Taiwan part 3: Master potter behind his wheel
Some days are very special. I feel like every day is, but this one was extra special. Many times I look back on events, like maybe looking at old photos on my phone, and realize only just when looking back, I had a really nice time, or did something that made me feel like this is what I really enjoy. And feelings like that in real-time are rare. By that I mean knowing consciously in that moment that the moment in which you are in, is amazing. This is a story of one of those moments and you are lucky because you can also witness it in the video at the end of the post.
Lin Tien-fu is a master potter. He built the Snake kiln with his own hands. He prepared 3000 bricks from clay he dug up on his backyard and along with 8 people built the kiln in 9 days. It is 20 m long and has a chimney 4 m high. 2 people worked on chimney for 1 day. His first pots were made at age 13. He built a large pottery around the kiln and raised 4 children, one a potter son.
He is now 91 years old. At this age, he only makes ceramics occasionally and in the past year rarely. But Yu-Ting, his granddaughter, and I asked him one morning, if he can show us how he makes pots. He answered: “Maybe in afternoon, after my nap, when I feel rested.”
I was cleaning the studio when Mrs. Sofia called me. “Anja, Anja my father in law will start now!” So I rushed inside, prepared my camera and waited. Yu-Ting started wedging clay. He wanted hard one, but well wedged so he asked Yu-Ting to wedge it for him. As she was wedging, and she was doing it for quite some time, she was explaining me, how he always comments, that the clay is not wedged enough. After she finished, she brought clay to the wheel. Wheel was special, made in a way it most suited his way of working.
Wheel was positioned in the center of studio, in which now his son works. 2 of Lin Tien-fu’s photos are hanging on the wall. That day he was wearing the same shirt as in the photo, but a little torn. Behind the wheel was a shelf with tools and right of the wheel a wooden chair, in which his son now makes most of his works.
He stood up from his wheelchair and sat behind the wheel. Everyone came to look, along with a guest, a friend – also a ceramic artist and his wife. We all drew out our phones and cameras and started filming and taking photos. It has been a long time since he last made a pot on the wheel. He was sick in the winter so this was the first time this year.
The air became heavy; maybe it was even a little more quiet. My adrenaline kicked. I don’t know why. Maybe I felt like something grand will about to happen. Or something bad. I was even afraid for him. His breathing is loud. It sounds like it takes away a lot of his energy. And you could see his chest moving like mine does after a long run.
Him behind a wheel was special. For me very emotional and amazing. I want to be like him when I am 91; touching clay and making pots.
Wheel made a loud sound. The greatest effort for him was centering the clay, but of course that is for every potter. He used quite a big ball of clay. It took some time to do it, but he managed. It was interesting to see the white porcelain on his hands, spreading on his wrinkles. He decided to make a vase, one in his traditional style. He started slowly and continued to do so. You could see how his feeling never left his hands. He was using different tools at throwing and reaching for it in places where they always were. He coughed, spit on the floor and took few moments to breathe. He was doing well, slow, and we were watching with great interest and patience. But then the thin vase neck tore off. He tried to attach it back on, many times, but couldn’t do it. I was getting a little sad. It would be sad for him to stop now. I thought he would quit. But instead he cut the torn top, and continued making vase’s slim neck again. He also folded some fabric, very carefully, for finishing vase’s lip, and Yu-Ting pointed that the fabric is made from his old pajama pants.
Many things happen while he was working; the sun rays lighted the studio, dogs came to lick me and then laid beside us. We took many photos. My eyes were watery.
He finished the vase with finger indents as decoration and cut it from the hump. He made another one after. He finished and cleaned the tools, placing it back to it’ place and then cleaned the wheel. He left the wheel as if nothing happened, but there they were, two long-necked vases.
Next day he trimmed the feet of both vases. Vases are going to be fired together with my pieces in anagama soon.
Here is the video, long and slow, but no less impressive as master potter sits behind his wheel: