The process of making stoneware pottery originated in China during the Shang dynasty, as early as 1400 BC. The process has been refined over many centuries, with different cultures and different artists developing their own styles and techniques.
Siegrid Bangyay’s stoneware begins with locating and identifying suitable clay deposits in Sagada. Not all clay is capable of withstanding the shaping and high-temperature firing needed to produce stoneware, and it takes experience and testing to locate suitable clay. The clay must be mixed with water and rubbed through progressively finer screens to remove all impurities, then it must be drained for several months to achieve the consistency required for shaping.
Pots are formed using a variety of techniques, often involving throwing on a potter’s wheel. The pots are trimmed and decorated, then dried for up to 6 weeks. They are then fired in a kiln at temperatures up to 1065 degrees Centigrade. This first firing produces earthenware: the familiar reddish-brown pots we often see as flowerpots. To produce stoneware the potter applies a glaze mixture and fires the pots a second time at temperatures up to 1300 degrees Centigrade, reproducing the geologic process that forms stone and fusing the clay and the glaze into a hard, glossy, durable form. A glaze firing in Siegrid’s gas kilns can take 16 hours or more and consume 5 to 6 LPG tanks.
Firing is a delicate process. The potter must take great care to regulate the rate of temperature increase: if the kiln gets too hot too fast the pieces inside will break. Even with the most careful firing, some breakage is inevitable, and all potters lose pieces during the firing process. Investing hours in an elaborate piece and having it break during firing is intensely frustrating but it’s a part of the craft that has to be expected and accepted. Some pieces may also emerge slightly warped or asymmetrical. These imperfections are a natural feature of handcrafted stoneware and in some cultures they are valued and sought after, as a piece that is too perfect is considered less original.
For potters in the cities glazing is an exact science: they order glaze ingredients of known purity and blend them in fixed ratios and recipes. In Sagada the process is different. The glazes are made from local soils and ingredients like wood ash. There’s no testing laboratory to tell the potter what concentrations of what materials are present is a soil sample, only experience and experimentation reveal the unique qualities of each glaze.
Once the pots are glazed and placed in the kiln additional variables appear. Firing is affected by the temperature and humidity on that day, and even the way the pots are stacked in the kiln can affect the way air and heat move inside the kiln. The same glaze mixture fired to the same temperature can often achieve radically different results, sometimes surprising even the most experienced artists!
The inherent variability involved in using locally gathered glaze materials is one reason why each piece of Siegrid’s pottery is unique and irreplicable.
Siegrid Bangyay’s pottery shows multiple influences. The most prominent among them are shapes and forms derived from the natural environment and the traditional culture of the Cordillera. Many of Siegrid’s pots use symbols common in local crafts. The gecko lizard is an omen of good luck, the symbol called a “wising” symbolizes fertility and prosperity. Many pots are decorated with patterns derived from traditional backstrap loom weaving.
Siegrid also produces purely sculptural works. The “Facebowl” series integrates sculptured faces with wheel-thrown bowls. The “Tinagtago” series is based on traditional wood carvings that were once placed in rooms where infants slept as guardians to ward off spirits. The “hairy vessels” integrate complex patterns drawn from the flames of fires and the roots of trees.
These influences from local culture and the local environment are supplemented by regular study of trends in modern ceramic art and exchange with other potters in the Philippines and around the region and the world.
Siegrid Bangyay’s work has been displayed in museums and galleries around the country, including exhibits of modern Southeast Asian pottery at the Ayala Museum in Makati and at the Workhouse Gallery in Lorton, VA in the USA.The
Bamboo and Rattan Weaving
Much of Siegrid Bangyay’s work integrates stoneware pottery with the traditional Cordillera craft of rattan weaving. The rattan component of the pieces is the work of Edward Tambiac, who took up rattan weaving after losing the use of both legs in a vehicle accident and has become one of Sagada’s most sought-after weavers. Woven baskets and backpacks are still items in daily use in Sagada, and Edward‘s work is known for its strength and durability.