Home to Singapore’s oldest surviving dragon kiln, Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle has been manufacturing remarkable earthenware for 55 years
Originating from China, the dragon kiln, also known as longyao, is a traditional brick kiln with more than 3000 years of history. It was first introduced to Singapore by Chinese migrants. Built in 1940, the dragon kiln in our story lies under the roof of Thow Kwang as one of the oldest-surviving, wood-firing, brick-built kiln in Singapore. Just last month, Thow Kwang’s dragon kiln received the National Heritage Board’s The Stewards of Singapore’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Award.
The rise of the dragon
Hailing from Swatow, a porcelain village in China, Tan Kim Seh bought over the dragon kiln and founded Thow Kwang in 1965. The pottery factory was originally involved in the production of consumer wares fired by the dragon kiln; such as latex cups for rubber plantations, water jars and even flower pots.
Currently, the Tan family’s second generation has moved on to importing and exporting an array of decorative ceramics for display as well as functional wares. They have also collaborated with renowned potters in China and around Southeast Asia to produce commissioned porcelain works. Its third generation is now managing workshops, social media and working on supplying their handmade crafts to cafes and restaurants. As its name suggests, its physical shop is quite the pottery jungle with all kinds of ceramics piled high against the walls.
The dragon awakes
The 27 metres long kiln is fired up with wood, creating rivers of fire that engulf the pots in it. The melting ashes then deposit themselves on the pots and reacts with their glazes. This process results in precious one-of-a-kind wares, where each has unique flushes of scorch marks depending of its position in the kiln.
Compared to mass-produced products, firing the kiln is highly laborious. It is also incredibly time-consuming as the firing process oscillates between 24 to 40 hours. At Thow Kwang, the dragon kiln is fired two to three times a year and its next one is likely to happen in December this year.
Keeping the fire alive
With the advent of electrical kilns, wood-firing has since become a dying art. In an effort to promote awareness of the dragon kiln and preserve wood-fired ceramics and porcelain, Thow Kwang has established its education platform. Since 2000, the family has been actively conducting historical tours and pottery workshops for schools and the public.
They believe the kiln is a cultural icon for enhancing understanding and appreciation of traditions, heritage and Chinese culture, especially for the Teochew dialect group.
Many restaurants in Singapore are tapping on accomplished Indonesian ceramic artists to design soulful tableware. Likewise, Thow Kwang creates and customizes for restaurants, cafes and hotels.
For more information, visit potteryjungle.com.