MOULD IT MY WAY
Out on her own, female potter Lynn Teo shows us that she can turn disadvantages to advantages. Ready to impart the virtues that pottery teaches, she continues to educate her students about imperfections, patience and perseverance.
December 21, 2019
The narrow corridor is roughly a meter wide, each side packed with stacks after stacks of unglazed white mugs, numerous circular containers of pens and brushes, and the pops of colors jutting out every now and then at the corner of one’s eyes. It is cluttered, but there is beauty to this mess of materials, tools and colors that tells of a history that has hit the pause button.
The space is not unfamiliar — it bears, brings and breeds some of the youngest and most talented potters around the world. Yet the space is also a semi-colon in this age — the 30-liters water cisterns used two generations ago sit comfortably all around the space. If heritage had a melting pot, it would be the kiln residing in this 81-year-old shophouse along Jalan Kelulut.
Wise men say, time waits for no man. But time has been kind to the family. In the tearing down of kampongs for high-rise buildings, digitalisation of attention span to the increasingly rapid pace of life, Sam Mui Kuang stands proud as Singapore’s oldest pottery site.
And time is both the weapon and defense for the third-generation female potter of Sam Mui Kuang, Lynn Teo.
Cups with various glazes.
Third-generation potter at Sam Mui Kuang Pottery, Lynn Teo.
Lynn may not have hit jackpot in the lottery of birth for being a female. Being female meant that there were opportunities denied and platforms forgone in a traditional culture of the family. Her childhood was spent peering over the hands of her brothers and male cousins who were allowed a try at throwing, firing or glazing.
On hindsight, that may be a blessing. The occasional, brief allowance to play with clay cemented a passion and rebellion to continue pottery in her own way. Not confined to the operations and expectations of the family business, Lynn is free to mould her wares according to her ways. Since 2010, she has been an independent ceramicist who does pottery full-time, after completing a degree in IT and working in the corporate field full-time for five days. Lynn, who believes strongly that pottery teaches one patience, quit her job to do this. In an age that gradually dismisses time for reflection, she hopes to educate the younger generation of this virtue.
The occasional, brief allowance to play with clay cemented a passion and rebellion to continue pottery in her own way.
Interior of Sam Mui Kuang Pottery.
But she understands that she is not detached from Sam Mui Kuang. Although out on her own name and branding, she recognises that she has to think about the family business, too. She adds, ‘My friends tell me I have a family baggage, and it’s true.’
That said, she has the ability to wield the time she has now and is also embarking on a personal project of education through pottery. She learnt from a young age, by side glancing at her parents hard at work behind the wheel day-in, day-out for twelve hours a day, that patience and perseverance are virtues to uphold. Carrying the remains of those lessons, she believes the younger generation has to learn them as well. And so, she invests a portion of her time in educating younger children in public schools about pottery via workshops or co-curricular activities (CCA).
In an age that gradually dismisses time for reflection, she hopes to educate the younger generation of this virtue (of patience).
Tools are often spotted in various colours.
The mixing of colours on-site.
She teaches that the finished product is not the glazed ceramic, but a rewarding process of creation.
This belief is also what makes Lynn lives by the completion of the incomplete. She very much prefers that her work is not polished to the touch, because she wants others to see that incompletion is beautiful, too. Influencing this philosophy, also, is the characteristic of nature. She believes that in a natural state of things, humans have to allow the natural order of things to will its magic.
In her education programs to children and adults alike, she teaches that the finished product is not the glazed ceramic, but a rewarding process of creation. In her free time, she dabbles with water-colouring as another form of expression. In these different mediums, she seeks to create what she imagines, often giving herself the space to continually edit the product.
Lynn Teo (right) and her mother (left) at 22 Jalan Kelulut.
No other institution teaches her best about perseverance and patience than her own story of waiting. Sam Mui Kuang has brought her through an upbringing of patience and perseverance that made her realise that the school of waiting is a life-long institution she has enrolled herself in.
Time is her weapon because she is owning her craft and imparting the virtues to the younger ones. And time is her defense, too, because short of operational expectations, she is out on her own to mold the future she aspires.