My SAM Favorites

When my grandmother was a teenager in China's Jiangxi Provence, the Japanese invaded, forcing her entire town to flee. The family grabbed what valuables it could carry and dug a hole in their courtyard to bury the rest, much of which was porcelain, as Jiangxi is home to the city of Jingdezhen, where the pottery was invented and perfected. The family never returned (that whole thing with the Communists a few years later), and no one knows what happened to the heirlooms. I've often imagined what all that china looked like, which probably explains why I found myself drawn to SAM's porcelain collection, displayed in a room modeled after those that sprang up in European homes when the Western world's appetite for Chinese ceramics seemed insatiable. My favorite is a little red dish (right), about 6 inches in diameter and fired sometime between 1796 and 1820. Though simply decorated with a square of 64 Chinese characters, its crimson, lacquerlike glaze is a burst of bloody color amongst the mostly white pieces that surround it, and its scalloped edges catch the light in a way that render them almost translucent, recalling a chrysanthemum, one of the four noble Chinese flowers. I can't help but want to touch the dish, which, like its country's history, is anything but smooth.

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