KAM’s decorative arts gallery is named for local benefactors Theresa Moore and her husband Harlan. Moore mostly collected European and American ceramics and glass, but she also had an eye for Chinese and Japanese export porcelain. The presence of these objects in her collection is a testament to over a thousand years of international trade in East Asian ceramics. Like other affluent buyers around the globe, Moore likely admired the advanced technology, pleasing proportions, and sophisticated artistry of these ceramics—especially porcelain. China, in particular, has long dominated this trade, to the extent that the word ‘china’ has become synonymous with fine porcelain.
When planning this first phase of the gallery’s reinstallation (a later phase will address the freestanding cases), I chose to highlight Asian ceramics, not only because they appear in Moore’s collection but also because they are well represented within KAM’s broader holdings, thanks to generous gifts from donors such as Illinois alum Iver M. Nelson Jr. and the Class of 1908. Although KAM has Chinese pottery dating as far back as 8,000 BCE, for the Moore Gallery I chose to begin with the Song Dynasty (960-1279). By that time, there was substantial and regular international trade of these wares. Trade—along with technological innovation and collecting histories—is one of the major themes of the broader reinstallation of the Moore Gallery.
When researching objects in preparation for this installation, I was assisted by Diana Liao, a Masters student in Library and Information Science. Ms. Liao is a practitioner of the tea ceremony at Japan House, which made her especially well qualified to research tea wares in KAM’s collection. As part of her work, she authored a collection highlight about a special Chinese teabowl. Supported by this research, I endeavored to refine the descriptive titles and dating and to write labels that briefly explain the aesthetic, technological, and international appeal of the various types of objects.
The new display of Asian ceramics in the Moore Gallery—which spans the full length of the west wall—is organized thematically and chronologically. Most of the objects on view come from China, which is reflective of both that region’s dominance of the trade and KAM’s holdings. However, there are also ceramics from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand. The subjects explored relate to decorative schemes such as celadon (bluish-green), blue and white, famille vert (green family), famille rose (pink family), Satsuma (gold and polychrome), Dehua ware (monochrome white), and colorful monochrome glazes, as well as forms and categories including snuff bottles and export ware. When you next visit KAM, I invite you to feast your eyes on over a thousand years of ceramic excellence in the Moore Gallery, and perhaps be inspired to enhance the beauty and utility of your own daily life.
Laurie Barnes, Chinese Ceramics: From the Paleolithic Period though the Qing Dynasty, 2010.
R. L. Hobson and A. L. Hetherington, Art of the Chinese Potter: An Illustrated Survey, 1982.
Gisela Jahn, Meiji Ceramics: The Art of Japanese Export Porcelain and Satsuma Ware 1868-1912, 2004.
Bonnie Kemske, Teabowl: East and West, 2017.
Denise Patry Leidy, How to Read Chinese Ceramics, 2015.
Stacey Pierson, From Object to Concept: Global Consumption and the Transformation of Ming Porcelain, 2013.
Roderick Whitfield, Handbook of Korean Art 2: Earthenware and Celadon, 2002.
Nigel Wood, Chinese Glazes: Their Origins, Chemistry, and Recreation, 2011.
Author: Maureen Warren, Curator of European and American Art, January 2021