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October 2, 2009

Next Meeting Saturday, 17 October

The next meeting of the Washington Oriental Ceramic Group will take place on Saturday, 17 October starting at 6:00 pm at the home of Sylvia Lu in Potomac, MD. It will be an ASIAN SILVER EVENING. Although our group is focused primarily on ceramics, there are few of us who have not at some point been tempted by the seductive appeal of oriental silver. There must be more than we care to admit who have occasionally succumbed and embezzled a portion of the house-keeping money on exquisite to-die-for pieces of Omani or Indian jewelry, or simply had to buy that curious lime box, finely crafted Cambodian animal or beautiful chased Chinese silver tea service.

Stoneware wer from the Sawankhalok/Si Satchanalai kilns, 14th-16th centuries

To give members a chance to “fess up” and reminisce with the similarly affected, the WOCG will have a “show and tell” where members will have to opportunity to share a few of their prized pieces of Asian silver for everyone to enjoy. Sylvia Lu, author of ‘Silver of Southeast Asia’, OUP, will give a brief introduction. Sam Jackson will also offer initial comments on Cambodian silver, his area of interest. Sylvia will then serve as a moderator. This event will be a potluck.

Synopsis of Bob Retka’s talk on Thai ceramics at the September 30 session jointly sponsored by the WOCG and the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Bob spoke of the several different ceramic traditions that developed in what is now Thailand. Often the potters were not Thai speakers. He divided Thai ceramic history into prehistory (c. 4000 BCE to the first millennium CE) and the classic period (c. 11th-18th centuries CE). Prehistoric period ceramics are low-fired earthenwares, unglazed, made by the paddle and anvil technique and fired in an open pit bonfire. Ban Chiang wares are the best known made in NE Thailand in the area the village of that name. They date from 3600 BCE to 200 CE. The most famous Ban Chiang earthenwares date from 1000 – 300 BCE and are decorated in buff and bright iron-red slips. A number of these wares are showcased in the Sackler Gallery’s “Taking Shape” exhibition from the Hauges’ Gift.

Classic period wares were made in kilns all over Thailand from the central plains to the far north and along the Lao border. In the Buriram province near Cambodia Khmer-speaking potters made brown and green-glazed stonewares in highly distinctive styles that date from the 11th-13th centuries. These Khmer ceramics were made in territory then under Angkorian rule. Wares made in the 14th- 16th centuries represent high-point of the classic period. These include the well-known stoneware producing kilns of Sawankhalok and Sukhothai in the north-central “heartland” of Thailand. These wares were largely made by Thai speakers. These lovely, durable stonewares are decorated in underglaze iron-brown painted designs, brown, green and white monochrome glazes. Their shapes are diverse and includes dishes, jars large and small, figurines, covered boxes and architectural pieces for roofs and balustrades of buildings. Probably none of these of these wares were specifically made for their kings. Vast numbers of Sukhothai and Sawankhalok stonewares were exported to island Southeast Asia and beyond. Wares made in the Thai central plain included large, sturdy jars made at the Suphanburi and Singburi kilns used to store commodities like pickles, wine and even small ceramic bowls and dishes on overseas voyages.

Other distinctive, well potted, attractive wares were made in a number of northern Thailand kilns around the Chiangmai region. Sankampaeng pots were often covered by white slips to brighten their dark bodies. A distinctive characteristic of Sankampaeng jars is their light weight. Other northern kiln complexes in Kalong, Wang Nua, Paan, and Payao made superb green celadons, and finely painted dishes in underglaze iron-brown floral designs. The Naan kilns near the Chinese border used saggars to protect the pots during kiln firing. No other Thai potters used this technique, which suggests this technology may have made its way from China. Always high-fired but rarely exported these Northern Thai stonewares are among the most elegant wares made in continental Southeast Asia. All of these wares can be seen in the showcases of the Taking Shape exhibition and in the on-line exhibition catalogue,

The ewer above is from the Sawankhalok/Si Satchanalai kilns of north-central Thailand, stoneware with brown and white glazes it dates to the 14th-16th centuries. Found in Indonesia, it is in a Japanese collection.

Storage jar with four lugs, 14th-17th centuries, Ming Dynasty, stoneware with iron glaze, Southeast China

A Member’s Pot - This storage jar with four lugs, 14th-17th centuries, Ming Dynasty, stoneware with iron glaze, Southeast China, H 13 inches (33 cm) is owned by Ms. Dallas Finn. Her Chinese storage jar was acquired in Manila, Philippines, in 1970 where she was living. In those days dealers would bring around ceramics to homes to show and hopefully sell such beauties. Ms. Finn lived all over the world in the U.S. Foreign Service and liked to collect objects from her postings. She finds this medium-sized stoneware jar “most beautiful”. I certainly agree.

Such jars were made for centuries in large numbers in the Southern Chinese provinces of Zhejiang, Guangdong and Fujian. They were used to transport commodities like pickled vegetables, salt, alcohol or even smaller ceramic dishes and bowls for sale in Asia from the 9th century onward. Discarded after their voyage, local inhabitants all over the Southeast Asia and beyond highly esteemed these jars for their durability and beauty. They became heirlooms. Museums in Kuching; Kota Kinabalu, Sabah; Brunei; Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and others in the region have many storage jars in their collections. Japanese tea connoisseurs collected such jars using them to store and age tea leaves. There are several in the Freer Gallery collection.

It is difficult to date such lovely, useful jars as the potteries along the China coast knew they were making a good product and did so for centuries with little change. They had little reason to update styles. However, over the centuries these jars gradually changed in style, size and decoration. The oldest date from the 9th century and can be as tall as 33 inches (85 cm). Once called Martavans, from the port in Burma / Myanmar where European traders acquired them when they arrived on the scene in the 16th century. Similar storage jars were made in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam during the Golden Age of Southeast Asian maritime trade from the 12th to the 18th century.

I encourage other members to consider submitting their treasured ceramic object for use in another WOCG announcement. The presentation would be similar to this story of Dallas Finn’s Ming Chinese jar.

Hope to see you all on Saturday, 17 October.

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