Unique Yixing Purple Clay
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It is said that in ancient times, Dingshu was merely an ordinary village on the lakeshore of Taihu.Villagers went out to farm when the sun rose and went back home when the sun set, making jars and pots out of pottery clay for daily uses at leisure. They led a simple life. One day, however, a wandering monk of unusual appearance came to the village. He shouted over walking,“Rich and noble clay! Rich and noble clay!”The villagers were curious and watched him. The monk, seeing through their hesitation, shouted again, “If not noble, why not rich?” The people were even puzzled, staring at him blankly. The strange monk shouted in a lounder voice and walked on with quicker steps, as if there were no one else present. Some wise old men felt strange and followed him, moving towards Huanglong & Qinglong mountains. Suddenly, the monk disappeared at a corner. The old looked around, catching sight of several newly-dug hollows, in which was clay of various colors. They carried the clay home, pounding and firing, and unexpectedly got a totally different color effect from the past. The villagers imitated them one after another. Thus, the reputable purple-clay came into being.The raw material of purple-clay pottery is really of various colors and called the “clay of clays and rock of rocks”. Purple-clay refers generally to the clay of green, red and gray color and is produced at Huanglong Mountain in Dingshu, Yixing, hidden under the yellow rock between the mixed clay mine. Green clay is the mixed grease and red clay is the stone yellow, usually under the tender ore bed.
Purple-clay, a kind of ore body, is as hard as rock when unearthed. But piled on the open air, blown by wind and struck by rain for months, it will turn into small loose grains, as small as soybeans. Then it has to be crushed to powder by a stone mill, sifted by a sieve and disturbed in the vessel with some water, before it can be rubbed into wet lumps, the crude clay. But before it is used to make vessels, it is to be beaten with a wood hammer for tens of times.
The plasticity of ready clay, the hardness of the shaped clay-body and the low contraction rate make it possible to create pottery of various kinds, fantastic designs and different lines. For hundreds and thousands of years, generations of artists have kept on experimenting and exploring and added splendour to the civilization of mankind.
The characteristics of the purple-clay may be summed up into following aspects:
1. Of high plasticity. With a liquid limit of 33.4%, modeling limit of 15.9% and an index of 17.5%, purple-clay is of high plasticity and can be made into various shapes of different sizes. It has strong adhesion, but is not glutinous in hands and implements. The mouth, handle and the teapot body can be made separately before they are stuck together and polished with clay. The clay pieces of square vessels may be got together with grease clay, too. Such a large capacity materially enables the pottery artists to fully display their creative intention and give free play to their artistic techniques.
2. Of low contraction rate. From a claybase to a fired product, its contraction rate is only about 8%. It also has a wide range of firing temperature, a low deformation rate and a strong intensity of the raw chaybase. So the teapot cover suits the mouth very tightly, the contour is up to standard and can not be twisted. The handle may be designed thicker than that of a porcelain pot, and the round surface of the pot mouth is in proportion with the mouth. Besides, the clay can be used to make open-mouth vessels and teapots with mouth and body of the same width.
3. Purple-clay can be processed into pottery without any addition of other materials. The produced pottery have two layers of gas hole construction: close-mouth layer, that is the gas hole inside the nodule body; and open-mouth layer, which refers to the gas hole group around the nodule body. The two layers of gas hole provide the purple-clay pottery with fine ventilation. In addition, the tiny gas holes of high density possess strong absorption, which the glazed ceramic teapot lacks. Meantime, precisely and reasonably shaped, the teapot, with its mouth and cover fitting perfectly, has a displacement error within a tolerance of less than 0.5mm, which decreases the possibility of the air mixed with germs entering into the pot. Therefore, the colour and flavour and fragrance of tea may last for quite a long time and delay the time when the tea goes bad. Furthermore, purple-clay teapot has the capacity to tolerate sudden heat and coldness. Even if boiling water and cold water are alternately poured into it, it will not explode or crack.
4. Another uniqueness of purple-clay is that it needn’t be glazed after it is shaped. It is smooth and shiny. After it is handled and caressed for a long time. It will send out dim light. While pottery clay of other texture can not be compared to it in this aspect.