Monday, January 19, 2009

The Ninth Eccentric of Yangzhou

Walk from Yixing number one factory past the gate of the number two factory, and then cross the street. The studio of the 'Ninth Eccentric of Yangzhou' is two small rooms slightly below the level of the street. There is an eccentric mix of not so old antiques, and dusty paintings hung so close together that the edges are frayed. Two bird cages hang near the door, from the bottom of one of these hangs a tiny fighting cricket cage with the dried carpace of a formerly large cricket.

The "Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou" were eight scholars and artists from Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. The Ninth Eccentric is certainly an artist. The casual observer recognizes this fact immediately as he wears two scarves, a velveteen suit jacket, long hair and a goatee.

This artist's paintings were not very appealing to me in terms of style, but his Yixing carving was some of the best I have seen in Yixing. I selected a tea canister and a small tray which I use for gongfucha. It is not my intention to come across overly sarcastic in my description. The workshop was cold, the paintings not to my liking, and the artist himself likable and strange at the same time. There was an overabundance of Mao era memorabilia and "antiques" of this kind. At the same time he reminds me of the old books describing Yangxian (Yixing) pots. They werethe product of a co-operation of potters and scholars who would carve a line on the pots, or design their ideal tea pot and press their chop underneath it. This 9th Eccentric of Yangzhou truly creates some beautiful Yixing artwork

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tea in Winter

A heavy frost will damage the crop.

But a light frost will improve the flavour of next spring's tea.

Tea flowers have opened and wilted already.

The view over a tiny tea field down into the valley. The frost melts quickly under the direct sun, while frost it the shade lasts until late in the day

When climbing in the hills, one cannot always stop to boil water, but holding a few tender buds in the mouth refreshes the spirit as well as weary feet. Frost covered buds were sweeter and more fragrant.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My Trip to Yixing

Last week I went to Yixing for 7 days. I think this time of year was probably the best time to go to Yixing, as no one else was there! The busiest time of the year is in March and April. In case anyone else is planning to go, the place to shop for pots is not in the center of the city of Yixing, but in the town of Ding Shan which is part of the county of Yixing, but lies 14 kilometers from the city center. Entering Dingshan by bus, one is impressed by how devoted they whole place is to earthenware clay. The most striking part of the landscape is the profusion of abandoned gas stations. Remarkably tall domed pavilions were erected over the pumps. Many over 20 meters tall. The large paved areas of these old filling stations have all been commandeered as storage facilities for oxidizing the rock that will be crushed for Yixing clay.

Ding Shan would be a miserable place to spend a week if you didn't like teapots, or at least some sort of earthenware or ceramics. For example: flowerpots and large jars. The main attractions of Ding Shan besides the shopping are the Yixing factories number one and two, the Yixing museum and the place where famous Song dynasty poet Su Dongpo went to school.

Stone Marker with Dongpo written on it

Previously, the Yixing ware shops were spread around all parts of the town of Yixing. There was a large market across from the museum, which is almost abandoned now, however many artists keep studios on the grounds adjacent to the museum. There is also a market next to the bus station and many shops on Jiefang Rd. Probably the most expensive place to buy a pot are the shops inside the grounds of Factory number one. I expect prices are so high there because rent is too. There are lots of decent shops near factory number one as well.

In the past few years people have been moving slowly buy surely to the new ceramic market. This is a very large area full of shops which specialize in Yixing and nothing else. The new market has at least 8 sections. Each section has roughly 20 buildings, and each building has around 10-20 shops depending on the size of the individual building and of the shops.

The New Market

The new market has shops which deal only in Yixing teapots, with a few selling tea and other tea supplies. There are barely enough restaurants, convenient stores and hotels to keep one alive though ones pot shopping experience. I stayed in a hotel within district H. There was a computer in the room, and the place was new so I was very pleased at 120 RMB per night.

Yixing was a great place to explore, I felt a week was not quite enough, but I did waste a lot of time helping a friend purchase supplies for his retail outlet. We saw the sights within Yixing, but did not explore any of the beautiful countryside beyond.

Shrinkage in Zhuni Pots

I know zhuni shrinks a lot, but I never realized how dramatic it really is. A picture I took in Yixing illustrates this more succinctly than I ever could in words. On the right is the raw zhuni pot and on the left is the fired one. They are from the same mold.

I was talking to a potter who told me fake wrinkles were made on zhuni pots by pressing toilet paper onto the unfired clay. Below are pictures of the toilet paper supposedly used to fake the wrinkes.

Toilet paper texture

This toilet paper is a lot different than what I grew up with and is not super soft. I thought other Americans might not understand using toilet paper to fake zhuni, but it really does remind me of zhuni wrinkles.

Toilet paper packaging