Ancient and modern Chinese ceramics on display in SE Portland

The beauty and detail evident in their work is the result of craftsmanship that’s been passed down over two centuries. Read this, and learn why you should consider taking a look in person …

Min Zhu and Jimmy Cheng hold a large porcelain bowl – said to be the largest of its kind in production. After they set it down, Mr. Zhu tapped it with his finger — it rang like a bell!

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The largest traveling display of Chinese porcelain and ceramic art – and its only stop in the United States during the current world tour – isn’t at a museum or Pearl District showroom.

This fascinating exhibit is currently showing in SE Portland.

One doesn’t need to speak or read the Chinese language to appreciate the beauty and scope of the exhibition, brought to this country by Yu Xiang Porcelain Co. Ltd. in Jingdezhen, China, and currently on display at Eastport Plaza on S.E. 82nd Avenue of Roses.

To learn more about this intriguing combination of museum and store, we enlisted the aid of restaurateur Jimmy Cheng from Grand Buffet to act as our interpreter, when we met the company’s manager, Min Zhu.

One of the antiquities Min Zhu brought to Portland is this stone carving of the Buddha’s head, made by an artisan in Jingdezhen.

Gave “China” its name
The artisans who produced porcelain and ceramic art and dishware for emperors and dignitaries for over 2,000 years didn’t realize they were inadvertently giving their country the name Westerners call now it.

“We call our nation Zh?ngguó,” Zhu began. Literally translated as “Middle Kingdom”, the compound [two pictogram] word means “the center of civilization” – which they were, while most of Europe was in the Dark Ages, and the “new world” of the Americas was yet to be discovered by Europeans.

This jade dragon shows the craftsmanship currently being done by Chinese artisans. The spider in front represents happiness for what you have, the five bats on the back are a symbol of very good luck.

“Our city of Jingdezhen [also Jingde Zhen] has been the location of the Imperial Kiln and the center of ceramic production since the early Han Dynasty,” related Zhu. “When our ancestors took our ceramics to Europe, and were asked of their origin, they said the name of our city. To Europeans, it sounded like ‘China’. Thus, Jingdezhen-produced ceramics from the nation of Zh?ngguó became known as China, and our people became known as Chinese.”

This vase is a replica of one presented to US President Richard Nixon. The temperatures when firing are precisely controlled, to keep the colors vibrant as they flow down the face of the vase.

Thin as paper
Jingdezhen was one of the four major towns in ancient China, we learned. In addition to historically dominating the development of ceramic arts, it is currently the epicenter of high-quality porcelain production today.

“They say Jingdezhen ceramics are as white as Jade, as thin as chime”, said Zhu. “Most ceramics are fired at 1,000°. But Jingdezhen kilns are much hotter, about 3,200°. Being so hot, the material gets very dense and strong. They will last much longer than other ceramics.”

In fact, Zhu said, virtually all the ceramics and porcelain on display in museums around the world were made by craftsman in his town.

This ornate, delicate porcelain vase shows fine detail and rich coloring.

Bowl rings like a bell
Zhu and Cheng walked over to a 3-foot-diameter porcelain bowl decorated with red dragons and blue waves. We caught our breath as they held up this giant piece of exquisite, translucent porcelain wear.

“See how extremely thin and delicate it is?” asks Zhu. After they set it down, he tapped the rim and it rang like a bell – and continued to reverberat for about 20 seconds.

“These are the largest [porcelain bowls] in the world,” stated Zhu. “They are very difficult to make, even for a very experienced artisan. These artists might make a hundred, or thousand of them, before they make one that is right. Then, one day, their hand is so steady, it’s like God gives them the strength and power to make this beautiful bowl.”

Modestly-priced one-of-a-kind works of art are available for purchase at the unique exhibition at Eastport Plaza on S.E. 82nd Avenue of Roses.

Ancient treasures on display
In addition to the ceramic works offered for sale, Zhu also brought stone carvings and other works of art, many of them hundreds of years old.

“We have samples of our arts and culture – these colorful and splendid ceramic works and handcrafts that represent our craft – to help the people of Portland gain a better understanding Jingdezhen porcelain,” Zhu said.

Unlike in a museum, in this case you can take home an original work of art – items are on sale ranging from $10 to $100,000 in value. “It’s wonderful for people to come and look,” commented Zhu. They don’t have to buy anything. Just come see this wonderful artistry from China.”

The exhibit and sale is open every day from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. through August 10. Both are located at the north end of Eastport Plaza. Children are welcome – but do keep a watchful eye on them!

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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