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Vietnamese Pottery[04/11/2013]

Vietnamese Pottery


When you are an expatriate living in the Middle East, planting in pots means that if you have to move house or apartment you can take your beloved garden with you. It is also much easier to control water and nutrients if your plant is in a pot and the variety of pots available now means there is so much choice in size, design, material and colour. Vietnamese pottery has a long history spanning back to thousands of years ago, long before the Chinese dominated the region. There was an unknown civilisation which lived in Cát Tiên, South Vietnam between the 4th century and 9th centuries AD that made pottery and ceramics.


Vietnam pottery is unique because throughout the centuries, Vietnamese potters have combined indigenous and Chinese elements as well as experimenting with both original and individual styles. They have introduced features from other cultures, such as Cambodia and India. At one time, a Chinese emperor unsuccessfully tried to invade Vietnam, but as a consequence the Vietnamese potters learnt how to make blue and white earthenware which was then exported all over Asia and became the most popular pottery in South East Asia. When the Vietnamese pottery arrived in regions such as Persia, Java and China the potters of those countries started to copy the designs from Vietnam and mixed it in with their own traditional designs.


At one time, China banned exports of its own pottery for a thirty year period and this naturally allowed the Vietnamese pottery/ceramic industry to expand and become widely known in the world. One of the reasons why Vietnam has always been a producer of pottery is that it has lots of really good clay. Clay has to have two essential components, silica and alumina this type of clay is called Kaolinite and this is the type of clay that is found naturally in Vietnam. Pottery is made from clay then it is heated to high temperatures in a kiln, which removes all water from the clay, this process also produces reactions that lead to permanent changes including strength, hardness, shape and colour.


The properties of clays differ from country to country and it’s these properties that will define how the pottery will turn out after it has been in the kiln. In Vietnam, the clay is known for its high-quality which makes the pottery strong and durable. Another important part of making pottery is the kiln.

In the Middle East, you can buy clay pottery from stalls or shops off the side of the road, but unfortunately these have not been in a kiln so they still have moisture in them and it will only be a matter of time before they crack and start disintegrating. The original kilns in Vietnam were called Dragon Kilns because they resemble the mythical beast’s body. A dragon kiln was built with bricks and earth, had a sloping elongated tunnel, with a fire-box at the front end and a flue at the higher tail end where smoke was emitted. Pottery pieces were fired inside the tunnel using wood for fuel. During firing, the crackling sounds of burning, rumbling noise of hot air, flames shooting from the fire-box and stoke holes and smoke escaping from cracks and chimney, make the kiln resemble a raging, fire-spewing dragon.


Unfortunately, the Dragon Kilns became redundant but recently there has been movement by some countries to restore them. In Vietnam all working Kilns are wood-fired as opposed to gas, electric or oil fired. Burning wood not only produces heat of up to 1400°C (2,500°F), it also produces fly ash and volatile salts. Wood ash settles on the pieces during the firing, and the complex interaction between flame, ash and the minerals of the clay body forms a natural ash glaze. If this glaze is not wanted then the items are placed in special covered containers inside the Kiln. The history of pottery from each country very much follows the history and development of that country and I find this makes the pottery on my balcony and in my garden all the more interesting.


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