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Home >What is Celadon

Celadon From Mengrai Kilns
"Celadon" is the commonly accepted name for kind of high-fired stoneware with a wood ash glaze (usually crackled), which is hand crafted by a traditional process believed to have been first developed in China some 2,000 years ago. In Chiang Mai, the glaze is usually made of silt from a rice field and wood ash from a particular tree. The body of the pot is made of stoneware clay (know as "din dam", literally black earth) froma local deposit. When fired in a reduction atmosphere (high Co2, low o2 content), the natural iron content of the glaze and of the body combine to produce the delicate shade of green which is associated with gook celadons. Too much oxygen in the kiln gives different shades, varying from olive green through yellow to brown. The glaze can be varied by using other kinds of ash (i.e. rice stalk, bean stalk, or bamboo), and other clays.
In the final firing, the kiln must be taken to about 1,260C in order to vitrify the glaze. The result is a bright transparent gloss finish.The crackle (otherwise known as 'crazing') is caused by a difference in the coefficient of contraction between the body and the glaze when the pot is cooling.
A briefceladon and stonewareproduction process:
2.1 The dried stoneware clay is reduced to powder and sieved. It is then mixed with water, passed through apug mill to improve the blending, and allowed to age for a while by bacteriological action.
2.2 Before throwing on the wheel, the clay is kneaded, to remove air bubbles and to improve plasticity.
After throwing, the pots are allowed to dry until they are "leather hard". They are then often hand carved, incised of embellished with a high relief applied decoration. Thereafter, they are allowed to dry naturally in the air. When quite dry, they are checked for cracks and defects.
2.4 At this point, the pots are still "green. That is, they will revert to mud if put into a bucket of water
2.5 The next step is bisque firing, in a tub kiln, to about 800 C. Though stable in water, the bisque ware pots are still porous. A second check for cracks and defects is made
2.6 The bisque pots are then glazed, usually by dipping in the glaze mix, and allowed to dry.
2.7 The final firing follows, to 1,260 C or 1,300 C in a reduction atmosphere, as already described. The pots are again checked for defects, cracks or leaks. From start to finish, the process takes about one and a half months.
Why is it called "celadon"?
One theory is propounded by William Willetts in "Chinese Celadons and Other Related Wares in Southeast Asia" (South-east Asian Ceramics Society, Singapore, published by Arts Orientals, Singapore, 1979). He writes: "There is moreover no reason to suppose that the ware was known as celadon until the last years of the 19th century..(when)the word 'celadon' was used to name a colour, of a costume worn by the shepherd Celadon in.the 17th-century pastoral romance L'Astree, by Honore d'Urfe Not until the 6thedition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary (1976) do definitions relating to ceramic materials appearnamely (1) 'grey-green glaze used on some pottery' and (2) 'Chinese pottery thus glazed'. "Willetts comments that the Complete oxford English Dictionary (a much bigger work) did not define celadon correctly until 1945- if I understand him well - when it indicated that celadon denoted the "high fired stoneware made at the Lung -ch'uan kilns in Chekiang province of eastern China from Suang times onwards and, at various times subsequently, at other factories in other parts of country and abroad".
Turing back to the publication by the Southeast Asian Ceramics Society referred to above, we find an article by Lu Yaw. He attacks the term 'celadon' as an historical misnomer, and prefers the name "qing ci" , meaning green or bluish-green porcelain ware, (Romanized Japanese "seiji"). He then goes on to note that the Ashmolean Museum of oriental Art (Oxford) and the Museum Pusat (Jakarta) have discarded the term 'celadons, and use "Chinese green wares" instead. He adds that the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art (London) may be moving in the same direction. But he then tends to destroy his own argument by saying that, in certain firing conditions, these 'greenwares" may not be green at all, and may even be 'yellowish or brownish".
Here we would add that some green coloured wares, for example those with a lead based copper glaze fired in oxidation, can certainly not be regarded as celadons. And finally, a practicing potter calls a "green pot" one which has been thrown and air dried, but not yet bisque fired.Consequently, we prefer to agree with Willetts. He does indeed ask why one should use a word of European derivation (celadon) "to name the product of a Far Eastern potter when the Chinese term 'ch'ing tz'u' is lying at hand. He answers his own question by saying that celadon' conjures up and image of this class of proto-porcelain in all its beauty, whereas the other term
does not. He speaks as a Westerner and we are Asians. All the same, we prefer' celadon. Everybody the world over who likes pots clearly understands what that means, and has an instant concept of this unique art form Anyway, what's in a name? Let us enjoy the visual and tactile pleasure pleasure of these unique pieces, and be grateful to the old potters long dead who taught us how to make them for our delight, and that of generations still unborn.
How long will the craft persist in its present form? I hesitate to guess. But I fear that before long one will not be able to find the raw materials needed for making celadons in the traditional way. And what of the essential loving skill of the artist craftsmen who so proudly sing each Mengrai pot they make to day? We can pass on our craft to our children: but cannot be sure that it will be there for our grandchildren to inherit. Perhaps this thought puts the value of Mengrai hand crafted wares in better perspective.

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