Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Dragon kiln - Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle

Travel over to the west of Singapore and one place you must visit is Thow Kwang Pottery jungle, better known as the Dragon Kilns. You will find this at 85 Lorong Tawas, Jalan Bahar. Here if you are looking for a vase, flower pot, lamp or other pottery creation you are sure to find something and you'll be amazed at how several hours will have flown past, especially if you take part in a pottery class.

You can always take a class in pottery making 
There were once 9 kilns along Jurong Rd in its height, with more than 20 in the whole of Singapore in the last century, now only 2 remain and can be found here. The potteries were set up predominantly to make the pottery latex cups used in rubber tapping, rubber plantations once covered vast swathes of Singapore. With the demise in rubber production so the kilns died out, but these 2 have survived by diversifying into flower pots etc and are now home to a vast array of ceramics, many imported from overseas. 

Dragon kilns or anagama originate from China and before that Korea. Anagama means cave, in Japanese which is what they basically are. They are a sloping tunnel shape, fuelled by wood, making it hard to maintain temperature. They can reach a massive heat of up to 1300 degrees Celsius and firing can take between 48hrs to 2 weeks. They have become affectionately termed dragon kilns due to there shape and "fire breathing" the head of the dragon being at the top and the tail at the bottom of the slope. The knowledge of the use of these dragon kilns was brought over to Singapore by the Chinese in the early 20th century. The pottery produced in this way has a myriad of patterns, textures and different colours to the glaze, this is due to the wood ash falling onto the piece, during the firing process, making each piece individual.

Floor to ceiling as far as the eye can see are ceramics
There were 3 dragons kilns until relatively recently, Sam Mui Kwang, Guan Guat and Thow Kwang. Sam Mui Kwang was once Hwi Yoh kiln run by the Chua family along Jalan Hwi Yoh. It operated until the 1990s when it was demolished, the family moved and opened up Sam Mui Kwang.
Thow Kwang was founded in 1965. 
Guan Huat was built by Mr Lee Yong Lee in 1958 and this dragon kiln was the longest in Singapore. This also closed in the 1990s but was bought and restored by the Singapore Tourist Board and reopened in 2003 as the Jalan Bahar studio & Dragon Kiln Village.

Although the dragon kilns are lit very infrequently here now, the site is still worth a visit and look around, with many gift opportunities. We couldn't leave without buying a decorated tile/plaque that was intended for a gift but now sits on one of our sideboards, never making it to the intended person - ooops!! 
Many of the pieces you will see in department stores across the globe, but it's interesting to search out the more unique pieces and as mentioned before look out for the pottery lessons that are offered.

The site was under threat as it's lease was due to expire at the end of 2014 but in August 2013 it was given permission to extend for another 3 years and then for 2 more 3 year terms after that, so plenty of time to take a trip over to investigate.

Some of the 17 vents along the side of the "dragon"

inside the beast

Either side of the vents are named with places in Singapore
Some of the "throw aways"

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