Asian Traditions in Clay: The Hauge Gifts

Donated to the Sackler between 1996 and 2005 by brothers Osborne and Victor Hauge and their wives Gratia and Takako, these remarkable objects provide the focus for a detailed narrative of the migration of pots from their makers to their users. Included in the Hauge gift are more than 800 vessels made in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, together with Chinese bowls and jars exported to Southeast Asia.

“Taking Shape” presents the two basic types of ceramics produced in Southeast Asia—soft, porous earthenware and high—fired stoneware. Earthenware continues to be used to cool drinking water, cook rice and curries over a wood fire and heat water for reeling silk. Watertight stoneware jars store grains, transport goods for long-distance trade and brew the rice beer essential for hospitality and ceremonies.

Pieces from the Hauge collection show the regional diversity of earthenware and stoneware production throughout time. The swirling designs of red-painted earthenware pots from prehistoric Thailand and the forms of glazed and unglazed stoneware jars from 17th- to 19th-century central Vietnam suggest the depth and diversity of the ceramic traditions. Spanning four millennia of invention and exchange, from the prehistoric period to the present, the objects on view were crafted for rituals, burials, domestic use and trade.

“Taking Shape” also illuminates the dimensions of international trade that brought southern Chinese ceramics into mainland Southeast Asia. Glazed stoneware dishes, emblazoned with blue or brown floral designs, demonstrate how the shapes and decorations of Chinese ceramics inspired the addition of painted decorations to tableware made in kilns in Vietnam and Thailand. In turn, such ceramics competed successfully in the international trade of the 15th and 16th centuries, reaching distant markets from Japan to Turkey.

The exhibition narrative interweaves discoveries of excavations and shipwrecks in Asia to convey the passage of works similar to the Hauge objects on their way to distant markets. Jars that reached their intended destinations—which included Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan—often became heirlooms, valued for their exotic origins, superior technology and beauty.