By Ruth Gerson, freelance author
Sankampaeng is a village in northern Thailand where ceramics were made between the 14th and 16th centuries, located 25km east of Chiangmai. Although 83 kilns were discovered in the area, only seven were excavated, consequently not a great number of these ceramics reached the market.
These treasures of Sankampaeng were well hidden in the ground and discovered as late as in the middle of the 20th century by Thai archaeologist Kraisri Nimmananhaeminda. The ceramics were made in small cross-draft kilns measuring 2 to 4 meters, and were partly sunken in the ground. Over the years, local people had disturbed most of these kilns sites making their exact study difficult. Typical colors of these ceramics range from buff, cream to light brown and from slightly greenish to greyish black.
I had purchased the Sankampaeng shallow bowl that I own many years ago and have always treasured it for its simplicity and modesty. Measuring 21 cm at the lip and 10.5 cm at the foot that is 3-4 mm high, the bowl stands 6 cm in height and represents the typical shape and design of the Sankampaeng kilns. It is relatively light in weight as are most Sankampaeng bowls, a feature that characterises them. The interior has a creamy glaze, slightly tinged with green. Numerous fine and uneven ridges radiate from the center of the bowl outward. These are slightly worn, perhaps due to usage, ending at the 2cm rim at the lip of the bowl.
The exterior of the bowl is covered with slip, and has six lines encircling it. These lines are relatively even, an indication that the work was done when the potter’s wheel was stationary, otherwise they would appear somewhat squiggly, an indication that they were formed on a moving wheel. The base remains unglazed while there is barely any glaze on the edge of the lip, a testament to the mode of firing these ceramics – stacked in the kiln directly lip-to-lip and base-to-base. Another characteristic feature of Sankampaeng ceramics is that they are slightly rough to the touch, due to sand that was added to the clay.
This simple yet elegant Sankampaeng bowl has been part of my life for decades, easily displayed among other Southeast Asian ceramics.