Ceramicist, Paul Chaleff’s – “Postcard from China”


A few weeks ago, we got an email from
internationally known ceramicist, Paul Chaleff. He was a resident artist in Jingdezhen, China and he just arrived home.  We are so proud to carry his extraordinary work at Hammertown Barn.

[click photos to enlarge]

Hello from  Jingdezhen, China!

This city has been the center of porcelain-making for the past one thousand seven hundred years and is still a major production center for Chinese porcelain of every sort.  Even the light poles in the streets are made (hand thrown on an immense scale) of porcelain.  I am here as a resident artist at the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute where I am working in a large studio making sculpture and pottery in porcelain.  The work here is done by experts (masters) in each area of ceramics:  throwers, firers, trimmers, decorators (called painters here), clay makers, clay deliverers, pottery crate makers, pottery movers — every job is defined and it is almost unheard of for an artist to be both a thrower and a decorator.  There are over 400,000 people working in porcelain manufacture in this city and most of them do their work by hand.

Today I worked with a professional thrower of porcelain whose skills even though he is only 33 years old, would be almost unimaginable in the United States.  I am somewhat awed and humbled by the level of skill evident here.

On Monday I went to an antique pottery market where local people bring in shards and objects for sale, some of these pieces are 500 years old and more; there were hundreds of shoppers sorting through the pieces.  Yesterday I attended an open-air ceramic fair where the participants are young, just starting out, ceramic artists and potters.  The skill level, even here, was amazing and what I noticed was that even the shoppers were very young.  Many galleries from Shanghai and Beijing come to this market every week to buy young artists’ work.   China is a very exciting place for young people, especially young artists as art is a very important part of the Chinese culture and artists are well-respected in this society.

There are many graduate students of ceramics here, not only from the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute, but from other art universities in China and abroad.  I just finished dinner with a number of these graduate students (it is now 9pm here, 9am in New York), a group of them came from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CCAFA) where an old friend of mine, Pequin Lv is the Dean of Sculpture.  There are about 200 professors in the sculpture department that he oversees.  Can you imagine having 200 sculpture teachers in your university department? Everything here is on a grand scale, one we cannot even start to fathom from the U.S.

Although their training in figurative work is very strong, the students in China are intrigued by Western contemporary issues and movements and have a great interest in coming to my studio to talk.  I have given three lectures here at the Ceramic Institute, the first was so well attended (over 1000) that we could not fit the remaining interested students into the lecture hall.  I repeated the lecture the next night to another large audience. The following night I was asked to do another one for the workers at the Sculpture Factory, a great conglomeration of factories and craftsman’s shops where the workers and their apprentices attended.  The questions from the students and workers were quite sophisticated, none of the technique oriented questions I usually get in the U.S.   Why do you do what you do, what is your thought process during the making of the work, how do you reconcile tradition with modernity… seemed to be on their minds.  Although I am not teaching here, I am very impressed with these students.

The food here is spectacular, even street food is excellent although sanitation is certainly “third world”.  I often go to a noodle shop where noodles are made by stretching out the dough by hand and folding it until it contains hundreds of strands of thin noodles.  None of that dry Ronzoni here in the ancestral home of spaghetti.  Even the foreign students from France (designers from the Limoges workshop) are amazed by the variety and quality of the cooking here.  I am afraid I will be 20 pounds heavier when I return to Ancram.

I hope that you are all well, productive and enjoying the spring.

Best wishes to all of my Ancram friends –

Paul Chaleff

1 Comment

  • Rosey says:

    Wow! Paul, thank you so much for the detail: the number of professors and sophisticated student responses to your lecture impress me so much, as do the number of people who come to hear you speak.

    The age of the industry, the output, the hand work – It’s all rich and alien!

    Thank you

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