Fountain Studio of Ark - f s o a r k

Prelude To A Potter's Kiln - Article

Architect Imu Chan’s humanistic approach focuses on light and nature, two elements he feels are essential to human well-being. He will build a teahouse specifically for a tea ceremony to be held at the Luxury Home & Design Show. Chan shares with us his diary, providing a rare glimpse into the story and heart behind such a creation. It all started when he met a famed, yet reclusive pottery master.

FSOARK-TEA PAVILION-MIAOLI STEPS-2400X1600.jpg

PRELUDE TO A POTTER’S KILN

Text and Photo by: Imu Chan
Edited by: Tara dos Santos
May 2019 (1st ed. published in Taste of Life Magazine, February 2018)

When I was approached by the Luxury Home & Design Show to design a tea pavilion for wood-fired pottery master Chengtai Tian, I agreed on the condition that I could meet the master in person and see his studio. They flew me to Taiwan without further ado, just one week before Christmas. The following article records my first - and lasting - impression of Master Tian over lunch prior to visiting his studio.


To appreciate the art is to know the artist, the individual, behind it. It is a human-to-human relationship.

My fellowship with Master Chengtai Tian was kindled amid the December rains in the mountains of Miaoli, Taiwan. The first time we met, it was at a village hall. Master Tian was sitting next to me at the round table as lunch was served. To his left was his wife. Around the table were also Wendy Guo and Lauren Morency DePhillips, organizers of the Luxury Home & Design Show 2018. I was invited to join the trip because they asked me to design the tea pavilion for Master Tian in the upcoming event.

Wendy had warmly struck up a conversation regarding our visit to Taiwan and laid out our days ahead. Interspersing the exchange were words of admiration for Master Tian’s potteryware, which we were to witness after lunch in his studio up the hill.

While Wendy was busy praising and translating, and Mrs. Tian diverting the compliments with down-to-earth modesty, I noticed Master Tian rarely talked. Attentive yet withdrawn, he lowered his head and cupped his hands on his lap, as if he was holding the conversation in an imaginary tea bowl.

That day, Master Tian wore a plaid flannel shirt, jeans and working boots, his sleeves rolled up just below the elbows. His unruly grey hair was combed into a small ponytail. This would be his attire throughout our two-day visit, during which the cold rain of Taiwan’s December fell unceasingly. In summertime, he could be seen wandering in the woods wearing traditional hermitic clothing called bu-yi, a type of casual, loose-fitting outerwear made of linen, searching for withered branches and muddy clay for his next instalment. I solemnly reminded myself that in the future I would leave my dress shoes behind. There is no need for pompousness in the village.

From his modesty and quietness, it is hard to imagine Master Tian being one of the world’s most renowned wood-fired pottery masters. His short responses and long pauses contrasted with our loquaciousness, and I wondered what was occupying him mind. Restrained by my broken mandarin and somewhat contrived temperament of a city dweller, I fumbled for the right words to bridge the gap, to no avail.

A dish warmed the air. It was a plate of fatty pork belly slices with pickled mustard greens in thick, dark soy sauce. The dish looked vaguely familiar from childhood memory.

“It is called ‘Mui Choy Kau Yuk,’” Master Tian said, sensing my curiosity. I asked if it is not also a Hakka dish, judging from the restaurants we drove past upon entering Miaoli. He nodded. Hakka, translated as “guests” or “wandering people,” refers to migrants from northern China, displaced throughout the ages by upheavals and invasions. Travelling long journeys, the Hakka relied on various skills of fermentation to preserve foods. The belly fat in this particular dish was an important source of energy.

Whether intentional on the part of our hosts or not, I reckoned this as a heart-warming gesture to the three of us, who flew twelve hours across the Pacific Ocean, and drove another three from Taipei to arrive here, battling caffeine rush and an uncooperative GPS. A feeling welled in my heart that the two elders must have waited well past their usual lunch hour to accommodate our late arrival.

