The Columns

W&L’s Reeves Center has Acquired Rare Chinese Porcelain Vases Showing Scenes of Porcelain Production

— by on May 12th, 2015

The Reeves Center at Washington and Lee University has acquired a rare and unusual pair of Chinese export porcelain vases decorated with scenes of porcelain production. They are a helpful illustration of how the ceramics on display at the Reeves Center were made.

These self-referential vases are decorated with scenes of porcelain production in Jingdezhen, the city where almost all Chinese porcelain was made.

The scenes depict many of the stages of production, from mining the clay, to shaping vessels, to firing them in a kiln. Chinese porcelain was mass-produced, with different stages of production divided among different semi-skilled workers.

One visitor to a typical Chinese porcelain factory noted that its staff consisted of “a large number of workers who each have their appointed task. One piece of porcelain, before it enters the door of the furnace, passes through the hands of more than 20 people without any confusion. No doubt the Chinese have learned that the work is done faster this way.”

The vases were purchased at a Christies Auction in January and recently installed in the atrium of the Reeves Center.

The Reeves Center displays Washington and Lee’s ceramics collection, which spans over 4,000 years of human history. The collection includes ceramics from Asia, Europe and America and is especially rich in Chinese-export porcelain made for the American and European markets between 1600 and 1900.

The Reeves Center is located in an 1842 house on the campus of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. In addition to the ceramics collection, the Reeves Center houses the paintings of Louise Herreshoff Reeves (1876-1967).

The Watson Pavilion, behind the Reeves Center, houses a Japanese tea room named Senshin’an, “Clearing-the-Mind Abode,” by Sen Genshitsu, 15th-generation grand master of the Urasenke tradition of tea.

The Reeves Center and Watson Pavilion are open Mon. – Sat., 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Watson Pavilion is temporarily closed until the end of May for a W&L Spring Term course.