April 8, 2014
New museum exhibition features Chinese export porcelainA new exhibition now open in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum dispels a popular belief that colonial Virginians had limited access to the trappings of fashionable ceramics. “China of the Most Fashionable Sort: Chinese Export Porcelain in Colonial America” demonstrates that the lack of direct trade with China prior to the American Revolution certainly did not hinder 18th-century Virginians from indulging in consumerism of the times.
Seventy objects from Colonial Williamsburg’s collections show the variety of Chinese porcelain available in colonial America and owned by a broad cross-section of the public, including tradesmen, merchants and wealthy landowners. The exhibition provides museum guests with an overview of European trade with China, how the porcelain was made, trade routes involved from the east to the west and the general types of porcelain available.
The exhibition focuses on artifacts recovered during archaeological excavations in the Williamsburg’s Historic Area then moves to include Virginia and the eastern seaboard by examining porcelain owned and used in each of those contexts. Case studies of two families — Spotswood and Rumford — highlight ownership of these wares by multiple generations over time.
In 1607, when the English landed at Jamestown and established the first permanent English settlement in North America, Chinese porcelain was already well integrated into European culture. Although those early settlers carried few personal possessions, one of them brought Chinese porcelain to Jamestown in the form of a small wine cup. Colonists who came to Virginia and other parts of North America were no different from their European brethren. They were fascinated with Chinese porcelain and merchants sought to give these men and women what they wanted — china of the most fashionable sort.
From then through the Revolution, colonial Virginians expressed their growing affluence and participated in the relatively new consumer world.
“China of the Most Fashionable Sort: Chinese Export Porcelain in Colonial America” is curated by Suzanne Hood, Colonial Williamsburg’s curator of ceramics. The exhibition will remain on view through 2015.
The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg include the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibits the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670–1830. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, with more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets in Williamsburg, and are entered through the Public Hospital of 1773.
Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For museum program information, telephone (757) 220-7724.