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.
The term Sawankhalok covers the production of many hundreds of kilns of central Thailand. It is frequently used interchangeably with the term “Si Satchanalai”, but refers to a wider area not covered by specific Si Satchanalai kilns. For more information about these specific kilns of Si Satchanalai, see the map spot “Si Satchanalai”.
Sawankhalok was in full production by the mid-1300s. The kilns produced:
- Unglazed wares;
- Monochrome white, black, brown, celadon, and olive wares;
- Brown glaze with incised decoration inlaid with white; and
- Underglaze iron decorated wares.
Sawankhalok/Si Satchanalai clay is finer than Sukhothai clay and has many small black spots, due to the high iron content of the clay. Sometimes, the inclusions can be red or silver coloured. Like Sukhothai, Sawankhalok mainly created relatively simple shapes – jars, bottles, kendis, bowls and plates.
The earliest Sawankhalok/Si Satchanalai wares included dishes decorated with underglaze iron depictions of flowers in the bases, with fish on the cavettos, and specimens of the flowers and fish design have been found on the Turiang shipwreck, dated to around 1370.
|Second half of the 14th century. From the Tak Om Koi burial sites.
D: 26.5 cm
Collection of Robert R. Charles. Photograph by Kim Retka
(Photo source: Brown 1988: pl. XXIX a)
The covered box (below left) is representative of early Sawankhalok ware with its form, its underglaze iron and its decoration of vine scrolls. A later production (below right) has a fish-scale motif. On both boxes, the unglazed foot shows a light grey coloured biscuit with black particles and a pontil scar on the underside. The clay and the tubular support mark on the base are two things which identify Sawankhalok wares. Si Satchanalai covered boxes have been found in abundance at sites in Okinawa, which functioned as a gateway for Southeast Asian exports to the Japanese islands during the period of Ming isolationism.
|Covered box with vine motif
H: 7.4 cm, D: 9.5 cm
NUS Museum S1955-0255-001-0
|Covered box with no handle, fish-scale motif
H: 9.2 cm, D: 12.8 cm
NUS Museum S1967-0028-001-0
Classic scrolls with spiky leaves resembling those on Yuan wares decorated with cobalt blue probably originated before 1350, such as on this jar with underglaze iron black decoration. The colour is actually black and not blue, as cobalt was not a mineral that the Thai potters used, even though mines were found as near as Yunnan in southern China in the early 15th century (Brown 1988: 76). This is unlike the Vietnamese production, which used cobalt for its underglaze blue decoration that became popular from the 15th century on.
H: 11.7 cm, D: 12.2 cm
NUS Museum S1980-0082-001-0