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Shanghai Museum: Ceramics, Kilns and Production Methods
The Shanghai Museum
The Museum in Shanghai is well worth a visit. If you are lucky enough to go there, allow yourself plenty of time. There is so much to see.
As I walked around I had glimpses into other areas, but I have a granddaughter who teaches and exhibits ceramics so that was the first place I chose and it was so delightful I did not get much further. I am definitely not an authority on Chinese ceramics, but I really enjoy looking and learning to appreciate more about this ancient art.
As you can see from the adjoining photograph, the Shanghai Museum is spacious, airy and well set out to entice the casual visitor to explore further.
Chinese Pottery Kilns
When we were walking in the mountains (and there are many) in Taiwan, we came upon an old kiln. It was made of brick, igloo-like in shape, long, low and had several places along the sides for the fires and several chimney along the top. If my memory is correct, it was called a Snake kiln.
The Shanghai Museum has some abbreviated, but quite large models of various styles of kilns that are also interesting and it was well worth spending some time there.
Then there were posters in both Mandarin characters and in English, that described other ancient types of kilns.
The Mantou Kiln
One showed a Northern China kiln from the Song Dynasty, that dated from about 1100 AD. The poster explained that this particular shape had grown out of very early kilns that had been built in caves and dated as far back as the 16th century BC.
Over that long period the design had changed and been improved with the addition of chimneys that assisted a down-draught. With the use of coal for fuel, amazing temperatures of 1300C could be reached.
Because of its shape, this type of kiln was known as the Mantou, or steamed bun, kiln.
The Cai Kiln
Another type of kiln began to be built as a gourd-shaped kiln in the late Yuan Dynasty and developed into a style that was popular in the Jingdezhen area in the time of the Ming Dynasty.
Such kilns ranged considerably in length, from seven to eighteen metres long, and later in the Qing Dynasty became more the shape of an egg sliced in half length-wise, so they became known as Cai, or egg, kilns.
These Cai kilns were built high and wide at the front and tapered inwards towards the back. They had a tall chimney and burned wood as the fuel.
Materials and Processing the Clay
Timber was used in many different ways in the processing of the clay as wood was usually readily available. Only one type of clay was used in early production, but later the use of different coloured clays was introduced in very creative ways.
As time passed, different clays were procured from other areas and were used for making different objects and utensils. Originally, only lower temperatures could be reached, so articles made were what we know as pottery. Articles varied in hardness, depending on the clay and the heat used. They were also porous until the introduction of glaze.
Different glazes were used when it was discovered how to produce a higher heat, and dark stone was added to the clay. Stoneware is harder than pottery and more durable.
The third type of ceramics is known as porcelain. It is nearly always glazed and can be very fine and translucent. The clay used is white kaolin and is mixed with white stone and other ingredients. The products are fired at high temperatures.
Places to Visit Around-the-World
Includes a number of images of Chinese ceramics through the centuries.
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