Keeping kiln burning in My Thien pottery village

Friday, 2020-01-31 18:09:54
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Artisan Dang Van Trinh and his wife, Pham Thi Thu Cuc, checking the quality of their pottery products (Photo: Lam Uyen)
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NDO – Located along the bank of Tra Bong river, My Thien village in Chau O town, Binh Son district, Quang Ngai province has more than 200-years of history making pottery.

Experiencing many ups and downs over the village’s long history, hundreds of households at the village have abandoned the craft, but there is one man still working to keep the kiln burning, thus preserving the chemistry of My Thien pottery. He is artisan Dang Van Trinh.

According to historical records, My Thien pottery village was established at the end of the 18th century and early 19th century. My Thien pottery products were made by using sophisticated techniques and were made-to-order souvenirs for Nguyen Lords.

My Thien pottery products had been transported through waterway, sea routes, and roads to many cities and provinces across the country such as Quang Nam, Da Nang, Nghe An, Binh Dinh, Central Highlands region, and even to neighbouring countries of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

As the fourth descendant of a family with a rich tradition of practicing the craft, potter Dang Van Trinh has nearly 40-year experience working with clay, potter's wheels, and kilns. When he was a boy, the craft was taught and passed down to him from his father and grandfather.

The main ingredient for making My Thien pottery products is clay, which is carefully filtered from impurities. The clay is kneaded properly to form different shapes of jars, pots, and vases, it’s then coated with ceramic glaze and decorative patterns. Finally, it is baked in a kiln at a blistering temperature of over 1,000°C, which results in a final product that is solid and will last a life time..

All of the steps are done manually. While other types of ceramic products have a surface that is decorated with engraved patterns, My Thien pottery products have an eye-catching appearance thanks to embossed decorative patterns, which often feature the image of dragons, phoenixes, rats, and leaves.

The secret key to the unique charm of My Thien pottery is the different glaze of the products, which is resulted from the potter’s control of fire inside the kiln. Every My Thien pottery product is baked twice, each last at least three days and nights, which helps to provide a strong colourful tone and a nice variety for the finished products.

My Thien pottery products have an eye-catching appearance thanks to embossed decorative patterns, which often feature the image of dragons, phoenixes, rats, and leaves.

At the age of 60, Dang Van Trinh and his wife, Pham Thi Thu Cuc, have witnessed many historical ups and downs of the pottery-making craft in their hometown. During the golden era of the craft, roads in the village were filled with people transporting products to the river’s wharf for traders from across the country.

At that time, the craft was practiced by dozens of households, who kept the flame going inside their kilns on all year round. They joined hands to established a pottery collective but it was dissolved after ten years under operation due to fierce competition from mass production and the increase in raw materials, forcing many families to turn their back to the pottery-making craft and sought for other well-paid jobs. Dang Van Trinh is the last potter practicing the time-honoured craft.

With a deep passion for their ancestors’ craft and their strong determination to keep the chemistry of My Thien pottery alive, Dang Van Trinh and his wife have kept the fire raising in their kiln and have travelled to many cities and provinces across the country including Da Nang, Gia Lai and Binh Dinh to advertise their products.

In addition to producing traditional products such as kitchenware and daily utensils that have made My Thien pottery so famous, the couple have also created indoor decoration products in order to keep pace with the increasing demand of customers.

Their efforts have been rewarded as they have received more and more orders from customers, and thousands of their products are sent to many places around the country every week.

The old couple has planned to open a workshop and an exhibition space so that visitors to the village can learn more about the craft and try their hands at making pottery products themselves.

They also receive support from local sectors and functional agencies in an effort to promote My Thien as a tourist spot for visitors to Quang Ngai province.