The world famous potter city of China
Yixing is an old potter city which is located west of Tai Hu (Lake Tai) and south of the city of Wuxi. 800 years ago potterware has already been produced there. Today the city can be reached within three hours from Shanhai by car on the new motorway and from Wuxi on a countryside highway. At the road from Wuxi to Yixing on the broad side-strips there are many sales booths on both sides offering Tai Hu garden stones as well as sawed and polished stone paving tiles.
Near Yixing there are also ceramic displays with thousands of pots, big storage vessels, bowls etc. In the whole area you can see ceramic kilns. There are many little family businesses. Yixing is especially well known for its tea pots. But other ceramic devices for daily use are made as well. Typical for Yixing is the “red earthenware” which looks similar to the german "Böttcher" porcelain (Meißen manufacture) with its red colour.
Here the raw bodies are removed from the plaster moulds.
In Yixing all popular production techniques for potterware are applied. The largest part of the business however is serial production of tea pots, tea cups, vases, wall-reliefs, sculptures, garden ceramics, bonsai pots and suibans for suiseki or bonsai.
In the production of bonsai pots mainly two production techniques are used:
1. Slip casting
2. Handshaping in plaster moulds
The slip casting technique is mainly used for the production of small bonsai pots up to a size of 30 to 35 cm. First an exact model of the bonsai pot is created. Then dismountable plaster casts are taken of the model. After drying, these moulds are filled with clay slurry compound with added stabilisers. About two or three hours later, a clay layer that is several Millimeters thick has formed on the plaster wall. At this point the excess clay slurry is carefully poured back into the storage basin. After some hours of drying time the clay in the plaster mould has become leather-hard. Now the plaster mould is opened and the future body of the bonsai pot is removed. The raw bodies are now manually finished with spatulas and then left to dry. After sufficient drying the raw bodies are fired and thereby made stable.
A lotus flower pot is finished and refined accurately.
For the handshaping technique, plaster moulds are used as well. First a kneadable clay slab of sufficient thickniss is made, then it is cut into the required size and placed into the plaster mould. The clay is pressed with considerable force against the inner walls of the model plaster mould so that the clay slab gets the shape of the future bonsai pot. After some drying time the clay has become leather-hard. The mould is opened and the raw body is removed. Then it is accurately finished and refined. After having sufficiently dried, the pots are fired.
A wide variety of bonsai pot shapes are produced like this. In all potteries however you will mainly see the well-known classic shapes, such as the drum shape, the lotus flower shape, varied rectangular shapes with or without frames, the semi-high or high shapes for semi-cascades and cascade bonsai. But there are also pot shapes modeled after ancient prototypes whichare more difficult to make.
Everywhere you can see that high quality pots are produced which are subject to strict control. In Yixing I visited the company “Yixing Lotus Pottery & Horticulture Co.”. Mr. Zhang received me very kindly and showed me all the details of his bonsai pot production. Those were mostly already known to me, as I had worked in an artistic ceramic workshop for some years before and during my college time. I believe however that it would be interesting for every bonsai enthusiast to visit such a pottery in order to adequately appreciate bonsai pots. Because without the appropriate bonsai pot, a miniature tree is not really a bonsai.
This photograph gives you a glimpse into one of the drying halls.
This article was kindly provided by Willi Benz.
Translation by: Heike van Gunst