The road that runs east from Chiang Mai to Sankamphaeng is marked on maps as Highway 1006, but it is known locally by a more colourful name – the Handicraft Road. This is because the road is lined with artisans’ workshops and showrooms where you can see both the processes and products of the handicrafts for which northern Thailand is famous.
Handicraft factories located on this road include silk and silverware, lacquerware, ceramics, celadons, umbrellas and fans. A trip down this road is one of the most interesting activities for visitors to Chiang Mai. It offers the chance not only to meet local people, but also to learn something of the techniques used in producing traditional handicrafts, and to pick up a striking souvenir to take back home.
This July, Chang Puak Magazine takes you to Siam Celadon factory, a famous place producing elegant and characteristic celadon; hand-made in Thailand and exported to the world. Celadon is form of glazed stoneware which became famous at a very early date. The word “celadon” is derived from the Sanskrit language and means green-glazed stone. It is classifieds as high-fired stoneware, fired in wood-fired kilns.
The green-colored glaze is achieved by a mixture of wood ash being fired into the clay, giving it its characteristic colour and cracked texture.
In the old times, celadon ware was believed to change color when poisoned food touched it; it was highly prized and in great demand in Thailand. According to Thai history, King Ramkamhaeng The Great visited China in the 13th century and brought Chinese pottery and potters back to Thailand. When they arrived in Chiang Mai they found a thriving ceramics industry. 83 kilns were firing at its height and soon celadon ware was being produced as well. Today, the northern region specializes in the making of green and blue celadon, but yellow and brown wares can also be found.
At the Siam Celadon factory everything, from drumshapped seats and table bases to complete dinner sets, is made by hand. The factory houses many rooms, each one being devoted to one of the many steps in the process of celadon-making. First, local ball clay is prepared and formed into slabs for the potter. It is shaped into plates by women at work at a motorized potter’s wheel, using a knife to control the shaping.
The production is a relatively long and complicated process. The most essential aspects of it are the use of the proper earthenware clay raw materials, proper drying, the use of highly skilled artisans in molding and design application, then in the glazing and firing processes. A small, comparatively simplistic design, either hand-painted or in low relief, usually takes four to six weeks to make well. A larger piece can take as long as ten weeks, although six to eight weeks is the average.
Before drying, the pieces that are to receive applied decorations like leaves and flowers go to a liquid-slip artist. Pieces that cannot be thrown, such as coffeepots and figurines, are cast in the jiggers shed. Here, clay is poured into a mold and allowed to set and dry. The clay for a half-inch-thick wall sets for one and a half hours before the excess is poured out. After two days of drying in the mold, it is ready for the low - or biscuit - firing at 1,472 degrees.
Next comes glazing. The piece is dipped into a mixture of wood ash and another local clay, different from the ball clay. The proportion of ash and clay determines the color of a piece, whether classic green, greenish-brown or the attractive blue that was introduced a while ago. If the article has a design, the first coat is wiped with a sponge so that it fills in the design and makes it darker. A second dipping takes place when the first coat has dried, and then a third coat is brushed on to smooth over any imperfections before the high - or glaze - firing at 2,372 degrees. The 10-hour slowcooling period gives Thai celadon its crackle.
At Siam Celadon you can witness the different steps of the making of celadon and you can choose beautiful products in their showroom (prices are affordable). The art of celadon is a living art passed down from one generation to another but in our modern times it is becoming more and more difficult to interest the new generation in this work. Visit this beautiful factory to bring home unfogettable memories.
SIAM CELADON :
38 Moo 10, T.Tonpao Sankampeang Chiang Mai
Tel. 053-331 526