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The Thumbprint of the Kiln: Liao Guo Hua's Mastery of the Craft

Artist Profile

Farmer’s caution against counting your eggs before they hatch, potters again counting your pots before they’re fired. The unpredictable nature of a high-fired kiln, whether it’s conventional gas, packed with salt or soda, or a hand-built, wood-fired anagama, is the reason so many potteries stick to a single form or glaze, standbys they know work every time. Yet it’s also the reason that while many experiments in the kiln are destined for failure, a few pieces - touched by updrafts, the off-gassing of a nearby glaze, or placed in a spot with little airflow - seem to have been forged by magic.

Rare then, is the potter for whom experimentation and stunning results are nearly a given. Yet Liao Guo Hua’s incessant study of the mysteries of the wood kiln yields pots that rarely fail. Every shelf and corner of his kiln, built on the hillsides of Natou, Taiwan, are mapped, documenting the areas with the most ashfall, those that foster flashing, the spots where dark clouds of carbon are most likely to get trapped beneath the surface of the glaze. With these cartographic details, the potter is able to fill his kiln, time and time again, with expert precision, knowing which glazes fire best where, paired with porcelain or stoneware, where ash will hit his unglazed pots, and what the results will be.

While the direct results remain a mystery until the kiln has cooled and emptied, Liao Guo Hua’s mastery of his craft is a near guarantee of success, and in this mastery, experiment and play thrive. 

His latest series for Song Tea, a collection of 10 teapots, is evidence to this. Vastly different from one another, in shape, material, and surface, these pots represent the ever-growing breadth of Guo Hua’s work. Loamy stoneware, abstracted stripes of ash and slip, pewter black glazes. We’re confident you’ll find something you’ll like. We certainly have!

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