Keeping the fire burning …

22 06 2015

One of the last two dragons of Singapore, the Thow Kwang dragon kiln, was brought to life over the weekend, its flames fed by a team of potters and volunteers working through the night. The use of such kilns, a tradition imported by the Teochew community, served a necessary purpose in the production of latex cups in the days when rubber plantations covered large parts of Singapore’s rural landscape. At its height, the would be kept running with little pause through a cycle of packing, firing, cooling and unpacking that would take place up to four times a month.

Keeping the fire burning at Thow Kwang.

Keeping the fire burning at Thow Kwang.

With the end of rubber production on the island, many kilns lost their relevance. Some turned to making flower pots in the 1980s, a decade that saw many others forced to close. Today, only the former Guan Huat and Thow Kwang kilns, both of which are located off Jalan Bahar, have survived.

Wood for firing in the glow of the kiln.

Wood for firing in the glow of the kiln.

The inferno inside the firing box.

The inferno inside the firing box.

The first row of pots seen  through the flames.

The first row of pots seen through the flames.

Fired by those with the passion to keep an age-old tradition alive, for now at least the dragons still breathe. The kilns operate on land that the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) now owns, are on an extension to their respective leases that could see them used up to 2023/2024, beyond which, little is known of what will become of them.

Feeding the dragon.

Feeding the dragon.

JeromeLim-5095

To learn more about the kiln, how it is fired and also the art of wood-fired pottery, there is a wonderful app (only for iPad at the moment) that can be downloaded at Dragon Fire.

Ms Carolyn Lim giving a demo of the iPad app.

Ms Carolyn Lim giving a demo of the iPad app.

More information on the Thow Kwang kiln and its previous firings and some of the preparatory work that goes on before a kiln is fired, do also visit some of my previous posts:

A look at the remains of what is thought to have been a Hokkien 3-chamber kiln that predates the dragon kiln.

A look at the remains of what is thought to have been a Hokkien 3-chamber kiln that predates the dragon kiln.

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The dragon comes alive for Mid-Autumn

9 09 2014

The Dragon has been brought to life for the third time this year, being fired up this time around for an international gathering of clay artists in Singapore for the International Chawan Exposition. The 16th edition of the exposition is being held in Singapore from 6 to 14 September 2014 and includes a wood firing event from 8 to 10 September at the Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln.

Making offerings to the kiln god at the start of the firing.

Making offerings to the kiln god to mark the start of the firing.

The firing event, the opening of which coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival last evening, is open to the public on 9 and 10 September. More information on the International Chawan Exposition can be found at http://www.chawanexpo.com/singapore.html. More information on the kiln and its history can be found in some of my previous posts on Thow Kwang.

More photographs from last evening’s opening:

The packed kiln.

The packed kiln.

Sealing the access opening.

Sealing the access opening.

Sealing the access opening.

Sealing the access opening.

Preparing offerings to the kiln god.

Preparing offerings to the kiln god.

Offering a prayer to the kiln god.

Offering a prayer to the kiln god.

The gathering of artists with Mr Ong Yew Huat, Chairman of the National Heritage Board.

The gathering of artists with Mr Ong Yew Huat, Chairman of the National Heritage Board.

Lighting the fire.

Lighting the fire.

The initial flames ... the fire is fed slowly to allow a gradual build up of temperature.

The initial flames … the fire is fed slowly to allow a gradual build up of temperature.

Paper offerings being burnt in the kiln.

Paper offerings being burnt in the kiln.

The full autumn moon graced the occasion.

The full autumn moon graced the occasion.

Lanterns for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Lanterns for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The firing is being held for the 16th edition of the International Chawan Expo.

The firing is being held for the 16th edition of the International Chawan Expo.

Good music went with the good food at the opening.

Good music went with the good food at the opening.

Flames seen through an opening in the firing box.

Flames seen through an opening in the firing box.





A Kranji Heritage Trail

10 11 2011

The name Kranji brings to mind many things. Kranji War Memorial is one, named after an area in the far north of the island that is also associated with the beginnings of the railway through Singapore at the start of the twentieth century. There is a lot more to Kranji than that – Kranji Dam is another landmark associated with the area – part of a scheme launched in the early 1970s to increase Singapore’s fresh water resources and probably the first dam to be constructed across a river in Singapore for that purpose. The greater Kranji area – which the Kranji Countryside Association (KCA) covers, does of course offer a lot more than that. Besides the area being one of the last areas accessible to the public in Singapore least affected by the rapid development of post independent Singapore where one can cycle or drive along country roads that once dominated much of rural Singapore, and the area which is now associated with re-establishing some level of self-sufficiency in food, the area is now the subject of the latest National Heritage Board (NHB) supported initiative to work with the private sector to develop the heritage industry – The Kranji Heritage Trail.

