It may seem like we say this every month, but our Maker of the Month for June is one of our very favorites—the sculptural and colorful wares from Middle Kingdom toe the line between history and modernity, and have long been fast-sellers here at Favor. We adore their whimsical and clever designs, and we were so excited to speak with Middle Kingdom’s own Alison Alten to learn more about the process and tradition behind their ceramics and techniques.
You create your ceramic goods in a Chinese porcelain tradition that’s rooted in antiquity. What makes this tradition special to you?
The Chinese were the first to discover the unique qualities of porcelain clay, and this discovery spans continents, empires, traditions and touches every culture. This discovery truly ranks up there with fire and the wheel! (And, the process incorporates both!)
What are the challenges of working with porcelain?
Porcelain clay is much finer, yet stiffer, than stoneware and other less-refined clays. There's less room for error for the "artisanal quality" that is a desired feature, but that some customers only expect from clays that exhibit more impurities.
“Even though Jingdezhen is a modern city, there's an incredible tradition that stretches back more than 1000 years. Every shovelful of soil in this area turns up ceramic shards.”
How does history meet modernity in Middle Kingdom’s work?
We use clays and glazes from the region which was once where the imperial kilns produced wares for the court in Beijing, and where the blue and white wares that were (and are) prized in both the East and the West are made. Even though Jingdezhen is a modern city, there's an incredible tradition that stretches back more than 1000 years. Every shovelful of soil in this area turns up ceramic shards. There's an innate knowledge of the history and processes in Jingdezhen that exists only there. Since we have backgrounds in Chinese art and art history, how could we not be there?
What do you like to put on display in your pastel Mini Vases?
Oddly enough, we often prefer to put nothing in them! We like to think of the mini vases as pieces of sculptural assemblages as well as flower vases. When we do put flowers in the vases, we often default to ranunculus, poppies, cosmos or other wispy wildflowers.
Apprenticeships are a huge part of the Chinese porcelain tradition. Tell us about the experience of a Middle Kingdom apprentice.
Our apprentices are often technical high school graduates, and come to the kiln with a pouch of their own tools (many potters prefer to make their own tools) and knowledge of the various kiln processes. Depending on an apprentice's skill or interests, he or she may specialize in one area of production, or may manage several. Other apprentices come to us by word of mouth, or have a family member working at the kiln. We feel that if you're interested in learning, love working with your hands, like a family-style work atmosphere, then you can succeed in this work.