Learning > Inspiration

Owners fired up to keep dragon kiln alive

As Singapore rushes towards being a Smart Nation, what happens to those in dying trades? SHERLYN SIM meets three such Singaporeans struggling to remain relevant in an ever-changing landscape

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Sherlyn Sim on 13 Aug 2018

The New Paper

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For the past 53 years, Mr Tan Teck Yoke and his family have been striving to keep the 78-year-old dragon kiln at Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle in Jalan Bahar alive.

 

But with their land lease expiring in 2023, Mr Tan, the managing director of the pottery jungle, is worried.

 

He said: "It will be impossible to rebuild the kiln and the history would be gone along with it. If people do not see value in the kiln and our craft, I think our efforts for the past two to three generations would be wasted."

 

Built in 1940, the 36m-long wood-fired kiln was bought over by Mr Tan's mother, Madam Kwan Yew Lin, 82, and her late husband in 1965.

 

The pottery jungle is now run by Mr Tan, 62, and his niece and studio manager Stella Tan, 27.

 

Due to the size of the dragon kiln, it is fired only when there are about 3,000 clay pieces, which is about two to three times a year instead of three to five times a month during its peak in 1970.

 

Unlike electronic and gas kilns, firing pottery at 1,260 deg C for three days using the dragon kiln requires experience and skill. The art pieces must be placed in the kiln carefully so the flame can flow through, and the colour of the flame must be watched as it determines the temperature.

 

Said Mr Tan: "Depending on the different woods and temperatures in the kiln as well as where the pottery is placed, you can get a special ash effect that is one of a kind. You cannot get this effect anywhere else, and this is one part of the culture we need to preserve."

 

Miss Tan is determined to continue preserving the craft.

 

In 2014, she started organising educational tours of the kiln and pottery workshops for children and adults in hopes of modernising the business.

 

She said: "I saw the efforts the second-generation owners put in to preserve the kiln so I felt responsible for passing down this legacy.

 

"Besides, I love pottery and I see potential in the business."

 

She added: "This trade is tough and not stable because of the lease, but it will be a waste if no one takes over the business. Nonetheless, this is a part of culture that is dear to me."

 

Source: The New Paper © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.