The Kranji Heritage Trail includes 14 markers which will each have a QR Code to access information on the spot via a smart phone.

The trail, developed under the NHB’s HI2P programme, and is the proud effort of the KCA with sponsorship by NTUC Fairprice Foundation, was launched at Yew Tee Point yesterday. The launch, which was graced by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam, was led by the President of KCA, Mrs Ivy Singh-Lim, KCA Patron Howard Shaw, Mr Seah Kian Peng – the CEO of NTUC Fairprice, and Mr Alvin Tan – Director, NHB.

Present at the launch were Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam, President of KCA Mrs Ivy Singh-Lim, KCA Patron Howard Shaw, Mr Seah Kian Peng - the CEO of NTUC Fairprice, and Mr Alvin Tan - Director, NHB.

The Kranji Heritage Trail intends to bridge past and present through a history of early farming in the area, besides the developing interest in historical sites such as the first Japanese invasion sites on the north-western shoreline in the dark days of February 1942 that led to the eventual fall of Singapore. The trail will comprise 14 trail markers, each of which will incorporate a QR Code – the first of Singapore’s heritage trails to do so. This will enable instant access to information relating to the sites with a QR Code reader installed on any smart-phone.

The former Kranji Level Crossing is among the 14 landmarks on the Heritage Trail.

The landmarks that would feature in the Kranji Heritage Trail are:

  1. Kranji War Memorial
  2. WWII First Landing Site of the Japanese
  3. Kranji Army Barracks
  4. Kranji Railway Train Crossing
  5. Neo Tiew
  6. Bollywood Veggies
  7. Hay Dairies
  8. Hausmann Marketing Aquarium
  9. Jurong Frog Farm
  10. Kok Fah Technology
  11. Lian Wah Hang Quail & Poultry Farm
  12. Nye Phoe
  13. Sungei Buloh
  14. Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle

The Pier, the house of the late Howard Cashin is on a World War II landing site where the Japanese invasion force suffered a number of casualties.

The Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle is built around the Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln which the Tan family has operated since 1965 is another of the 14 sites.

For those interested in exploring the trail this weekend, complimentary shuttle bus services and guided tours will be offered on 12 and 13 November 2011. Members of the public can register for tickets at the Information Counter of Yew Tee Point. Pick up would be at Yew Tee Point at 9am and 1pm on both days.





An escape from Singapore in Singapore

23 08 2011

Despite the beginnings of the encroachment of the urban world that the Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle has for long been spared from, the previously tranquil spot set in the woods that are fast disappearing still offers a quiet escape far from the madding crowds that descend on much of the public areas in Singapore over the weekend (and the weekdays for that matter). The so-called pottery jungle is set around the oldest surviving dragon kiln in Singapore, the Thow Kwang kiln, built in 1940, and has become a haven for potters seeking to do their creative work in an environment that they can draw upon for inspiration.

Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle is set in what was for a long time a tranquil spot in Jurong.

Besides the sale of imported pottery pieces, the potters’ activities have  become a main focus of the kiln which was last used commercially in the late 1990s. For the potters, working at the kiln offers not just an escape from the confines of walled air-conditioned studios, but also a chance to fire their works in a one of two surviving wood fired kilns in Singapore, a process that adds an element of randomness in the way pottery pieces are finished – a natural glaze is obtained on the otherwise unglazed pieces from ash and salt (which is thrown into the kiln) that is deposited on the windward side of the pottery pieces. Since a pottery workshop started on the premises in 2001, the size of the pottery community working at the pottery jungle has steadily grown and at least ten potters spend most of their weekends there.

One is never far from nature at Thow Kwang.

The chamber of the dragon kiln. Wood fired kilns add an element of randomness in the manner pottery pieces fired in them are finished.

For others, Thow Kwang offers more than an escape. What is left of the woods and greenery around it is rich in birds and other creatures that we have gotten used to not seeing in the urban world most of us live and work in. Sitting by the pond besides the dance of the butterflies and dragonflies that often greets the eye, one can see and hear kingfishers as well as woodpeckers in the trees around and a sudden burst of blue darting against the backdrop of green isn’t hard to spot. It is for this that I find myself drawn to the pottery jungle, spending more time than I normally would in the company of some in the community of potters that have become friends. It is a world that is there to enjoy, and one that offers the visitor a world that is hard to find in the world we have found ourselves in.

Common flameback woodpeckers colour the rural landscape that is fast vanishing.

Koi in a pond. The pond and the land around the pond is being returned to the SLA.

The pottery jungle has imported pieces for sale.

Another piece on display.

A thickness scale on a clay slab roller.

A water lily in bloom at Thow Kwang.