Media only: Brenda Kean Tabor, 202.633.0523
Rebecca Fahy, 202.633.0521
Public only: 202.633.1000
Exhibition dates: July 9, 2005–continuing indefinitely

June 22, 2005

The Freer Gallery of Art will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam by opening an exhibition on July 9, featuring the first major presentation of Vietnamese ceramics from the collection. A festival of arts, crafts, music, dance and cooking demonstrations will also celebrate the occasion. The exhibition, “Vietnamese Ceramics from the Red River Delta,” includes 22 dishes, jars, boxes and bowls that were produced in this region between the 13th and 16th centuries and remains open indefinitely.

Vietnamese ceramics made along the banks of the Red River have been treasured in such places as Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia and Japan since the 14th century. Originating in the Chinese province of Yunnan and flowing southeast through narrow gorges, the Red River meanders across a large delta before emptying into the Gulf of Tonkin. Now the economic center of Northern Vietnam, the delta was the center of major ceramic production from the early centuries of the common era.

The delta’s river network linked pottery-making towns to sources of raw materials—notably fine-grained, pale-gray stoneware clay of excellent quality—and carried finished products to markets and coastal ports. Vigorous international trade dispersed many of the ceramics on view in this exhibition. The turtle-shaped pillow on view was found in Thailand and the celadon ewer in the Philippines. Some of the blue-and-white vessels in the exhibition came from Indonesia and are similar to some of the 250,000 pots discovered aboard a shipwreck excavated in 1997–1999 off the coast of Central Vietnam, near the port of Hoi An.

Archaeology within Vietnam also is revealing the depth and complexity of regional ceramic production, trade and use. The most important site under current investigation lies in Hanoi, where the capital of Thang Long was established in 1010. At the Ba Dinh citadel site in the city center, archaeologists have excavated layers of buildings and artifacts dating to successive capital cities. The translucent white bowl on view—long identified as a puzzling Chinese object—was recently revealed to be Vietnamese when similar bowls were found in a 15th-century palace.

Vietnamese ceramics from Red River Delta kilns reflect stylistic changes in Chinese ceramics, as the popularity of ivory- and celadon-glazed vessels yielded to those with decoration painted in iron brown or cobalt blue. Yet the distinctive clays and glazes of the Vietnamese wares set them apart from their Chinese counterparts, as do the forms, which reflect local traditions and usages.

Most of the pieces bear brown slip (iron-bearing clay solution) on the base—a hallmark of Red River Delta ceramics whose function or meaning has not yet been explained. Much more remains to be learned about this important Asian ceramic tradition.

The Festival:
The festival at the Freer and neighboring Arthur M. Sackler gallery features programs for visitors of all ages. A noon tour conducted by Freer curator Louise Cort on July 12 provides further insight into the exhibition.

Craft and Cooking Demonstrations
Saturday, July 9, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Freer lawn (north side)
Sunday, July 10, 10:30 a.m.–4 p.m.
Watch Vietnamese cooks prepare a variety of traditional Asian dishes as artisans work on traditional folk crafts.

Saturday, July 9, 10:30 a.m.–12 p.m. and 3:30–5 p.m. Sackler, level 1
Observe traditional Asian methods for creating colorful and imaginative prints and take one home.

Vietnamese Music and Dance
Saturday, July 9, 11 a.m.–12 p.m., 1–2 p.m., and 3–4 p.m. Meyer Auditorium
Celebrate the variety of Vietnam, from royal court dances of the Viet majority to rarely seen styles from some of the country’s many ethnic minorities. Selections include traditional gourd lutes of the central highlands and Northwest Vietnam as well as the unique unique dàn bâu, a monochord whose eerie harmonics have been favored by imperial court and street musicians alike. The 11 a.m. program is repeated at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Children’s Rice Dolls
Saturday, July 9, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. ImaginAsia classroom
Villagers of Xuân La in Phú Xuyên District of Hà Tây Province are well known for their skill in making delicate tò he toys, figurines made from colored rice dough. Learn this traditional craft from Nguyen Van Thuan, a Vietnamese master.

Make a Bamboo Flute
Saturday, July 9, 12:30–2 p.m. Sackler, level 1
See how these folk instruments of Vietnam are formed from raw bamboo and then played by visiting musician, Vu Thi Thanh Huong.

Vietnamese Ceramics from the Red River Delta
Tuesday, July 12, 12 p.m. Freer info desk
Curator Louise Cort discusses Vietnamese ceramics that are displayed together for the first time. The pieces include monochrome and decorated wares that date from 12th through the 16th century.

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily, except Wednesdays and public holidays and are subject to docent availability. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the exhibitions section of the galleries’ website.