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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Peace making art


Antonia Acock’s vase has potential for being a tool for peace. A vase of Red Cedar is a mineral painted porcelain vase - like many before it, a symbol of our shared world history beginning with the ancient sea faring mariners who spread the ceramic art through their trade connections. Ceramic vessels have powerful symbolic meaning. They are connected to the best most humanizing moments in history.

Below I will expand upon a vase's role for creating bonds of trust throughout history. For example women's equality was furthered by giving vases instead of exchanging wives to seal agreements between states. Also the differences between the powerful rich and poor were bridged by clay pots. And I will cover how porcelain vases helped to begin the healing after World War II.

For 394,000 years there had been clay hearths but it wasn’t until 6,000 BC in northern Iraq and the eastern coast of Arabia the Halaf culture invented the tournette – this hand operated turn table speeded up production of uniform ceramic pots. Soon after foot run pottery wheels spread either by marine trade or less likely by independent simultaneous invention. Pottery of that early period sprang up in river deltas like the Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Yellow River and the Yangtze.

3,000 BC the first white ceramic was traded as far away as Alaska. From the Middle East the idea of making ceramics was traded throughout the world expanding possibilities for social structuring around a humble common substance - clay – a material that no country has ever fought a war over.

221-206 BC The Qin Terra Cotta Army was realistic clay vessels made to replace grand scale sacrifice. Even in the darkest and most brutal of empires the final act of the state was to bury in the emperor’s tomb ceramic replicas instead of people and animals. Pottery vessel as gifts of sacrifice replaced human and animal sacrifices. Clay vessels remind us of our own creation and thus had significance in structuring social rituals that are universal.

206 BC – 220 AD during the Han dynasty pottery vessels contained the bones and spirit preparing them for transport to the after world. Inexpensive pottery was affordable for all. Equality in death created a bridge of trust between rich and poorer people. In China and the Near East pottery was used to represent practical things needed in the afterlife and also importantly for its symbolic meaning of birth, death and rebirth in an afterlife. Ceramic is symbolic of the miracle of life cycles because it was once igneous rock that was worn down to dust and it has been transformed to a solid vessel that holds water necessary to life.

600 AD Kaolin clays and high temperature firing and the invention of water tight ceramics happened at the same time as Tibetan Empire building stretching from the boarders of Afghanistan, Nepal, Burma, Northern India and parts of China. The Imperial Tibetan ruler exchanged wives in a misguided attempt to seal trust between dignitaries of his empire. The Tang Emperor gave the Dalai Lama a gift of mistrust - half a gold fish which he had to bring back to marry it with the other half in order to be received with dignity. Gift refused!

960 AD the Sung dynasty adopted the first seals of office to attest to the validity of documents as was customary with their trading partners, Arabs and Persians. The Imperial potters began the practice of adopting more foreign ideas into their pottery. Square Imperial seals were painted on the bottom of Imperial pottery.

1642 AD The Great Fifth Dalai Lama presented two vases to the Manchu Qing Emperor of China to remind him of their historic bond. The vases replaced the traditional exchange of wives. The substitution of ceramic vases for women involves greater trust. The Manchus, once a subject of the Tibetan Empire, acknowledged their common ties by placing Buddhist symbolism on Imperial ceramics.

17th and 18th century trade with the Middle East gave Imperial porcelain the cobalt for blue mineral painting. The beauty of the cobalt painting on the ceramics bonded China with the Middle East in trust through trade. These blue and white wares, arriving through the spice trade, were much sought after by European households. Thus began world trade of colored minerals from various corners of the earth to enhance a cornucopia spectrum of colors for mineral painting.

Early 18th Century French Father D’Entre-colles wrote a series of letters describing the Imperial Porcelain Workshop. The French imitated the technology and furthered it by developing a new rose enameling color. The Chinese were eager to see examples of European pottery to stimulate their own inventiveness. The Imperial Potters incorporated European realism in their work while retaining their own expression of the Taoist principle of bringing together opposites – bringing together in harmony past cultural bonds between divergent and competitive cultures.

1945 vases painted in 18th Century Chinese Mille Fleures Motif were part of a ritual when the dead Japanese soldiers were returned to Japan after World War II. My grandfather was the translator who identified dead Japanese soldiers, wrote letters of condolence to their family and delivered them. He was on the first naval ship to enter Japn after the War. He did not talk about the details of our mystery vase but rather questioning me as to what were the greatest inventions like the grid. Also he referred to his interest in the history of ceramics.

2004 Antonia Acock, mineral painter wanted to preserve in an archival fire resistant medium the feeling of what it was like for her native American ancestors to be in a red cedar forest. Thirty acres of the last remaining forest of this kind was being clear cut. The vase commemorates the loss in a positive reference to life itself. The rounded form used to store water vital to the continuation of life is like mother and child and gives the art form vital meaning.

