Students given the chance to see and touch rare works of Chinese art

February 5th, 2014



As part of the week long celebration of the Lunar New Year, the Cleveland Museum of Art visited John Carroll University on Thursday, Jan. 30 with ancient Chinese artifacts. Students were given the opportunity to see and touch works of art that are up to 4,000 years old.


The event, which was held in the Mackin Room of Grasselli Library and Breen Learning Center, is part of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s revolutionary interactive program called  “Art to Go,” which explores Asia’s interaction with other parts of the world. The event focused on art that was crafted during the Silk Road era, a time when European markets sought spices, tea, porcelain and other ceramics from the Chinese empire.


“Three years ago, we had a [“Art to Go”] session during the Lunar New Year week, and it was such a success that we decided to do it again,” said Ellen Valentine, secretary of the Office of Interdisciplinary Programs.


One of the objects was an ivory statue reminiscent of Mother Mary and baby Jesus. The detailed piece was designed for the Chinese market in an effort to bring Christian idealism to the Asian audience. Baby Jesus was carved with a lily in his hand, which was a symbol of Mary’s virginity and purity. When crafted, the piece had been painted solid. However, erosion had taken most of the color off of the statue.

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Another object of interest was a lacquer and jade box. The box was carved from wood and then covered in multiple coats of lacquer. Lacquer is mixed with pigments to create colors, and black lacquer was the most popular color for the ancient Chinese. The jade embellishment, which was heavily detailed, wasn’t easily crafted. According to the curators, jade is next to diamonds on the hardness scale. The curators emphasized the amount of time needed to get such a design upon jade.


“Art to Go” also presented century-old porcelain and explained the significance of the ceramic material. The reason most porcelain is blue is because it only takes two firings for blue porcelain. Any other porcelain color needs three firings.


Porcelain was used mostly for tea parties, something women created because they were not allowed in Chinese coffee shops due to the men’s dialogue topics. Porcelain is non-porous, which makes it very sterile for liquids. The Chinese had warehouses full of porcelain that they designed for the European purchasers.


The curators from the museum also discussed the silk market. Silk was so desirable during the Silk Road times that it was used as a method to pay taxes. Silk-making was a Chinese secret for a long period of time. According to the museum curators, those who spoke of the silk-making methods were killed.