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12 February 2010

Next Meeting Sunday, February 28

Tea bowl in the Cornucopia show; porcelain with iron decoration under clear glaze, Arita ware, Edo period, 1630-50.

The next meeting of the WOCG will take place on Sunday, February 28 at 5:30 pm at the home of Margaret and Dan Sullivan, 5903 Mount Eagle Drive #1604, Alexandria VA 22303. Our speaker will be Mattiebelle Gittinger of the Textile Museum (TM) who will discuss Indonesian batik. In her talk “Language of Batik” Dr. Gittinger will outline the history of batik on Java and then present in detail a batik in the TM collection based on a Flash Gordon comic from about 1940. If you wish, please bring a favorite SE Asian textile for a show and tell opportunity. This session will be a potluck. When you RSVP to David or Hedy please let us know what dish or drinks you will bring, 703-503-3195 or Directions to the Sullivans’ home are at the end of this announcement. The attachment is a batik sarong collected in the 1960s in Java by Ed Barber.

Summary of the January 28 talk at the Freer Gallery by Curator Louise Cort:

The Freer’s new exhibition “Cornucopia - Ceramics from Southern Japan” contains over 100 Japanese ceramics from the 16th century onward, as well as influential Korean and Chinese wares. The exhibition, which runs until early 2011, covers a wide array of Kyushu-made ceramics and follows a largely chronological order in its three galleries. The Freer’s permanent collection holds over 900 Japanese ceramics, the largest proportion are from the island of Kyushu. From the 16th century the large number of provincial kilns there were the most prolific in Japan.

You will bring gifts!

In medieval Japan under the Tokugawa Shoguns (1600-1867 CE), the daimyos - regional lords - needed to supplement their sources of income beyond their land holdings. These lords had to come up annually with gifts for their Tokugawa overlords. Agricultural products and ceramics were classic presentation gifts. However, at the beginning of the 17th century Japanese ceramic technology was limited. Imported Chinese green-glazed celadons and dark tea bowls were the non plus ultra for gifts and for tea drinking. Undecorated Korean pots with light grey or brown glazes were also highly appreciated. Japanese tea aficionados found that green tea attractively stained the bowls’ porous clay bodies.

Arrival of Korean potters

Japan was unified in the last decade of the 16th century by the general Hideyoshi, who soon dreamed of conquering Ming China (1368-1644). To get to China the Japanese invaded Korea twice (1592-1598) destroying everything in their path. They never got to China, but as the Japanese retired homeward they carried back many captive Koreans including potters, miners, printers, and papermakers. This invasion resulted in important technology transfers to Japan, which lagged its continental neighbors.

In Japan Korean potters were given land and soon created new, advanced kilns in Kyushu -- Karatsu, Satsuma, Hagi, Takatori, Agano and Yatsushiro. By the early 17th century tea aficionados’ diaries frequently appreciatively cited these wares. These kilns created new wildly popular glazes, like the milky white glaze tinged with pink or lavender blushes. It is likely that trendy two-colored glazes – for example, opaque white and copper green -- were the product of Southern Chinese Zhangzhou (Swatow) potters who arrived from Fujian province.

Soon after the Korean potters arrived a large source of porcelain clay was discovered near Arita on Kyushu. Before then Japanese kilns were limited to making stonewares and earthenwares. Imported 17th century Zhangzhou porcelains with their brilliant white bodies and bright red, turquoise blue and green enamel overglazes were highly influential as many Kyushu potters turned to porcelain production.

Fall of the Ming

Yes, there was a lot happening in 17th century Kyushu. Their potteries had absorbed advanced Korean and Chinese technologies. Tea drinking was at a high point. Japanese tea aficionados became ceramic fashionistas for tea drinkers, collectors, daimyos and the Tokugawa rulers. But, still, the most sought after tea utensils were imported Chinese or Korean wares. In 1644 the Ming dynasty fell. In the chaos surrounding that cataclysmic change, Japan’s trade with the Asian continent stopped. For potters in Japan, however, the timing could not have been better.

The Nabeshima lords controlled the Kyushu port of Nagasaki near Arita which allowed them to acquire fine Chinese ceramics and other objects for their own use and for the annual gifts to the rulers at Edo (Tokyo). In 1644 that source dried up. To replace invaluable Chinese ceramics, the Nabeshima daimyo created its eponymous porcelain which became the Japanese equivalent of Jingdezhen imperial Chinese wares. Nabeshima porcelains were only made as gifts to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Every November the Nabeshima lords had to send 2000 pieces of porcelain to Edo. They only produced dishes and sake cups. The Edo nobility used lacquer for everything else!

Tea fashionistas

Two of the most influential style leaders in the first half of the 17th century were the warrior Furuta Oribe and Kobori Enshu, both tea masters and tea diarists. An imaginative tea utensil designer, Oribe’s (1544-1615) diary recorded changes and developments in tea ceramics. The Satsuma daimyo even asked Oribe to select ceramics for presentation to the Tokugawa heir. Enshu (1579-1647) was a building contractor for the central government. He enjoyed the tea ceremony and promoted neoclassic 16th century Chinese and Korean-style wares. Enshu created this new taste in tea wares collaborating with local potters who created tea utensils, such as tiny tea caddies that were seen as “small sculptures”.

Seventeen century exports

With the fall of Ming China came the temporary closing of the great Chinese kiln center of Jingdezhen and the blockage of the south China coast. Profiting from these developments Japanese started exporting ceramics to Southeast Asia and Europe in the second half of the 1600s. Green celadons, underglaze cobalt blues, brilliantly enameled Kakiemon and Imari porcelains were sought after by European and island Southeast Asian elites.

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