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INTG 305th Meeting – Tuesday, September 9th 2008


An evening with at home with John and Pat Shaw

Present: Carole Beauclerk, Annette Kunigagon and her daughter, Lucy Coombs, Robert Simpson, Bonnie Brereton, Carl Samuels, Keiko Samuels, Ivan Hall, Hans and Sangdao Bänziger, David Steane, L. Noordermeer, David James, Michael and Rosalie Dean, Fran Decoster, Bill Feetham, Allan Young, Bodil Blokker, Vithi Panichphant. 21 guests plus a few more who didn't see the attendance list.

Your Convenor writes: The evening commenced with drinks by the pool leisurely followed by more drinks and snacks in the lounge where John welcomed his guests and outlined his plan for the evening. In response to a request by one of his guests to "Tell us a bit about yourself", John gave an impromptu history of his life since arriving in Asia more than 40 years ago, and the development of his and his wife Pat's interest in ceramics over the past 30 years.

He told how they first became interested in ceramics when they lived in Indonesia in the early 1970's. Pat worked as a volunteer in the Jakarta Museum and they started collecting Chinese export wares. When they decided to return to Thailand their interest switched to Sukhothai Town and Sisatchanalai/Sawankaloke wares.

In 1976 they came to live in Chiang Mai and started visiting possible kiln sites about which virtually nothing was known. Gradually they began assembling a study collection of kiln wasters and other pieces. A chance meeting with a representative of Oxford University Press resulted in John being commissioned to write a book on Northern Thai Ceramics, which, in 1982, became the first in depth study of the subject. Ten years later the book, much enlarged as a result of the spectacular Tak Hilltop Burial finds, was reprinted privately. John lectured at Chiang Mai University and, on retirement, was awarded the MBE for his services as Honorary British Consul at Chiang Mai. He acknowledged that Pat has been the inspiration in their lifelong interest in researching Northern Thai Ceramics.

From the lounge, we took our drinks and ascended to the third floor of John's house where his ceramics collection is housed on display in glass showcases. John gave us a guided tour and explained to those of us who didn't know just what it was that we were looking at. His commentary included tales of visits burial sites, pieces of ceramics found by a man digging foundations for his house, and the discovery of a 3-metre deep clay pit containing a treasure trove of kiln rejects, many of which didn't look to be that imperfect.

The heart of John and Pat's collection is the ceramics that were made in the old northern Thai kingdom of Lanna some five to six hundred years ago, around 1350 to 1550 AD, and there are also interesting pieces from other Asian kilns. Also on display are Thai lacquer wares, silver and other curios.

As a brief introduction to Thai ceramics John told us that pots have been made in Siam/Thailand since Neolithic times. Sherds dated at 6000 BC have been found in the Spirit Cave near Mae Hong Son, and there are other sites in the north-east and west, of which the most famous is Ban Chiang, where beautiful red decorated earthenware urns and other artifacts were made from around 4000 BC to 200 AD.

The Mon Kingdom of Davaravati, to the west of Bangkok, flourished from the seventh to the eleventh century, while the sister Mon Kingdom of Hariphunchai in the north survived somewhat longer. There are still many Mon people in Thailand and Burma although they have been almost entirely assimilated. They made earthenware and terracotta Buddhist and architectural ornaments and some funerary urns. In the south fine unglazed kendi were produced and exported.

Glazed ceramics were probably first made in this region in the Khmer Empire in the ninth century. By the end of the thirteenth century production had ceased. Khmer wares are in a very different tradition from Thai glazed ceramics although, as many of the kilns are situated in what is now the north-east of Thailand, some call them Lopburi wares and treat them as our own.

It is, however, the high-fired, glazed stoneware that was produced, starting perhaps as early as the middle of the thirteenth century, but mainly between 1350 and 1550, in the Kingdoms of Lanna and Sukhothai, that are the pride of Thailand. It is these wares, in particular those from the kilns of Kalong that are at the heart of the Shaw Collection. Many think that Kalong wares are the finest ever to have been made in South-east Asia.

Tens of thousands of Sukhothai Town and Sisachanalai or Sawankalok wares were exported to Indonesia and the Philippines - Northern Thai wares, however, were not exported. It is wares from graves in these countries and from sunken junks in the Gulf of Thailand that most collections have been created.

In 1984 graves were discovered high in the hills along the Thai Burmese border - the Tak Hilltop Burial Sites. Many perfect pieces, never seen before were looted, wares from Lanna, Sukhothai, Burma, Vietnam and China, and most of these have ended up in private collections all over the world.

The Burmese destroyed the Thai world in the middle of the sixteenth century and ceramic production must have come to an end at that time or shortly after. In the following centuries unglazed stoneware was produced at Singhburi and near Ayuthaya. Chinese and Japanese blue and white wares were imported for everyday use - some were sent as royal gifts to the King of France.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Thai artists were sent to China to design the patterns of Benjarong or five coloured enamel wares for the royal court. European tableware also became popular. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the manufacture of celadon, probably with know-how from Burma, recommenced in the north and, today, there is a flourishing ceramics industry in Chiang Mai and Lampang.

Interspersed throughout his commentary were many anecdotes of the adventures he and Pat had had over the years they have spent acquiring pieces and building up their collection.

The evening was a great success and on behalf of all those who attended and myself I would like to extend to John and Pat our most sincere gratitude for their generous hospitality and all the work they put in to making it a delightfully convivial, and educational evening which will long be remembered by their guests. Many thanks.

For more information on the Shaw Collection go to their user friendly web
site at: www.shawcollection.com

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