“Eat. It is delicious.” With a few words, Master Tian urged us on.

He supplemented his coaxing with an anecdote pertaining to a visiting German friend, who finished three plates of Mui Choy Kau Yuk all by himself. By then we were so convinced that all chopsticks went knee-deep in the gravy, sharing family-style.

I noticed Master Tian rarely talked. Attentive yet withdrawn, he lowered his head and cupped his hands on his lap, as if he was holding the conversation in an imaginary tea bowl.

As it turns out, Miaoli has one of the largest Hakka populations in Taiwan. Master Tian is also of Hakka ancestry, and Miaoli is his ancestral land.

After living in Taipei for many years, Master Tian moved back to Miaoli in 2007 so that he might build a wood-fired kiln, an essential infrastructure for his particular pottery technique. In the wood-fired kiln, the clay does not only harden, but also registers the paths of the flame and ash deposit, developing a unique luster and texture on the surface of the potteryware that are unachievable by those relying on artificial glaze application.

“He must have been doing pottery for at least some decades,” I ruminated as I observed his body gestures. Master Tian likes to cup his hands in front of himself when he is not speaking. When he eventually speaks, he sweeps his forearms swiftly, in short strokes, as if he is conducting his sentences, all the while keeping his elbows steady and close to his side. His arms are short but strong, his fingers stout.

I contemplated if this were not the consequence of years of pottery making, that the potter went through great pain to learn how to steady his arms at the pottery wheel, while his fingers, after rounds and rounds of moulding the clay at the spinning machine, have grown to be as tough as tree roots.

That afternoon and throughout the next day, we sponged in the wisdom of pottery making and tea drinking from Master Tian. All the while, I rigorously noted the various requirements for the design of the tea pavilion, gearing up for the upcoming Luxury Home and Design Show 2018 in Vancouver.

We learned the various types of tea and their pairing with potteryware, as well as the concepts of “mouth-feel” and “hand-feel” in tea bowl design. Master Tian showed us a tea bowl with a small protrusion on the side, created by a bee nesting in the soft clay while the bowl was still being air-dried. He would tell us that the same bees could be found pollinating at the foothill, where his ancestors had long ago planted some camellia sinensis. It is from this tree that the oolong named “Oriental Beauty” we were drinking was harvested. By the time he let us smell the beeswax fragrance at the bottom of the serving bowl, my mind had already drifted off into the woods.

All those lessons were still ahead of me as I sat in the restaurant at the end of our lunch. While we are getting ready to leave, Mrs. Tian had already settled the bill, and Master Tian was nowhere to be found. “Already gone to fetch his car,” Mrs. Tian said with a smile. “Come. He is eager to show you his kiln!”  


與柴燒大師田承泰第一次會面

作者:陳一木

……….

溫哥華建築師陳一木的作品總是能打動人心,他善於運用兩個簡單元素——光與自然,賦予平凡生活空間的生命力,傳遞品質生活藝術之美。

2018年《夢想家園》展會上,享有世界美譽的臺灣柴燒第一人田承泰,即將首臨北美溫哥華,舉行一場柴燒展覽與茶道表演。建築師陳一木將會擔任這場茶道之宴的總設計。

為此重任,他遠赴臺灣,與柴燒大師田承泰會面,尋找設計靈感。

遙遠深山,靜謐茶室,在這裏,建築師陳一木與柴燒大師田承泰展開了一次次令他受益匪淺的對話與交流。


尊重與欣賞一件藝術品,需要了解作品背後的創作者、以及他的故事。人與人之間的聯系能通過藝術品欣賞這條紐帶拉得緊密。

我和田老師初次會面,是在臺灣苗栗深山的一個鄉村會館,正當午飯時間。田老師坐在我身旁,同席的還有田太太,同道而來的雜誌社主編Wendy 與 Lauren ,和當地導遊兼攝影師Eddie。

