eMuseum Southeast Asia Ceramics


Thai ceramics were among the first Southeast Asian wares to be seriously studied, starting with WA Graham’s 1922 article “Pottery in Siam” in the Journal of the Siam Society. The field only gained momentum in the 1960s following Charles Nelson Spinks’ important contributions on Tai pottery and in the 1970s from the discovery of the Prasat Ban Phluang temple site.

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Reported in the 1950s, but still not excavated, the Phayao kilns were, according to legend, likely to be established after the governor of Sawankhalok fled in 1447, taking with him potters from central Thailand, and was later appointed governor of Phayao by the king of Chiangmai.

The product of these kilns were Sankampaeng-like brown monochromes, as can be seen from the sherds of the Ceramics Museum, Chiangmai University, below. These mostly have a grey-black body, and some have a whitish slip painted onto them to produce a lighter-coloured glaze, much like Sankampaeng wares.

(Photo source: Brown 1988: pl. XLVe)

Phayao also produced plates in olive, brown and celadon glazes, with what Brown calls a scoop-mouth, “a wide, everted, deeply curved mouth-rim” (1988: 63), such as this dish below, which has an unglazed mouth-rim and was found at the Tak Om Koi burial sites. This dish also has “two fish stamped in the well, dark grey-black body and an olive-brown glaze of which only traces remain on exterior walls.”

H: 5 cm; D: 20.2 cm
Collection of John Shaw. Photograph by Kim Retka.
(Photo source: Brown 1988: pl. 49 f)
From her observation of collapsed Sawankhalok wasters, dishes with this type of mouth-rims were stacked mouth-to-mouth then foot-ring to foot-ring in the kilns, as the images below show. The same technique must have been used in the Phayao kilns, as the unglazed flat mouth-rim indicates.

Sawankhalok Mon wasters.

Method of kiln stacking at Sankampaeng.

(Photos from: Brown 1988: pl. XXIXd and fig. 45)

There are a lot of unknowns concerning Phayao – we don’t know, for example, what relationships the kilns had to the other more renowned sites like Kalong, Wang Nua and Phan, which were all in the same region; what distinguished Phayao from these other kilns that necessitated a different kiln site; when Phayao was established or how the potters worked. Currently, the only way to determine Phayao ware is by chemical analysis, which is costly. More research needs to be done, both on and off the field. 

Source: Brown 1988




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