Search of High-Quality Works of Art Made with Clay
Text: Nick Kembel Photos: Maggie Song, ACERA, Anta Pottery
If pottery and ceramics are what you are looking for when shopping for souvenirs in Taiwan, Yingge is the place to go. Travel in Taiwan recently made the short trip from Taipei City to find out what’s firing in the island’s “ceramics capital.”
While handmade pottery and ceramics are produced elsewhere on the island, Yingge District in southwestern New Taipei City is the country’s undisputed center for the craft. Over 800 businesses dedicated to manufacturing and selling pottery and ceramics can be found in the area, many on or around Yingge Old Street. Additionally, the district boasts an excellent ceramics museum, historic attractions, and a brand-new ceramics shopping mall. If you are looking for the perfect souvenir, a locally produced tea set of flower vase, no other place in Taiwan offers the sheer selection that Yingge does.
While the production of pottery and ceramics in China is ancient, and porcelain was invented there more than 2,000 years ago, the history of pottery and ceramics in Taiwan, and especially the developement of a distinctly Taiwanese style, is very young.
1. Yingge Spot Handcraft Gallery 2. Shopping for ceramics on Yingge Old Street The development of pottery on the island was tied to historical developments. Taiwan’s indigenous peoples abandoned their pottery methods in favor of new techniques imported by the Dutch and Chinese in the 1600s. Throughout the Qing Dynasty, Taiwan continued to import the majority of its ceramics from China. During the Japanese era, modern Japanese and Western styles flooded in, transforming local techniques and aesthetics, but production was primarily focused on functional items. When the Japanese left and the Chinese Nationalists arrived, imports from Japan and China were cut off, resulting in a sudden jump in local production. It was around this time that large-scale production of pottery and ceramics in Yingge began; but is wasn’t until the 1960s, and thanks in large part to vigorous support from the government, that Yingge became the main center for pottery and ceramics production in Taiwan. From the 1970s through the 1990s, Yingge’s industry burgeoned, and a shift also took place from purely functional to more artistic items. The 1990s saw the rise of mainland China’s economy, and many local production facilities were transferred there. To counteract that decline, Yingge underwent a parallel rise in the production of fine ceramic artworks, and grew into the popular tourist destination and artistic community that it is today.Exploring Ceramics Town Yingge is a 30-minute journey by train from downtown Taipei. After disembarking at the town’s station, which itself features a number of ceramics displays, exit onto Wenhua Road, turn right, and follow the signs to the Yingge Old Street area. It’s about a 10-minute walk. When you reach the entrance to the old-street area, you can either stay on tree-lined Jianshanpu Road, the original old street, or turn right into Chongqing Street, a later addition to the ceramics-shop area. A few minutes along, either way, you come to a connecting street, Taoci Street (lit. “Ceramics” Street), where you can find the Yingge Spot Handcraft Gallery, a recently opened three-story art and ceramics mall. Many of the shops in this mall, and throughout the Old Street area, are set up so tastefully that they resemble art galleries, and with so many works on offer, you can surely find something that suits your taste and budget. From the Old Street area, it’s a 10-minute walk to the highly informative Yingge Ceramics Museum. Opened in 2000, this modern glass and steel-frame architectural work is home to a museum of international quality, with a strong focus on the local artistic culture. The creation of this museum has helped in attracting many Taiwanese ceramics artists to move to Yingge.Joyce Lin, Local Ceramics Master During our visit to Yingge, we pay a visit to Taocheer studio to speak with Joyce Lin, a local potter whose works are among those displayed in the Yingge Railway Station. Taocheer is a 5-minute drive from the station, and you can call for free pick-up.
Entering the studio, we are greeted by the soft-spoken, smiling Lin, who immediately offers us a seat and begins preparing tea. The table is littered with her works: a large tea tray with swirls of off-white, tan, brown, and blue clay, on which sits a teapot and pitcher, multiple teacups on saucers, and flower vases. My cup is so small it fits in the palm of my hand. Its interior is rocky like concrete, while on the exterior, smooth enamel melts into cracked, sparkling patches, which she tells me are produced using Japanese shino glazing, a process by which soda ash is added during the firing process.
