For almost 1,500 years, the Yixing region of China has been renowned as the source of some of the finest stoneware ceramic products in the world. Perched on the outer reaches of the Yangtze River plains, the area features vast deposits of iron-rich dark clay.
The “Rustic” pottery tradition was among the first to emerge from the shadow of the teapot business, as these coarsely crafted pots were originally intended for local consumption only. The traditional shapes developed as various needs arose, ranging from tall jugs for water storage, to lower shapes for oil, to wider forms used for drying rice. Over time, these containers began to be re-purposed as planters, which eventually led to an entirely new industry in the area. As time passed, production techniques became more specialized, the aesthetic more refined, and a classic tradition of simple, gorgeous, handmade (and often enormous) pottery emerged.
A flower pot always starts with the clay. In this particular workshop, different clays from several local mines are blended together by experienced clay makers to produce a proprietary mix which offers the perfect combination of flexibility, durability and structural integrity necessary for these giant pieces. The mixed clay is then “wedged” or kneaded by apprentices, removing any last air bubbles, before being passed on to the pot craftsmen.
The wedged clay is combined into long snake-like rolls, which are then slightly flattened by hand.
These flat rolls are then attached to a previously prepared pot bottom, which includes an inch or two of the pot’s vertical walls. The clay is gradually coiled around the pot, continuously layering upon itself as the walls of the pot rise.
As the coil loops around the body of the pot, the craftsmen knead the the sections together by hand, progressing up the pot inch-by-inch.
After the pot has reached a certain height, the workers will begin the process of smoothing and shaping the walls of the pots – the smoothing is done with a series of small scrapers, while the shape is gently adjusted with wooden paddles and mallets.
The pots are then allowed to dry a bit to enhance their stability, after which the workers add another long coil to the top of the pot. This process repeats itself over the course of several days until the pot reaches its final height and form.
Eventually, the rim of the pot will be finished by a senior craftsman, and the pot will be allow to slowly, and thoroughly, dry for several days. This slow process is critical for large items, and ensures that structural cracks do not form in in the body of the pot.
Once the pots are “bone dry”, they are glazed in one of a handful of traditional, earthy glaze colors. Typically, these glazes are applied by hand in several layers, with an uneven application around the pot.
Once the gaze is dried, the pots are loaded into enormous brick ovens, called “kilns”, which bake the pots at temperatures approaching 2,200 degrees. Often generations-old, these multi-chambered kilns are heated with wood fires, which are carefully tended to precisely control the temperatures and flow of air within the firing chambers. This is critically important, as the final colors of each glaze depend on them being fired within specific temperature ranges.
Following a multi-day firing, the kilns are allowed to slowly cool for several more days before the door are opened. At this point, the colors of the glazes are revealed, as are the variations (drips, burn marks, hot spots, etc) that truly make each pot a unique work of art. These variations are thought to be part of the charm and beauty of these magnificent flower pots, and are not considered flaws.
These giant rustic planters are among the most durable that we sell, and are safe for year-round use in all climates, assuming that basic precautions are taken.