221 pieces are on display. Some date back to the 15th and 16th centuries featuring decorations in blue and white – historically significant colors for Vietnamese ceramics.
According to the Birmingham News, the exhibition will reveal a unique tradition that can be traced back 6,000 years despite centuries of Chinese occupation, French colonization and devastating wars.
Doc. Donald Wood, chief curator of Asian art at the museum, told Vietnamplus that the museum has collected Vietnamese pottery artifacts since 1970 and now owns the largest collection in the US.
Philippe Truong, an independent expert in Vietnamese pottery, catalogues the collection's contents and the history of Vietnamese ceramics.
Wood said that this was a great opportunity for the American public to contemplate fine art which was rarely seen in their country and “to explore the rich history of Vietnam which plays not only an important role in American history, but also in its future.”
He said that historically, Vietnam produced the best pottery in Southeast Asia.
A large part of the collection came to the museum as a bequest from collector William M. Spencer III, who died in 2010, Wood said.
Wood said Spencer, an US citizen, gave some of the early pieces, and was able to acquire a collection for the museum in 2005 and 2007.
“He liked Vietnamese wares, and he saw this as an opportunity to help put the collection over the top,” Wood said.
The highlight of the exhibition is a 24¼-inch-tall, 500-year-old clay jar in pristine conditions. The jar was purchased with funds provided by the Spencer estate from a private dealer in Bangkok.
The jar thought to date back to 15th or 16th centuries of Le dynasty
18th century jar. Glazed stoneware, two applied dragons chasing Buddhist jewels of wisdom, above band of cloud motifs. Photo: Al.com
Ewer from Ly-Tran dynasty, 12th-14th century. Glazed stoneware with domed cover, lotus-petal collar, dragon spout with handle. Photo: Al.com
“Shaped with gray-white clay found in Vietnam’s Red River Valley, the jar exemplifies the best of the tradition — a carved surface, blue cobalt oxide underglaze and enamel decorations, with a carved illustration of four cranes,” the Birmingham News described it.
But like many of the pieces, it has an air of informality with its fluid lines and animal depictions, the newspaper added.
“You don’t find that with Chinese pottery. When the French first discovered these pieces in excavations in the 1920s and 1930s, they considered them to be somewhat degenerate, provincial Chinese art, rather than from a Vietnamese tradition,” said John Stevenson, the exhibition’s co-curator and author of the 1997 book on Vietnamese ceramics, “Vietnamese Ceramics: A Separate Tradition.”
“China ruled Vietnam for over 1,000 years. In spite of that domination, Vietnam has its own aesthetic and tradition. Music, literature and ceramics are all distinctly Vietnamese,” Wood said.