Only a few thousand-year-old Singaporeans had the opportunity to experience the craft of the ages ahead due to modernization and falling demand.
Although pottery is growing in popularity, there is only one dragon stove left in Singapore on the edge of the island.
Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle was founded in 1965 by Tan Kim Seh, a third generation potter who brought the craft with him when he came to Singapore from China.
Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle has been run by the Tan family for 55 years.
The Pottery Jungle was recently recognized by the National Heritage Board with The Stewards of Singapore & # 39; s Intangible Cultural Heritage Award.
The prize is awarded to practitioners of the intangible cultural heritage who have made outstanding contributions in their field and are dedicated to promoting and sharing their practices.
Today the fifth generation potter, Stella Tan, has supported the family business in keeping the fire alive.
A family business through and through
Stella Tan in the Pottery Jungle (far right) / Photo credit: Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle via Facebook
The 29-year-old grew up in her family-run pottery business and literally lived next to the pottery jungle in Jalan Bahar.
According to Stella, the pottery jungle was her “children's playground” and clay is her “toy” to this day.
Since she was in elementary school, she has spent her holidays part-time in the pottery jungle. After graduating from Republic Polytechnic, she studied baking and worked in a café and hotel kitchen.
However, in 2013, Thow Kwang's lease expired, and she eventually quit her job to join the family business.
I never thought that I would be part of this family business – never. I quit my job seven years ago and joined the family business knowing there was only one year left for the lease. So I just thought about helping again.
Stella Tan, fifth generation Potter at Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle
A firm believer in the saying, "Never Live With Regret," Stella told Vulcan Post that she had returned to the family business for refusing to allow her grandfather's "legacy" to fade so easily.
Thow Kwang's lease was extended in 2013 – initially by two years until 2015, then by three years, which can be extended twice.
Modernizing a dying industry
As the only fifth generation family member, Stella has revitalized the business and built a strong online presence.
She currently leads Thow Kwang's educational workshops, online store, social media, bespoke items for business and creates local arts and crafts for retail.
Products from the Thow Kwang online shop / Photo credits: Thow Kwang
"It wasn't easy at first because the pottery market is quite small – not many people know about the dragon oven and us," said Stella.
In order to give the public a better understanding of ceramics and the dragon oven, it has joined numerous art markets and exhibitions in recent years to promote the business.
Ceramic workshops at Thow Kwang / Photo credit: Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle via Facebook
After years of manual registration for workshops, Stella digitized the process and created a website for efficient registration. The Pottery Jungle is also working with the travel platform Klook to promote its workshops.
An uncertain future
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and circuit breaker, Thow Kwang launched new products and had online sales every week, which kept customers happy to come back.
With most customers confined to their homes, Thow Kwang's products could "enrich their lifestyle". Some products like the "Mini Potter Wheels" could even provide entertainment at home.
However, according to Stella, Thow Kwang's plans have always been uncertain as there was a possibility that the lease could expire at any time.
"We hope that we can keep the dragon furnace fire alive for as long as possible and that we can pass our legacy on to future generations," said Stella.
Selected image source: Hype & Stuff and Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle via Facebook