Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia

Wiang Kalong kilns

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The Wiang Kalong kilns take their name from a moated site of an old town (muang) that is thought to have been inhabited during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (Sayan 1999, 163). Many of the roughly one hundred kilns in the area lie along the Lao River, which flows north past Chiang Rai before joining the Mekong near Chiang Saen (Shaw 1989, 37).

In dating the activities of kilns in Lan Na, it has been conventional to assume that ceramic production ended with the fall of Chiang Mai to Burmese forces in 1558. Yajima Ritsuko, however, has looked at the evidence of wares produced at the Kalong kilns and—given the production of white pipes for tobacco introduced into the region by Europeans—proposes that the kilns may have been active into the seventeenth century (Yajima 2007).

A fine-grain white clay body is a distinguishing feature of Kalong ware. Nevertheless, the Kalong potters applied a coating of white slip beneath the pale gray-green glaze of the local celadon. The use of "chocolate bases" on some Kalong celadons indicates an awareness of Vietnamese models from the Red River Delta kilns. The underglaze iron painting on Kalong dishes and bowls, in addition to their vessel forms, suggests close attention paid to the designs on Chinese cobalt-decorated porcelains. Yajima notes that the Lan Na ruler sent envoys to Ming China in the late fifteenth century and that this connection facilitated the import of blue-and-white wares from the popular kilns in Jingdezhen and elsewhere (Yajima 2007).

Aspects of technology hint at a more direct connection to China. The vessel-making process involved shaving the thrown form to make the already thin walls even thinner (Shaw 1989, 44)—a procedure also practiced by porcelain makers at Jingdezhen and related kilns in China. Archaeologist Mikami Tsugio observed that the Kalong kiln structure resembled Ming-period kilns at Jingdezhen (SPAFA 1985, 473). In addition, the potters appear to have used a Chinese-style two-step process of bisque firing and high-temperature firing (Shaw 1989, 44; Yajima 2007). The distinctive use of copper-green lead glaze on vessels made at the Tung Man kiln group (Shaw 1989, 51)—a procedure not known anywhere else in the region—also suggests some sort of on-site instruction from a Chinese potter, perhaps one associated with the Zhangzhou kilns in Fujian and brought to the region by an overseas Chinese merchant.