aid. [photos 27 and 28, 52, 54, 55

In the absence of any motor - not even the hum of a refrigerator or air conditioner - and with all the village animals out to pasture, the house was almost completely silent during our stay.

Late in the morning, the son's wife came into the house. Perhaps she had been doing laundry or tilling the kitchen garden. When she entered, she and her husband immediately set to work making lunch.

Zhongdian chapters: Intro Monks Dressup Market Old City Pottery 1 Pottery 2 Pottery 3 Pottery 4
Yunnan chapter shortcuts: Intro Dali Lijiang Tiger Leaping Gorge Zhongdian

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