Aw Pottery Revisited

Aw Pottery is making a comeback in Johor!
My Johor Streets article “Pottery paradise off the main highway” (NST 15 Sept 2011) published three years ago, evoked nostalgic sentiments about Aw Pottery in several readers and I was delighted to receive emails with their comments. 

The Aw Pottery brand made such a strong impact on ceramic enthusiasts since the 1970s that they wrote me from Malaysia, Singapore and the United States, sharing their memories and telling me that they may never part with the Aw pieces they own because these items are now valuable collectibles.  I was also pleasantly surprised to hear from members of the Aw family who now reside in the United States.

My article published in NST Travel Times in
2004 still hangs in the Aw Museum!
Lee Lang, the youngest daughter of Aw Eng Kwang, renowned potter and founder of Aw Pottery, wrote me from Seattle, Washington where she operates Aw Pottery Northwest Inc.  She has sweet memories of growing up in Macap and said that she and her sister were planning to return and revive the Aw studio.  I was particularly pleased when she told me that reading my article gave her “the calling” to come home more urgently and sooner than planned!

True to her word, Lee Lang and her sister, Lee Hwa, returned to Macap in May 2012 to start the work to restore Aw Pottery to its former glory.  They began by refurbishing two of their main attractions – the garden and their uniquely designed toilet – and did much to tidy the entire compound.  Early this year, Lee Lang came back again to continue the restoration work in changing the roof for the studio and redecorating the Aw Museum and showroom. 

Recently she wrote me with an update on the work in progress and while a great deal is yet to be done she invited me over for a sneak peek of how Aw Pottery is taking shape again.  I did not hesitate to accept her invite and quickly made plans to drive to Macap.  After the exit from the North-South Highway I drive towards Macap town, keeping my eyes peeled for their iconic landmark which marks the entrance to Aw Pottery.

My article on Johor's Dormant Dragon
in an issue of Johor Times
A pair of giant dancers, with the man wearing traditional Baju Melayu and the lady dressed in Baju Kurung complete with a selendang or wrap draped over one shoulder, still stand as a landmark for Aw Pottery on the left side of the main road.  In the bright sunlight, the broken pieces of glazed ceramic that decorate the figurines reflect a shiny sheen as the pair welcomes me through the gates.  Huge jars surround the figurines decoratively and when I parked and alighted, I paused to look at the pair again and fancy that they look much smaller now than when I first saw them so many years ago!

The front flight of steps leads to a courtyard landscaped by a variety of pots and jars in a little garden with a water feature.  The staff who met me in the reception was aware that I’m expected and while she went in search of Lee Lang in the studio, I wandered into the adjacent Aw Museum for a quick peek.  Among the precious ceramic sculptures by the senior Aw, I can see the walls adorned by old photos of a visit by the Agong and his consort and a host of published articles including two of mine!

Modern sinks and fibre-glass roof in the refurbished toilet!
After we connected by email three years ago, Lee Lang and I finally met at Aw Pottery, Johor’s pottery paradise in the 70s.  She was about 13 years old when Aw Pottery was at its peak and in 1973 her father and siblings showcased their ceramic art in an exhibition in Singapore.  The art by Aw and his family, made with traditional methods from China combined with local and modern designs in a distinctive Malaysian style, are now priceless collectibles for ceramic enthusiasts.  Some pieces are displayed in our National Museum and the Singapore Museum.

Workers were busy changing the roof in the studio as Lee Lang showed me around and allowed me to revisit the cavernous inside of the dormant “dragon,” the 50-meter long wood-fire kiln that her father built to bake his ceramics.  Dubbed “the dragon” because of its length and shape, the kiln breathed its last in 1982 and was carefully preserved.  Lighted by the glow of coloured lamps with disused “sagger” or heating containers neatly lined up against the brick walls, the 4 meters wide and 2 meters high interior certainly looked very different from my previous visit in 2004.

Inside the dormant dragon again!
Like most visitors to Aw Pottery, I fondly remember their toilet which is a work of art because its walls and fixtures – including the walls and doors of each cubicle in the Ladies room – were decorated with ceramic ware.  The Gents and Ladies sections, clearly defined by outlines of two painted figures dressed in traditional Malay costumes on the outer wall, remain unchanged but the sanitary ware were replaced and natural light shone in through fiber-glass roofs.  For once I could boldly enter the men’s washroom to look at the wall décor and was fascinated to see little bowls, saucers and ash-trays arranged in creative designs to restore the artwork and return Aw Pottery’s toilet to one of the most welcoming restrooms in Johor!

As effort was being put into the restoration work, Lee Lang lamented about the lack of labour to help with the work and estimated that the showroom and museum should be ready for visitors by the end of this year.  I could see her passion for her family’s heritage and how she was keen to welcome a new generation of ceramic enthusiasts while those who have visited before could come back to enjoy reminiscing about their own experiences here. 

Then: A 1973 photo of the entrance to Aw Pottery in Macap, Johor
Now: The entrance to Aw Pottery today
It is going to take a few more months, yet everything is looking very promising and I share Lee Lang’s excitement as we watch how the restored Aw Pottery is going to evolve as a popular destination in Johor in the next few years.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 2 April 2014

1 comment:

  1. Feeling so excited & so looking forward to seeing the place again.