Into the belly of the Dragon

29 06 2011

I took a peek into the belly of the Dragon that at the height of its fury, burns a white hot 1260 degrees Celcius. It is one that lies somewhat forgotten and hidden in the woods, and is roused from its deep slumber every six months to a year, when it is able to vent its full fury. The dragon is not of course that mythical beast that we would have heard about in our childhoods, by one that lays firmly on the ground – a kiln, referred to as a dragon kiln for the shape it takes, that rises up a slope with a firing box at one end, and to a chimney at the end of what is a single chamber kiln.

The Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln.

The belly of the sleeping dragon.

The dragon kiln I visited, the Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln at Jalan Tawas off Jalan Bahar, is one of two still left in what was an area known for its white clay which made ideal material for the pottery that the kilns fired. Mrs Yulianti Tan, whose father-in-law bought the kiln in 1965, was kind enough to show me and my companions around the kiln and around an exhibition of clay pottery that was from a recent firing of the kiln.

The firing box at the end of the kiln. Wood is used to fire the kiln and the ash actually provides unglazed pottery with a natural glazing.

I was to learn that the kiln and another neighbouring one was one of nine similar pottery kilns that were built from the 13th to the 17th milestone of Jurong Road to exploit the availability of white clay which could be used for then popular pottery items such as latex cups. The historical Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln dates back to 1940, and was apparently built on a site of what is thought to be a Hokkien 3 chamber kiln – evidence of which was only recently found after work to refurbish the kiln uncovered the stepped part of one of the chambers of the original kiln next to the Dragon Kiln and the stoke holes of the chamber. Not much is known about the the older kiln as no records exist. The newer kiln was owned by a certain Goh family from whom Mrs Tan’s father-in-law purchased it from.

Evidence of what is thought to be a Hokkien kiln.

Stoke holes found of the earlier Hokkien kiln on the site of the dragon kiln.

It has to be passion that drives Mrs Tan and he family to maintain the kiln – a handful of very dedicated clay artists exercise their creativity there and alway wait in anticipation for a firing to be able to see the fruits of their labour finished up. Clay pottery classes are also run at the kiln to extend the knowledge of clay pottery to the general public. The land on which the kiln is built on and its surroundings is on a lease which is renewed every year … and with development in what is still a fairly wooded area already making inroads into the areas that surround the kiln and its neighbouring kiln, it may not be long before we see another reminder of our past and a reminder of what the area around was once like, pass into history to be forgotten by a Singapore that seems to have no desire or no need to remember its past.

The entrance to the belly of the dragon.

Into the belly of the dragon.

Evidence of the long slumber ... cobwebs on a stoke hole of the kiln.

A view inside the belly of the dragon into the firing box end of the kiln.

Bricks bearing the names of long lost brick kilns in which they were fired in.

A kick wheel used by clay potters.

A model of the kiln by a display of pottery made at the kiln.

The kiln is also a peaceful retreat from urban life.

On display at the kiln is clay work fired at the kiln made by a group of dedicated clay artists.

Unglazed pottery is glazed by ash from the wood fire mixed with salt thrown in.

The natural beauty of wood fire kiln fired pottery - the windward side is glazed by the ash and salt while the other side is left unglazed.

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6 responses

29 06 2011
Thimbuktu

The Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln blog is very educational and informative. The selection of the appropriate photos to supplement the graphic visual blog topic is well presented. Well done, Jerome. Thank you.

1 07 2011
Pei Yun, Cheng

Thank you for filling me in on this. I was there for the wood-firing event earlier this year, and I appreciate having to view some of the works from that event.

4 07 2011
Kuan

Thanks for presenting the dragon with an artistic bent.

5 07 2011
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

My pleasure! :)

7 12 2011
bricklady

Any idea to which brick factory the SKLBW signature on the foto refer to? BW probably stands for Brick Works, but SKL? Also, you know whether in the kiln bricks were fired or was it pottery only? Thankful for any hint on brick production!

18 09 2012
Yulianti

Thanks for the write up of the historical about Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln.
We have received a lot of visitors to see the dragon kiln after visiting your blog.
Come and join us this saturday for mid Autumn festival and sharing session of our recent firing on 7th Sept.
The whole place has been changed…… hope you still can recognize. The new entrance to Thow Kwang via Nanyang Avenue now.

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