Jian Shui: Beautiful - Teaware - Beautiful People
The Ancient Town of Jian Shui
A clutural landmark in Jian Shui is the Double Dragon Bridge built in the Qing Dynasty .
Central ediface on Double Dragon Bridge, also called the Seventeen Arches Bridge.
Pu'er Tea Fields near Jian Shui
Jian Shui Teaware and Pottery is really special. It can only be made in Jian Shui, Yunnan Province, China and the raw materials needed to produce the beautiful teaware and pottery can be found nowhere else in the world. The artisans and their ancestors who create these hand-made treasures have honed their skills for a thousand years. In this edition of Cultural Insights, we will explore the eight "technologies" employed to produce Jian Shui pottery as we take another Adventure on the Ancient Tea Horse Road.
Jian Shui is an ancient Chinese town in Southern Yunnan Province, about 100 miles north of the border with Vietnam and Laos. This 1,200-year-old town is known for the methods of making teaware that can only be created with the unique clay found nowhere else in China. The Five Color Mountain is the source of the extraordinary rock and earth that has a desirable high iron content but contains no sand. The clay's ultra fine composition allows the Jian Shui artisans to create hand-crafted teaware and pottery that can be polished to a high gloss sheen using river rocks to produce a surface that appears to be glazed but is not.
One Hundred Years of Spring: The source of much of my information is the creator, collector, curator, and owner of what I believe is the premier shop in Jian Shui, "One Hundred Years of Spring". With generations of experience and a private museum on the third floor of his establishment, Mr. Su is an encyclopedia of information on the history of Jian Shui teaware and pottery. He and his very knowledgeable staff spent four days educating me on the intricacies and cultural aspects of Jian Shui Teaware and Pottery, introduced me to several talented artists, allowed me to try my hand at creating a piece of pottery and hosted me to a number of wonderful meals featuring the local cuisine. Fabulous Pottery - Fabulous People. You will see the " Hundred Years of Spring" logo on pieces created by his artists.
Mr Su, Lin Ya Xue, and Chun Si, three people in Jian Shui who taught me about thier culture, their food, their hospitality and the art of making Jian Shui Teaware.
The knowledgable, talented and friendly staff of "One Hundred Years of Spring" in Jian Shui.
Logo of "One Hundred Years of Spring"
The Basics of Jian Shui Teaware
The five colors of clay found only in Jian Shui, are Cyan, White, Red, Yellow and Purple. Using these primary colors, or mixing them on the artist's pallet to create new colors, the artisans decorate their art. Intricate designs are carved into the body of the pottery and then inlaid with the various colors of clay. It appears that the artwork has been painted on the surface of the piece, but the designs are not painted but inlaid into the body of the pottery. This time-consuming process results in lovely designs, featuring subtle shades of colors, that are integral with the body of the teaware and can never wash off. Pieces most often have ancient Chinese characters, also inlaid into the body of the teaware, reflecting the artist's views on life, and providing the owner with thoughts to meditate on while enjoying a cup of local Pu’er tea.
I have been introduced to the artists that are creating this teaware and have watched them work in their studio. I have tried my hand at each step in the process under their tutelage, but you don't want to see the result. It has given me an appreciation for their artistic vision and the technical skills required to create their unique teaware.
The Special People of Jian Shui
Matching the incredible beauty of the Jian Shui teaware and pottery is the beauty and friendliness of the people in this ancient town. The hospitality of everyone I have met in Jian Shui exceeds that of any place I have visited in my travels along the Ancient Tea Horse Road.
In my many trips to Jian Shui, I have been able to explore more than a hundred small shops, boutiques, and artisan galleries. My shop of choice is Mr. Su's collections at his shop "百年又逢春" or "One hundred Years of Spring". He has carried on the traditions of his ancestors by producing and offering the most traditional and authentic examples of Jian Shui pottery and maintains a museum featuring extraordinary pieces that have been gifted to both Chinese royalty and dignitaries of foreign countries.
My adventures could not have been so memorable nor could I have learned the details of this ancient art without the invaluable assistance of my translator, and friend, Chun Si (Candy). An English teacher of Jian Shui school children, Candy spent several days guiding me around Jian Shui and translating for me as my Mandarin is not up to the level necessary to understand the technologies involved in the crafting of the teaware.
Chun Si and the folks at "One Hundred Years of Spring" also introduced me to the fabulous food of Jian Shui. Fried Tofu, Lion Cake and, best of all, Elephant Teeth - Yummy! Thank you to all my Jian Shui friends.
If you would like to visit Jian Shui, visit "One Hundred Years of Spring", and meet some of these fine people, send me a message and we can talk about it. Visit the web site and use the "Contact Us" form.
Chun Si - (Candy)
English Teacher and Translator.
吴海燕 Wu Hai Yan
林雅雪 Lin Ya Xue
Here are three of the lovely shopkeepers at Mr. Su's "Hundred Years of Spring" boutique in Jian Shui. All of these ladies are very knowledgeable about the fine Teaware offered for sale, can brew a cup of tea for you using traditional Chinese Tea Culture and can explain the differences between the various pieces.
Lin Ya Xue was my guide for a tour of their artists’ shop and explained and demonstrated the details of every step in the process of creating Jian Shui Teaware.
Lin Ya Xue also assisted in photographing the pieces and in translating the old traditional text on the pieces and explaining the deeper meaning of the texts.
The Details of Creating Jian Shui Teaware and Pottery
From Mud to Magnificient: The methods of creating Jian Shui Teaware and Pottery involve eight specific skills or, as they refer to them, the "eight technologies". In some cases, a single artisan will create a piece from start to finish but more often several artists will collaborate, contributing their individual skills, to maximize the beauty and value of the final piece of art.
The eight steps begin with mining raw earth containing the ingredients from which to refine the clay and end with the final polishing of the piece.
- Create the slurry and clay
- Create the basic teaware shape
- Painting the Design and Characters
- Carving the Design and Text
- Inlay Design with Colored Clay
- Modification and Fine Tuning
- Go to Kiln for 11 to 12 hours
- Polish with River Stones
1. Creating the slurry and clay
2. Create the rough piece
3. Paintng the Design and text
4. Carving the Design and Text
5. Inlay Design with colored clay
6. Modification and Tuning
7. Go to Kiln for 11 - 12 hours
8. Polishing with River Stones
1. Creating the Slurry and Clay
The key to Jian Shui Teaware and Pottery is the extraordinarily fine clay that is used. The clay has high iron content that allows it to be shaped easily and to retain heat longer than other types of clay but also contains no sand. The fine texture allows the completed piece to be polished to semi-gloss or high-gloss sheens using river rocks.
The raw material is extracted from the Five Color Mountain near Jian Shui. The rocks containing the five colors, Cyan, White, Red, Yellow, and Purple are sorted, crushed, and screened. Then the fine rock is allowed to soak and the sediment, or slurry, is collected and processed in several different ways. It can be allowed to settle or the sediment can be transferred to cloth bags and the slurry squeezed to force to water out more quickly.
The nearly completed clay is then either kneaded (like bread dough) by hand or machine to finalize the consistency. It is then often put into a vat and extruded through a tube to shape it into billets.
1. Red Clay Ore
2. Purple Clay Ore
3. White Clay Ore
4. Mixing the Slurry
5. Final Screenng
6. Precipitate Water
7. Paintng the Design and Text
8. Inlay with Colored Clay
9. Extrusion of Final Clay
2. Creating the Basic Shape
The fine texture and composition of the Jian Shui clay allows it to be thrown on the potters wheel or to be hand formed into other complex shapes. Most often the basic shape will be created on the wheel and then other pieces, like the spout and handle, will be formed by hand and attached during step seven of the process.