Porcelain vases symbolize the miracle of life and the painting upon them portrays experience like a capsule of the whole cosmos. The porcelain was once melted plasma from a volcano turned cold to igneous rock worn to dust by erosion. To the dust vital water was added to make clay. The vase was formed on a wheel pressing outward upward growing with centrifugal force. Then fired in a kiln it is transformed into a vessel that holds water necessary for life. The vase is life confirming and carries a message of healing.

Please consider Antonia Acock’s vase as history educational tool for diplomatic relations. For throughout history vases have created the basis for bonding peoples broken apart by dispute or repression helping to bring about the best and most humanizing moments in history.

9 comments:

Darlene said...

What a fascinating post on the history of ceramics. I really enjoyed it and compliment you on the exhaustive research on the subject.

Parapluie said...

Thanks Darlene, I have picked up on these ideas over many years and I keep thinking of their meaning by writing and painting making connections.
Recently I have watched the Questar Mystic Lands DVD series. It was interesting to contrast the ancient mariners of Persi with an advanced culture that did not develop a potters wheel. The Anasazi mysteriously disappeared 700 years ago in the four corners of the United States. The Anasazi made lop sided ceramics that look like they were made on the dry ground without even a turnette. Yet they were always seeking a spiritual center according to Pueblo myth. They built a spiritual space with temporary dwellings in a canyon. It had seven roads leading to it like the spokes of a wheel. All appeared to be lead back to settlements except one that lead to a dead end with unusual rocks. All along the road were chards of broken pottery. The Pueblo people believe the ceramics were offerings to the gods. The Anasazi broke them because they feared someone would come and steal them if they were whole.
I speculate that the rounded bolders in the canyon at the end of the road symbolized life and trust in the other world from which they appeared to come like themselves. The erroded pedestal was the hopelessness of this world. They did not have a feeling for their pottery was a vessel like themselves filled with life's waters. They could not have felt the feeling of clay centered on the wheel and the water in the clay along with the centrifical force giving the potter the feeling that the pot is alive.

Rain said...

some of the breaking was also so that they could use them on the other side, like an offering definitely. I have one piece of old pottery but not that far back but several copies of the very old ones. They did beautiful work but not hard fired given they were in natural fires.

Parapluie said...

Rain, Thank you for your expertise. I know you have researched the native Americans of the Four Corners. Yet so little is known about the Anasazi other than the folk tales of the Indians. We don't know if the broken pottery was offerings for rain or for after life.

Parapluie said...

The ability of uniformally rounded vases to hold water maybe the most important characteristic of the Euroasian pots which brings about the connection of pots to life itself.
It would be interesting to make pots similar to Anasazi pots and test their water holding ability. Then compare them to the rounded water pots made early in the Middle East on a tournette. And then on a potter's wheel. Questions to answer are whether or not shaping pots on dry earth ground feels different than making them on a turning base.

Rain said...

Anasazi pots were not for holding water. Nor are the modern Hopi pots. Anything you fire in a wood type open fire cannot fire hard enough to hold water. It takes closed kilns to do that. They were for storing food and probably some for rituals, like paint pots, maybe sometimes sacred but not water. Baskets can be waterproofed but I don't even use water to clean my southwestern pottery.

I am trying to remember the name of my black pot that is not from there but Japanese style (I think). The name will come to me right after I post this comment probably but anyway they are also fired in open flames and also not only won't hold water but I protect from water.

Rain said...

Coil or slab formed pottery can be very uniform in shape but to get something to hold water, it takes a kiln. Or like baskets, using pitch which would likely also destroy my pottery.

Parapluie said...

Rain,
To my knowledge in the ancient Middle East rounded pots of low fired earthenware were used to store water. The rounded shape made for large volumes of water with the least surface for water loss. The water that did escape evaporated and cooled the container and water.

Coiled pots can be made uniformly round but to make a large one with out a tournette is impossible. As you well know the larger the vessel the more likely it is to sag during firing without absolute uniformity.

Rain said...

Well my two Southwestern pots are not huge but they are very uniform and they were not thrown. It's not how their technology is done. They are perfectly shaped though. I should photograph them although the one that is largest is in Tucson.

The name I wanted was raku and it's a technique that while it won't be destroyed by water also is not like porcelain or other hard fired clays. There is someone who does that in open fires out of McMinnville and the flames vary what it will look like for colors. They were used for tea pots but are not like we expect for their ability to hold water. Probably old pottery that held water, but hadn't had a high temperature kiln, was somewhat porous but it didn't matter and was better than having nothing. I had asked about my raku one as a vase and no way unless i put a liner in it.