Like every ceramic work displayed in Lin’s shop, the cup in my hand is one-of-a-kind. “For me, pottery is a way to record thoughts and experiences,” Lin explains. “So each one of my works reflects my ideas at a specific time in the past.” The artist draws most of her inspiration from nature. As an example, she shows me a large, inverted-pyramid flower vase colored to resemble the clouds in the sky as she once saw them from an airplane window. Lin, like many artists residing in Yingge, was drawn here relatively recently. Working for 40 years as a financial controller in an American company in Taipei, she first began making ceramics in a course offered to employees. She found that mashing the clay with her hands had a calming effect. Her hobby developed into a passion, and she finally realized her dream when in 2006 she retired and moved to Yingge, a place she says has “an artistic atmosphere flowing in the air.”
1. Chaishao tea set 2. "Spinning teapots" 3. Foye tianmu plate and bowls Despite her studio being located away from the Old Street area, Lin remarks, she has no difficulty attracting customers or competing with the countless other shops in town. “I offer a unique product, so the artwork itself draws the customers.” After moving here, Lin soon acquired fame for three of her ceramics lines. The first, Chaishao, features earthy designs such as that used for the teacup just mentioned. The second, Muye Tianmu, is a style known as tenmoku in Japanese, which dates to China’s Song Dynasty. Cups and dishes feature black glaze inlaid with leaves. Only ten or so varieties of leaf are strong enough to withstand the high temperatures of firing, one of them being maple, and another foye (lit. “Buddha’s leaf”), a beautifully intricate leaf that Lin found while traveling in mainland China. She subsequently even had a tree imported to Taiwan. Before being fired, the leaves must be slow-cooked for 12 hours, and then blasted with pressurized water to remove everything but the veins. One dish, which she calls her “baby,” features one gold and one silver leaf, side by side. Lastly, Lin’s line of Xuanji Hu (“spinning teapots”), have won her multiple awards. Lin’s work is a stunning example of modern-day Taiwanese ceramics art. She takes ancient traditions and adds her own gentle yet daringly creative touch.Other Recommendations One shop on Taoci Street worth checking out is Acera, located on the first floor of the Yingge Spot Handcraft Gallery. Acera takes Han and Tang dynasty designs and improves on them by utilizing modern and eco-friendly production techniques, with the goal of integrating the arts with daily life. The Liven Clay series, which includes coffee cups, tumblers, and tea sets (Nt$2,290~9,800), is unique in that the clay used is a combination of local varieties and ones sourced from ancient kilns in China’s Shandong Province, where the Beixin Culture, in which techniques that were an important stepping-stone in the development of pottery were created, thrived 7,000 years ago. Liven Clay products are free of superfluous decoration, featuring simple glazes and refined shapes, resulting in a soft and understated elegance.
Anta Pottery is another excellent choice. We recommend the Ru Ware line of products, which includes teacups, teapots, and incense burners (NT$1,000-$15,000). Ru ware is rare style of ceramics dating to the Song Dynasty that was produced in northern China for the imperial court. Its most notable feature is the crackles or “crazing” on its surface, which are produced when the glaze cools and contracts faster than the body. Anta does a fine execution of this style, using soft colors including ecru, sky green, bean green, shrimp green, and sky blue.
English and Chinese
Beixin Culture 北辛文化 chaishao 柴燒 Chongqing Street 重慶街 foye 佛葉 Jianshanpu Road 尖山埔路 Joyce Lin 林映汝 Liven Clay 活瓷陶器 Muye Tianmu 木葉天目 Ru Ware 汝窯 Taoci Street 陶瓷街 Wenhua Road 文化路 Xuanji Hu 璇璣壺 Yingge District 鶯歌區 Yingge Old Street 鶯歌老街 Yingge Spot Handcraft Gallery 鶯歌光點美學館 Acera (乾唐軒)
Add: 1F, No. 18, Taoci St., Yingge District, New Taipei City (新北市鶯歌區陶瓷街18號1樓)
Tel: +886-2-2678-0388 Website: www.acera.tw (Chinese) Anta Pottery (安達窯)
Add: No. 78, Chongqing St., Yingge District, New Taipei City (新北市鶯歌區重慶街78號)
Website: www.anta.com.tw Taocheer (陶喜)
Add: 1F, NO. 28, Ln. 3, Gaozhi E. St., Yingge District, New Taipei City (新北市鶯歌區高職東街3巷28號1樓) Tel: +886-2-8677-3872
Website: www.artspersonalstyle.com (Chinese) Yingge Ceramics Museum (鶯歌陶瓷博物館)
Add: No. 200, Wenhua Rd., Yingge District, New Taipei City (新北市鶯歌區文化路200號)