A wide range of pottery is made in Jian Shui from Chicken Cooking Pots to vases, tea containers and of course, the highly prised teaware.
1. Throwing the Basic Piece
2. Adjusting the lip
3. Begin a Larger Piece
4. Refine the Mouth
5. Paint Design and Text
6. Completing a Vase
3. Paintng the Design and Characters
After the basic shape has been completed and smoothed, the artist will then paint the envisioned design on the body of the piece. For more traditional works, the artist will either draw from their imagination or may search old texts and documents for inspiration. The design is then applied to the piece using a number of natural hair brushes and black ink.
Most often text will also be painted on the piece, either from famous Tang Poems, possible thoughts of Confusious or a thought that the artist wants to convey to the user of the piece. The level of detail of the design and the density of the characters will greatly influence the value of the finished piece.
1. Design Inspiration
2. Paint Design
3. Paint Fine Details
4. Paint Characters
5. Paintng Characters
6. Inspect Design
4. Carving the Design and Characters
Using the painting as a guide the artist will carve out the design preparing it to accept the inlay of colored clay. If the design was to only be a single color or a simple pattern, then only one stage of carving would be required. For complex and multicolored designs the artist needs to think a few steps ahead and carve out the larger shape, fill it with the background color, then carve out and fill successive iterations to realize the final design.
1. Carving Characters
2. Complex Carving
3. Carv Branch- Leaves
4. The Carving Tool
5. Third Iteration carving
6. Waiting for First Inlay
5. Inlay Design with Colored Clay
Once the initial design, or first layer, has been carved the recesses are filled with the first layer of colored clay. The artist will use one of the Five Jian Shui colors (Cyan, White, Red, Yellow, Purple) or mix those primary colors on a pallet to create other subtle hues and shades.
1. Apply Clay
2. Initial Inlay
3. Inlay Characters
6. Modification and Fine Tuning
When the final iteration painting, carving and inlaying has been completed the clay will still be soft enough to work by hand. The final shape will be adjusted, spouts and handles added and then the enitire piece smoothed by hand using a smoothing tool. After the final inspection the piece will be ready to go to the kiln and the hopes of the artist are that the piece will survive the fires - but it is possible that all of the work until this point will be lost.
1. Smoothing Handle
2. Trim Wall Thickness
7. Go to Kiln for 11 to 12 hours
Now that the pottery has been formed, carved, inlaid, and tuned to perfection it is time to lock it in forever. The pottery is fired in the kiln for approximately 11 to 12 hours but the time is dependent on a plethora factors such as style, size, and composition of the clay. Both traditional wood-fired brick kilns or more modern gas-fired insulated kilns are used. Depending on the type of teaware or pottery approximately 20% of the fired pieces will fail and need to be discarded. It is just part of the process and seen as an acceptable loss.
Old Brick Kiln
Gas Fired Kiln
Wood Fired Kiln
8. Polish with River Stones
Now is when the unique nature of the Jain Shui clay really shines - literally. The fired and hardened pottery is polished with river rocks to the level of finish desired by the artist - from a matt finish to a high gloss - all done with river rocks that are just a little harder than the fired clay pottery.
The pictures show needing the clay by foot to prepare a base; attaching the piece to be polished to the base; using the rocks to polish and finally, a high gloss piece that appears to be glazed but is only the fine clay polished by hand.
Prepare the Base
Attach Piece to Base
Polish with River Rocks
Polish the Lip
Final Polish to Gloss
I hope that you have enjoyed reading about the town, people, teaware and pottery of Jian Shui. The diversity of the pieces that are being made and offered in the small shops and galleries of this lovely ancient town is great and varied. You can visit the online store and see some of the beautiful pieces of teaware being offered at very fair prices.
If you would like more information or would enjoy seeing other pictures and videos of of Jian Shui Pottery, send a private comment to me and I would be very happy to talk with you.
Want a custom piece built to your specifications? Send a message to discuss.