A “post-90s” couple creating new fashion for intangible cultural heritage through pottery
CHONGQING (CQNEWS) -- A “post-90s” couple rented a small farmhouse after graduating from college, and devoted to studying how to fire pottery. Here is Anfu Street, Rongchang District, Chongqing, where there is a kiln in which the fire has been burning for more than 2000 years. Rongchang pottery produced here is one of the "Four Famous Pottery in China" and also a national Intangible cultural heritage.
Li Yunshan (left) and Guan Yongshuang (right) are from Bishan, Chongqing and Dazhou, Sichuan respectively. They graduated from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2014, majoring in ceramic art. “This major was relatively unpopular at the time, with 90% of our classmates being adjusted here instead of applying voluntarily. However, it is now full capacity." Guan Yongshuang was also confused after he just graduated, when one of his teachers recommended a very famous design company in Shenzhen to him. But he finally found that he still loved pottery more after trying to work in this company.
Guan Yongshuang and his wife finally made a decision in 2015. They rented a small farmhouse in Anfu Street, the origin of Rongchang Pottery, where they founded the "Xishan Rain" Ceramic Art Studio. “It’s close to home, and the talent introduction policy is also good.”
Starting a business is not always a smooth journey. The most unforgettable is that in 2017, after finishing firing the first kiln of pottery, the couple was already penniless. It turned out that they obtained very low income in the early stages of entrepreneurship, while they also needed to spend a lot of time and money on researching. Their family members did not understand them and were not optimistic about the prospects of their studio. “If it doesn't work, then go to find a job," urged their family members. Despite the difficulties, the couple still persevered without complains.
It is precisely through perseverance and continuous research and innovation that Guan Yongshuang and his wife have opened a "new door". The traditional craft and design of Rongchang pottery feature primitive simplicity and practicality, based on which, Guan Yongshuang and his wife innovated in the shape, color, glaze, and other aspects of the pottery.
By integrating the characteristics of plants into the pottery, they have developed a series of "plant ash glaze" works such as ginkgo ash glaze and banana ash glaze, enriching the color and form of traditional Rongchang pottery. These innovative vessels are also deeply loved by young people.
When the reporter arrived at "Xishan Rain", Guan Yongshuang and Li Yunshan were engrossed in making tea sets. Clay selecting, clay grinding, casting, and carving... The small teapot may seem simple in structure, but it requires dozens of processes to be made purely by hand; the pot body, spout, handle, filter... it takes 2 days on average to make one. “After these teapots dry naturally, they can be put into the kiln for firing," said Li Yunshan.
The control of time and temperature is very important to kilning. “72 hours is a nationally recognized time for kilning, during which good works can be generally produced. During the kilning process, Guan Yongshuang always watches the kiln because he needs to keep the temperature stable by adding firewood every three to five minutes on average. At night, they need to sleep in turns.
Over 300 works can be produced every kiln, and Guan Yongshuang and Li Yunshan fire 4 times a year, but each time they need to prepare for about 2 months, and the production yield of wood-fired pottery products is generally only 30-40%. Surprisingly, every time it's time for kiln discharge, customers will flock in. “Some of them arrived a day or two in advance,” said Guan Yongshuang.
Finally, the reporter came to the exhibition room, where the shelves were filled with various pottery products. The work in the hand of Li Yunshan "Mangosteen Sketch Pot" and Guan Yongshuang’s "Winter Orange" used to be placed in the most prominent positions, both of which won the Gold Award at the Four Famous Ceramic Exhibitions in China (4+N). Some defective products were also displayed. “Keeping them is to constantly remind myself and also to spread knowledge to visitors," said Li Yunshan.
When having nothing to do, Guan Yongshuang and Li Yunshan often sit together to taste tea and share creative ideas, or take their child to the mountains and fields to find creative inspiration through some elements of nature. The work "Winter Orange" winning the golden award was born as a result.
The inheritance of intangible cultural heritage needs favorable environment for talents. According to the relevant person in charge of the Culture and Tourism Commission of Rongchang District, the local government has introduced a number of talent support policies to cultivate and expand the talent team for the inheritance of Rongchang pottery. At present, there are 192 representative inheritors of Rongchang pottery intangible heritage, and more than 5000 relevant practitioners. Young people like Guan Yongshuang and Li Yunshan have been increasing in Rongchang in recent years, injecting young and fashionable blood into intangible cultural heritage. (Translated by Hu Chuanmin, Fathom Language Limited)