- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2000

[p}Two exhibitions, "Asian Traditions in Clay: The Hauge Gifts" at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and "Storage Jars of Asia" next door at the Freer Gallery of Art, present a window into the intriguing, complex world of Asian ceramics.
From an elegant Iranian "Beak-Spouted Jar" (circa 1400-800 B.C.) to an amusing Khmer Empire "Elephant-Shaped Vessel with Spout" (A.D. 12th-13th centuries ), the 84 objects from the Hauge family of collectors are first-rate. Though not collected from scientifically controlled excavations, the objects can be dated and placed using similar ceramics coming from excavations.
Osborne and Gratia Hauge collected while living and working in Tehran, Bangkok and Saigon when Osborne Hauge served with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Victor and Takako Hauge traveled extensively in both the Far and Middle East while Victor Hauge worked for the U.S. Department of State in Japan.
"The Hauges formed the major portion of these collections during the 1960s and early 1970s — a fortunate period, since Iran and Cambodia became almost completely inaccessible to scholars and travelers from the United States until the gradual reopening of these regions during the past few years," says Milo Beach, director of the Sackler and Freer galleries.
Louise Cort, curator of ceramics at both galleries, has mounted a handsome complementary exhibition of 24 "Storage Jars of Asia" at the Freer. Mainly collected by Freer founder Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in the early 1900s, the vessels trace the metamorphosis of the jars from utilitarian containers — such as our crates and Tupperware-like holders — to venerated objects of art.
The Hauge exhibit illustrates three major, highly diverse, pottery traditions in Asia and the curators have highlighted them in a single case at the exhibit's entrance. They showed the first tradition, "Ancient Iranian Ceramics," with the previously mentioned "Beak-Spouted Jar"; the second, "Ceramics from the Islamic World," with a painted and gilded 14th-century "Tile;" the third, "Khmer Stoneware Ceramics" with a Khmer Empire dark brown glazed "Ewer" (11th-12th-century).
The curators decided to mix the ceramic traditions and emphasize the diversity. "We had three groups of ceramics with a wide geographic stretch," Ms. Cort says. "Different cultures took the same medium, clay, and did distinct things with it."
They divided the show thematically into "Defining a Regional Tradition," "The Potter's Craft" and "Ceramics and Society."
Unfortunately, the approach is confusing. The groupings were chosen because Osborne and Victor Hauge were working and traveling in those cultural areas, but because of this they lack coherence. The average visitor is a newcomer to Asian ceramics and needs help with an aesthetic different from his own. Even the use of identifying logos doesn't help enough.
The exhibit needs more space. The curators had to squeeze 84 ceramics into three galleries.
Exhibition designer Richard Franklin and his team did their best to rectify the situation by placing objects on stepped levels, varying colors and lighting subtly and expertly. There was no room for the photomurals used so effectively in "Storage Jars of Asia."
{box} {box} {box}
Previously, the Sackler and Freer had only a small group of ancient Iranian ceramics given by Arthur Sackler with some later acquisitions.
The oldest objects from the Hauges are the 33 early earthenware Iranian ceramics, dating from the seventh millennium B.C. to 330 B.C. They range from the first painted styles from western Iran of the Chalcolithic period (circa 5500-3000 B.C.) and Bronze Age (circa 3000-1400 B.C.) to painted and monochrome ware from northern and western Iran made during the Iron Age (circa 1400-300 B.C.).
The second Hauge group is from Islamic Iran, beginning with the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. The potters continued with plates, bowls, vases, large containers and tiles of low-fired earthenware but embellished them with lively, colorful designs.
The third Hauge assemblage of Khmer stoneware may attract the most interest. It is inherently handsome by the richness of its chocolate brown glazes and strong, full-bodied shapes.
It is also new. Neither the Sackler nor Freer had assembled Khmer ware. The grouping also builds on the interest in the Khmer begun by the exhibit "Sculpture of Angkor and Ancient Cambodia: Millennium of Glory" at the National Gallery of Art in 1997.
{box} {box} {box}
As in most Asian cultures, ceramic containers in ancient Iran were used to store, carry and serve food and liquids. Archaeologists found pots in domestic sites as well as burials. Ancient Iranians placed ceramics with the dead to provide food in the life after death — a practice common to Iran, Ban Chieng in Thailand, India, China and Japan.
Early Iranian pottery, color and decoration were also reflected in other Asian pottery. Bowls, cups and jars were the most common. Monochrome gray- and black-ware showed the first attempts at firing ceramics.
More sophisticated decoration and forms followed, with painted pots embellished with sophisticated geometric patterning and expressive animal images.
