If there are two product classes that dominate the decorative market here in the desert, they would be art glass and workshop pottery. Both are mid-century staples and add shape and color to any decor. Yet while most of our pottery comes from small home makers, some types have deep roots in other cultures. One of them is celadon, an Asian technique that usually (but not always) results in a distinctive pale green glaze. Celadon has a fascinating history and a growing following outside of the Far East. It deserves a visit.
Originating in China centuries ago, celadon pottery in its traditional hue is created when the right amount of iron oxide is added to the glaze and then fired at high temperatures. Too much and the glaze turns olive and even black; too little and the glaze turns blue. Neither are necessarily bad results and sometimes reflect the desires of the maker, but celadon’s original green hue and close resemblance to the color of jade was a big part of its initial appeal. From China, where the high ranks of the imperial court were great enthusiasts, celadon took hold throughout Southeast Asia and won fans in countries like Japan, Korea and Thailand.
Besides its green color, celadon glaze is also prone to “crazing”, which is actually a defect but incidental in that it leaves the glaze with a distinctive network of fine cracks that do not affect the integrity of the vessel. underlying.
This “crackle glaze” adds a patina of age to celadon pottery in much the same way that old glaze denotes age in antique oil paintings. Celadon connoisseurs can judge not only the vintage of an old piece but also its heritage. Chinese celadons have evolved over the centuries in style and color. Those made for export were usually green while some brown or off-white pieces were reserved for domestic buyers. The designs and ornamentation were kept relatively simple, allowing the glaze to serve as a distinctive feature of the piece.
Japanese production of celadon followed that of China by about ten centuries. Its adoption was slow – partly because of celadon’s high breakage rate during cooking and also because a key ingredient in the glaze was not widely available in Japan.
While some Japanese celedons may be elegant, most were made in utilitarian forms such as sake bowls, cups, and plates. Decorative and ceremonial pieces were often fired to produce a blue or bluish-white color. Over the past 200 years, a number of prominent Japanese artists have specialized in celadon, some becoming international rock stars among collectors.
Elsewhere, countries like Korea, Thailand and Vietnam have incorporated celadon into their cultural aesthetics, each with their own twists. Korean techniques have evolved steadily over the past thousand years, interrupted only by the Mongol invasions during the 13th century. Their pieces are often highly ornate with layers of clay adding depth and complexity to the shapes. Celadon from other parts of Southeast Asia is equally distinctive.
Thus, whether by era, color or culture, celadon collectors have many avenues to explore and many pieces at very affordable prices. If you’re looking for the right piece in that distinctive seafoam green, Celadon is a good place to start.
Mike Rivkin and his wife, Linda, are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. For many years he was an award-winning catalog editor and authored seven books, as well as countless articles. Now he is the owner of the Palm Springs Antique Galleries. His column on antiques appears on Saturdays in The Desert Sun. Want to send Mike a question about antiques? Email him at [email protected]