Lexington, Virginia • January 19, 2009
Carefully cushioned in bubble wrap many times over, wedged in foam and packed into five large crates, 27 pieces of Chinese export porcelain are ready to wow New York City.
This is the first time in recent years that pieces from the Reeves Collection of Ceramics at Washington and Lee University have been shown elsewhere, and it's taken some effort to prepare the pieces for their debut in the Big Apple. "Packing and transportation was definitely the biggest challenge," says Ron Fuchs II, curator of the collection at W&L.
The pieces of Chinese export porcelain will be on display for one week beginning January 21 at the 10th Annual New York Ceramics Fair at the National Academy Museum. "It's an antiques fair specifically devoted to ceramics," says Fuchs. "We have what is probably the fourth-best collection of Chinese export porcelain in the country and I don't think it's as well known as it should be." That may change after the ceramics fair, which has been described by Magazine Antiques as "a highlight in the calendar of every ceramics and glass collector," and by Maine Antiques Digest as "a nirvana for ceramics collectors."
The Reeves Collection was the main attraction that drew Fuchs to W&L a year ago, and he points out that the general public can see the collection at any time, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Reeves Center on campus. "The pieces aren't normally displayed as a complete collection, like they will be in New York," says Fuchs, "but they should be back in their individual display cases by Tues. Jan 27. We also have a large collection of British and Continental European earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. One added bonus is that we do give free personal tours to both individuals and groups. But it's wise to call (540) 458-8034 ahead of time to make sure someone is here, since we're a small staff."
The Reeves Collection was donated to the University by Mr. and Mrs. Euchlin D. Reeves in 1967, and new acquisitions have been added since that time. It spans 4,000 years of human history and is especially rich in Chinese export porcelain and European ceramics made between 1600 and 1900.
Chinese export porcelain was made in China specifically for the European and American market. The material is Chinese and the people who made it are Chinese, but in most cases the items are those used in the West - mugs, candle sticks and plates that the Chinese would not have used themselves. And while the decoration may be Chinese landscapes, Chinese gods or figures from Chinese novels, for the most part they are designed with Western consumers in mind. Some pieces have the coats of arms of British and American families or patriotic images such as the American flag or the American eagle.
The Chinese invented porcelain in about 600 A.D. because they were the first to discover the types of clay needed to make porcelain, and were also the first to develop sophisticated kilns that could reach the very high temperature of 1200 Celsius. Europeans didn't start making porcelain in Germany until 1708. The pieces in the Reeves Collection are from the very late 1500's to the 1900's and are described in the New York Ceramics Fair brochure as "a tour de force of one of America's most prominent ceramics collection."
If the Reeves Collection inspires your interest, you can attend a lecture, free and open to the public, on armorial ceramics by Angela Howard on Wed., Jan. 28 at 5 p.m. in the Science Addition, room 114, on the W&L campus. Angela Howard is a scholar and dealer of Chinese export porcelain. Her late husband, David Howard assembled a collection of 550 armorial porcelain coffee cups that were recently purchased for the Reeves Collection by two alumni, H. F. Lenfest and Bo DuBose.