Porcelains Made by the Lake Mud

The vitality of a Porcelain is given by the producers. They focus on every making process, like choosing the proper clay, woods and glazes as well as the firing control. Linghua, the Porcelain artist living on the bank of the Taihu Lake, built a Kiln according to the ancient method. She took the deep-water mud and fired the fruit branches, creating the simple and thick ceramic works. What she has done recorded the art and culture of the Taihu Lake that she deeply loved. 

On the riverside of Shenhou town in china, a cargo ladder is slowly rising to the second floor in an unconspicuously old factory building. On the second floor, it is the gray-tone room that is indeed the Linghua's studio. Although this building is not far from the city, there are few inhabitants residing there. Without navigation assistance, it is hard for us to find this building. In Linghua's words, she thinks that she needs this quiet place. She once said: “I have one workshop along the Taihu Lake, and I can fire pottery, grow vegetables and even live there.” Her life is simple and real, but it differs from that of the ordinary people.

In March, Shenhou town is still cold and wet. Each one will sat around the fire, holding a teacup of clovershrub. After drinking a cup of hot tea, the first question will be asked: “why did people build workshop on the bank of the Taihu Lake?” Then Linghua quickly answered:“Because of choosing clay.”On her workshop table lies much gray-white cylindrical clay. They are not the ordinary clay but the deep mud from the bottom of the Taihu Lake.

Linghua has always wanting to create works connecting local culture of Shenhou town. She has a set of Kun opera series that has been selected by Shanghai World Expo. On the surfaces of teapot and tea caddy, there are images of Liu Mengmei and Du Liniang. On the four teacups that make one teaset, there are four sets of Kun opera gestures. The above design shows the respect for the village culture. From the perspective of aesthetics, Linghua needs more space for creation, which is not only the respect for design but also for the process. Then, she tried to regard the bottom of mud as clay in order to show the cultural characters and aesthetic spirits in the watershed of the Taihu Lake.

Millions of years ago, fish and aquatic plants live in the Taihu Lake. With many years of piling up, the deep mud contains many kinds of minerals with strong stickiness, which can be regarded as the clay. When choosing the clay mud, Linghua selected the watershed around Sanshan island in the Taihu Lake. Then inserting the 4-meter high steel barrels into the lake, boatmen draw out the water in the barrels and dig about additional 10 meters. It is in this depth level that the mud is very thick and can endure the high burning. However, the mud in the ordinary lake will be melted under the temperature of around 700℃.

At the beginning, Linghua with her team have made more than 100 times of tests for the mud in the Taihu Lake. After four years of efforts, they finally stabilize the mud quality. Linghua once said: “As for the different mud for every time choosing, it is easy to fail if we are in hurry to select it. Only when we have tested for many times and known the properties of the mud can we do it better.” At first, the rate of finished product was only about 20%, and afterwards it finally reached to 50% or 60%. Nowadays, The largest kiln in the workshop can hold over 60 pieces of porcelains every time. However, there are only 30 ones can be perfectly out of the kiln. From choosing mud to producing the porcelains, it will cost six months at least.  

This green bowl in my hand witnessed six months for making and endured the firing temperature of over 1,330℃. Linghua has said that this kind of glaze is bright and has stable property, suitable to touch our skin. If we want to circulate the water touching porcelains in our body, we must use the natural raw ingredients to make them. 

As a typical girl in the south of the Yangtze River, Linghua is white-skinned. She has clear voice and can straightforward show her opinions without hiding. After graduation form China Academy of Art, she has experienced a long period of confusion.

She said: “China Academy of Art has preference to cultivation of pure art. I was once completely immersed in artistic creation and separated from my daily life.” After getting married and having the baby, she decided to make connections between her works and daily life. No matter it is a teapot or a bowl, except the ideal design, Linghua has tried her best to select raw ingredients and adopt the best firing skills.  

After choosing mud from the Taihu Lake, Linghua with her team buy fruit-tree branches everywhere. Today, most of the domestic ceramic factories have used modern electric kilns to fire porcelains. For this electric kilns, it is easy to control the temperature of electric furnace, which makes them can meet people's needs for the quality control of mass production. However, Linghua decided to use the electric furnace only before painting color. And the real burning process must use woods to fire. 

All these fruit-tree branches for burning were collected from  farmers in the Taihu Lake by Linghua. With the high oil of these branches, the fire will easily burn up. With short history of less than 30 years of electronic kilns, these kilns just need seven or eight hours to finish burning. What's more, its final products is very uniform. 

Once Linghua have used the saggers to control burning ashes in the process of burning without dust outcome. Now I will deliberately leave traces of burning and ashes to highlight artistic and accidental effects. Without this speciality, it has no difference with the industrial products.

In her workshop along the Taihu Lake, there is a wood kiln that was designed by an American pottery mater for her with only  one cubic meter. In the process of burning, it needs more than 10 people to shift, every four consisting a group. For Linghua, she even can not estimate how many tons of branches it need to burn one kiln of porcelains. She said:“ It costs 5 days to finish burning process with the price of 10,000 or 20,000 RMB branches.”

Compared with the rough ore and the beautiful ceramic glaze, you will be amazed by this exquisite craftsmanship. Craftsman integrate the simplest mud and ore together, and then by burning processing, the jade-like and delicate porcelains are eventually presented to us. In her workshop, there pile the ore materials, raw ingredients and the unfinished works. When stepping inside, you will find throwing, drilling, milling machines and even the microkiln. It is in this workshop that  thousands of exquisite artistic works are produced.

Linghua conveniently demonstrate actions of making clay for us with her efforts. Then some questions are raised:"there aren't  such many women engaged in this field?" She stopped and said, " Not only  women but also men are not many. Most of them have changed their jobs.

Linghua said, “In this era, I want to strive for loud voice for China, Jun Porcelains and Shenhou town. Through my artistic sense, I will enrich it and give full concept of innovation and upgrading .”  Her such words sound simply but sincerely.