席間,Wendy與田太太娓娓而談,不時流露出對田老師柴燒作品的欣賞和讚美,期待午飯後的體會。然而,即使眾人讚歎不已,田老師只是微笑點頭,說話不多,雙手常作握碗狀,仿彿在把眾人的對話默默放在一個虛擬的茶碗裏。

那天,田老師身穿格子外衣、牛仔褲和工作靴,袖子捲到手肘處,花白淩亂的頭發綁成一束小馬尾辮。連續兩天冬雨連綿的旅程中,田老師一直是這身便服。

在夏天,田老師經常身穿傳統布衣,在森林中尋找幹枯的樹枝與泥土,作為下一次柴燒的材料。我看著自己的皮鞋和一身拘緊裝束,感到和村莊的自然樸素,有點格格不入。加上不流利的國語,說話時磕磕絆絆,雖然享負盛名的世界級柴燒大師,與我近在咫尺,我也不敢貿然打開話題,只有細心聆聽。盡管田老師寥寥幾句,不覺中我略有所悟。

恰好,一盤菜為我們打開了話題。渾厚的五花肉上面有腌菜和醬油,記憶中像是小時候吃過的食物。

『這是梅菜扣肉。』田老師告訴大家。我問這是否一道客家菜。田老師點了點頭。據說客家人可以解釋為客人或者遷徙的人,指古時由於戰亂,從中國北方遷移到南方的人。在漫長遙遠的路途中,客家人善用發酵的方法來保存食物,這盤梅菜扣肉中的五花肉就是能量的主要來源。

心想,我們三人坐了十二小時飛機穿洋過海,再從臺北開車三小時抵達苗栗,這道菜來得真有意思。這時才意識到,兩位長輩等待良久,早已過了午飯時間。

『快吃吧,很好吃的。』田老師招呼我們趕快用餐。這時,他幽默起來,與我們分享一個有趣的故事:他的一位德國朋友初嚐梅菜扣肉,愛不釋口,一口氣幹掉三盤。田老師話語未落,大家的筷子已經跳進那香氣濃郁的肉汁裏。

苗栗擁有臺灣最多的客家人口,田老師也是客家人,他的祖輩早已在苗栗落地生根。

在臺北居住多年後,田老師於2007年決定搬回苗栗老家,建造一座柴燒不可或缺的窯。在柴燒過程中,泥土不但會由軟變硬,窯中飛舞的火焰與灰燼,在陶瓷表面形成溫潤的金屬光澤與天然觸感,這是人工難以達成的美妙紋路。

田老師制陶已有好幾十年的經驗。我察覺到,當他沉默不語時,雙手總喜歡作握碗狀。說話時,他下意識不斷擺動前臂,臂肘一直緊貼身體兩側。他的手臂短而有力,手指結實。

一位匠人能穩健地操縱製陶輪,才鍛煉出如此堅穩的手臂。在轉輪上,雙手不斷地捏塑泥土坯,才擁有仿似老樹盤根般結實的手指。

整個下午,我們都沐浴在田老師製陶與品茶的智慧中。同時,我仔細觀察和思考設計茶室的關鍵,為即將到來溫哥華《夢想家園》展會做好準備。

這旅程收獲頗豐。我們不僅認識了茶和茶具的搭配,還體會到不同茶具設計帶來的「嘴感」和「手感」,真是奧妙無窮。

田老師以一個帶突口的茶碗為例子,原來是因為陶泥在冷卻時,一只蜜蜂在柔軟的泥土上短暫停歇而造成。在苗栗的山丘地帶可以發現這種蜜蜂,因為田老師的祖輩早在這裏種植了一大片野茶樹。我們品嚐名為「東方美人」的烏龍茶,就是從這些灌木中採集的。田老師讓我聞茶碗的底部,一股蜂蠟的芬香,把我的思緒仿彿帶到綠野森林之中。

午餐結束,我們準備離開,田老師已不見蹤影。「他去取車了。」田太太微笑著告訴我們。「走吧!他已等不及待帶你們參觀他的陶窯了!」