Painted ornament on an earthenware, Iron Age "Jar" included hatched kites arranged in a zone across the upper half of the vessel. Wonderful examples of painted pottery have also been found at Ban Chieng and Banpo in China. More calligraphic strokes characterize the Chinese examples. Incising, burnishing (a way of mimicking metal) and slipping were other ways of embellishing the pots.
The potter's wheel was invented around 4500 B.C. Earlier methods had included building by hand with a lump, slab or coils of clay. The methods were often combined in what is called "the compound approach."
Humped, bull-shaped vessels were also popular. They appear as well on seals from the Indus Valley of India (2500-1500 B.C.).
The Hauge grouping of Islamic Iranian pottery is smaller — 23 vessels — but impressive. The Iranians had advanced in technique and especially admired Chinese ceramics.
Curator Massumeh Farhad describes it well: "The overwhelming impulse to color and decorate surfaces, the distinguishing feature of ceramics from the Islamic world, has remained its most enduring characteristic."
She adds, "The surfaces were treated much like a canvas."
Chinese porcelain was especially admired for its strength, purity and whiteness. Lacking kaolin, the vital ingredient for porcelain and plentiful in China, the Iranians invented their own "white wares." Unlike the simple Chinese Tang dynasty bowls and dishes, the Iranians decorated the ware with epigraphic and colorful abstract decorations.
Two "Bowls" from the Hauge collection were "splashed" with green, ocher and brown and incised below the glaze. A remarkable contribution to Iranian ceramics was "lusterware," created with metal-based pigments to simulate a lustrous, metallic sheen. A "Bowl" with a rounded painted bird occupying the interior, probably from Kashan, was made of stone-paste painted over glaze with luster.
Meals were generally communal, calling for very large bowls such as the turquoise-glazed vessel on view in a single case near the end of the exhibit. Stews and soups were served in bowls such as these, while plates and platters were used for rice or meat.
{box} {box} {box}
The Khmer Empire potters, in the northern Cambodia area centered around Angkor Wat, produced majestic architectural forms with geometric decoration and simple glazes of brown and green.
They also transformed initially stark vessels into human or animal shapes. The Khmer used no painted decoration. They employed incised or stamped linear patterns.
A "Baluster-Form Jar with Two-Color Glaze" of brown stoneware with iron glaze is one of the exhibit's most graceful, but also strongest, jars. It was found in the region now comprising Buriram Province in Thailand.
The prototypes of the pedestal jars balanced by a many-tiered rim and bulging shoulder go back to late Neolithic times. A pot illustrated in the catalog of the "Sculpture of Angkor" exhibit shows a bowl on a circular, low-pedestal base.
The full contours of the baluster jars reflect the forms of balustrades and pilasters, or pillars, of Khmer stone architecture. The Khmer jars are the only Asian ones to mimic their surrounding architecture. The vessels also reflect the shapes of south Asian metal containers.
Scholars believe that technologically advanced communities of ceramic specialists made the glazed stonewares, using the fast-spinning wheel to make and decorate the vessels. They also knew how to mix and apply high-temperature wood ash-based glazes. The potters fired the pots in wood-burning, single-chamber kilns built on artificial mounds of earth. Stoneware is, quite literally, as hard as stone.
Although more excavations are needed, it is believed the stonewares were made for rituals and ceremonies of the elite.
Large animal-form vessels such as the appealing "Elephant-Shaped Vessel with Spout" combined wheel-made forms with hand-modeled details. It is believed some of the modeling was even done by children.
Elephants, horses, rabbits, cats, frogs, birds, turtles and lions were popular subjects. Only in China, especially in Zhou Dynasty bronzes, were animals so prized.
The anthropomorphic bottles have a minimum of decoration. One unusual gourd-shaped bottle shows a man praying with his arms over his chest.
Though the presentation of "Asian Traditions in Clay: The Hauge Gifts" could have been better, there is no question that these ceramics are invaluable additions to the Sackler and Freer holdings. The museums, and the public, will forever be grateful to the Hauges for their generosity.
The reasonably priced, 160-page, color-illustrated catalog is also a must for Asian ceramics aficionados. Curators Cort, Farhad and Ann C. Gunter have written excellent essays.
see ASIAN, page D6ASIANFrom page D1WHAT: "Asian Traditions in Clay: The Hauge Gifts"WHERE: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SWWHEN: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily except Christmas Day through April 22TICKETS: FreePHONE: 202/357-2700WHAT: "Storage Jars of Asia"WHERE: Freer Gallery of Art, Jefferson and 12th streets SWWHEN: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily except Christmas Day through March 10TICKETS: Free PHONE: 202/357-2700

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide