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29 December 2010

Next Meeting Sunday, 16 January

Japanese te-aburi (hand-warmer), 18th or 19th century, Seto ware, Boston Museum of Fine Arts

The next meeting of the Washington Oriental Ceramic Group will take place on Sunday, January 16 at 5:30 pm at the home of Anna and Jim Sabin, 1523 Grace Church Rd, Silver Spring, MD 20910 (view map/directions). The program will be an Asian ceramic identification evening, a “show and tell” where members will have the opportunity to share a few of their prized pots for everyone to enjoy. Curator of Ceramics Louise Cort of the Freer | Sackler and David Rehfuss will identify ceramics brought by members. No opinions on valuations—just what the ceramic is, not its value. We’d enjoy hearing from members where they obtained the pot and why they like it.

This meeting will be a potluck. When you RSVP to David or Hedy Rehfuss – by replying to this email, or or 703 503 3195 – please mention what dish or drink you will bring. Driving directions to the Sabins’ home are at the end of this announcement. In honor of the Year of the Rabbit, which starts on February 3, the attached image is of a Japanese te-aburi (hand-warmer), 18th or 19th century, Seto ware, in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Must See Event

Do not miss the annual John Pope Memorial Lecture on ceramics, Sunday, 9 January at 2 pm at the Freer’s Meyer Auditorium, “Tracing Tea Bowls: Elite Ceramics in Edo Period Japan”. Marking the closing of the Freer exhibition, “Cornucopia, Ceramics from Southern Japan”, Professor John Maske discusses the use and ownership of tea utensils. He will also preview his new book Potters and Patrons in Edo Japan: Takatori Ware and the Kuroda Domain.

Report on the WOCG meeting at the Freer Gallery on November 21.

In the “Survey of Historic North and Central Thai Ceramic kilns – A tale of Dashed Hopes”, Bob Retka explained that he, Australian archaeologist Don Hein and their wives last January had visited a number of villages in northern and central Thailand whose names indicated that at one point there was pottery activity nearby, like the “Jar Kiln Temple” village. No discoveries were made. For example, the “Jar Kiln Temple” village’s kiln turned out to have produced quick lime. In another village they found a metal-making forge. Too often the sites had been rifled, overgrown or flattened for farm use. There were some amusing indicators of earlier ceramic making activity. Don Hein claimed that almost invariably on the top of any shard-filled mound sat a toilet bowl. Sadly, they discovered sites that earlier had been uncovered and protected by a state-sanctioned fence or roof had fallen into disrepair, were moldering away from the weather or termites (white ants) and neglect.

They uncovered evidence of inadequate kiln dig-archaeology. For some reason probably reflecting a lack of training, the outside of kilns had been excavated but not the inside. One learns very little from the outside of a kiln. What is vital is on the inside – type of glaze, whether earthenware or more high-fired and the like.

On the other hand, the team came upon a well maintained kiln-site visitor’s center in the Vieng Kalong area, north of Chiangmai. In Suphanburi, central Thailand, a new branch of the national museum is up and doing well. Serious ceramic archaeological work is happening in Thailand with many written reports, but much more could be done with these documents. They should be better distributed in Thailand and be translated for foreign scholars and archaeologists, at least an English language summary. There are many could profit wider broadcasting of these papers.

Don Hein reported on a later “probably 19th century” above-ground kiln complex at Sam Khok on the Chao Phraya River upstream from Bangkok. There are at least six kilns here, whose cross-draft kilns produced earthenwares. Their atypical curved floor structure meant that temperatures probably did not rise much above 1200 degrees C. The unusual buttressed walls of the kilns may have come from the Mon potters from Burma/Myanmar who resided in the area. In the 19th century when Sam Khok was producing, it competed with many other kilns for Bangkok consumers. Sam Khok probably ceased because of commercial competition. There is a useful Thai Department of Fine Arts report on Sam Khok.

Hein repeated his strongly held opinion that all kiln technology in mainland South East Asia ultimately derives from China. There were two routes by which potters carried this technology as they traveled from South China. The first route was through Vietnam. Later potters moved into Laos, Thailand and Burma/Myanmar from Chinese areas further west.

In response to a question Hein said that the key reasons for establishing a kiln were (1) market needs and (2) transportation. The clay source – at least in Thailand -- proved less critical. Clay preparation relied much less on levigation, i.e., the separation of fine particles from coarse by grinding in water and aging, in comparison to Vietnam with its the more refined clay preparation processes.

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