A Study of Shiwan Pottery

Scollard, Fredrikke Skinsnes
1981
Supervisor: Mr. S.C. Chuang

This study of Shiwan pottery takes a comprehensive approach to an understanding of the life and pottery products of the small town of Shiwan in Foshan Municipality, 26 miles from Guangzhou. In addition to written references, the study has required assessment of two major bodies of information:
1) historical and archaeological studies as carried out in Guangdong Province over the last 30 years, and
2) classification and oral tradition as preserved in Hong Kong.

The study is divided into three major portions: the early history and archaeology of the region (Chapter II), the pottery products in the Ming and Qing periods (Chapter III), and modernization in Shiwan after 1949 (Chapter IV). Some technical aspects concerning kilns and materials are included in a fifth chapter.

In the first portion all existing materials regarding Shiwan, including history, archaeology, literary reference and legend, are put into a chronological framework. Archaeological materials reveal that the region has produced pottery since Neolithic times and that the beginning of continuous production of pottery daily use wares in areas neighbouring Shiwan began in the Tang Dynasty. Shiwan remained primarily a producer of daily utensils. Art produce developed almost as an afterthought in the spare time hobbies of the hard working potters, which developed artistically in its own right along with the flourishing of Foshan as a city of handicraft art.

The second portion of the study discusses the pottery products. Attention is given to the daily utensils since they continued to provide Shiwan’s main livlihood, a fact which the potters say is very important in the unique esthetic of their art pottery. The main problems confronting the early wares are classification and dating, probably related to various migrations of potter families. The study draws primarily on the experience of Hong Kong in these matters and presents preliminary results of a thermoluminescent dating project which has been initiated in cooperation with Australian National University. The esthetic of Shiwan art, biographies of the artists and illustration of the marks they used present both a descriptive appreciation of the art that is Shiwan, and scrutiny of materials relating to authenticity. A special section is devoted to the specialties of the flower pot guilds whose long ceramic rooftop friezes depicted Foshan’s theatrical arts, freezing a colourful moment in history.

Modernization in Shiwan is treated in the third portion of the study which includes an examination of Shiwan’s re-organization and modernization in the context of overall developments in China and the major resulting changes in its art. A number of contemporary potter family trees demonstrate a strong family tradition.

Chapter V diagrams the development of Shiwan kiln technology and treats some technical and descriptive aspects of Shiwan biscuits, glazes and production techniques.

It is the conclusion of this thesis that Shiwan art embodies an artistic expression of the soul of the people of South China, whose principles bear considerable potential for all potters.