In 1971, the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society-Singapore held a groundbreaking exhibition featuring Khmer, Annamese, Sukhothai, Sawankhalok, Sankampaeng, and Kalong wares. A catalogue, the Ceramic Art of Southeast Asia, accompanied the exhibition with an Introduction and Descriptive Notes written by William Willetts, the renowned art historian and then president of the society. As little was known about Southeast Asian ceramics, they raised speculation concerning identity, production, and age. Brown-glazed pots and jars, provisionally labelled ‘Khmer’, were the most mysterious. ‘Probably produced in Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia (802-1432)’, some said.
I lived in Bangkok at that time and a favourite weekend outing was scouring the stalls in the market for ancient ceramics. One day, quantities of brown- and green-glazed wares, never seen before, appeared. I thought they looked like those pieces identified as ‘Khmer’ in the catalogue. The vendors said they bought them from farmers living on the Khorat Plateau in Northeastern Thailand. Why, then, if produced in Cambodia, would Khmer ceramics turn up in Thailand? Does this not argue for the existence of Khmer kilns on Thai soil? And Willetts wrote, “the question as to whether any Khmer wares at all were produced in Thailand, and if so where, is an insistent one.”