Sunday, January 2, 2011

Taking Shape: Ceramics in Southeast Asia

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through 2011

On the same day that I saw the Hai Bo photographs, I also saw this collection of ceramics from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Burma. Archeologists use pots such as these to determine the interaction between ancient settlements. If they find only local pots in an area, they can conclude that the community did not have much contact with outsiders. If, however, they find many different kinds of pots, they can safely assume that there was trade between communities.

People not only created their own pots; they collected those made by others as well. They would trade other objects for stoneware they themselves didn't make, then pass these valued pots to the next generation.

I particularly liked the stoneware with the cobalt blue glaze - such a lovely, vibrant blue color. Both men and women were potters. The men made stoneware and the women made earthenware. It's always interesting to me to see that women have been involved in the artistic and craft worlds for centuries. Speaking of crafts, I was surprised to see that some of the glazes and shapes of pots were reminiscent of what I see at craft fairs I attend today.

I was also surprised (and delighted) to see that they had some stoneware and earthenware you can actually touch! It was lots of fun, and gave me a greater appreciation of the pots on display. Stoneware is much heavier than earthenware, which is what I expected. These pots are still produced today in Southeast Asia for everyday use. The women potters pass their skills down from one generation to the next - just like the African and African-American women who make reed baskets.

Verdict: The museum website is a bit vague on when this is closing, so you've probably got plenty of time before it's off display. It's worth a trip, or worth a few minutes from time to time when you're at the Sackler (or the Freer, as it's in the hallway between the two museums) for another exhibit.

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