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Cover Stories Series 2011> The National Museum of China Reopens> Archive
UPDATED: February 12, 2011 NO. 7 FEBRUARY 17, 2011
Charm of Purple Clay
A private museum in Wuxi is devoted to purple-clay art

A purple-clay teapot (XINHUA)

Purple-clay art pieces will be on display in a museum opening soon in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. The museum, named Shuaiyuan Purple Clay Museum, is part of the Shuaiyuan Purple Clay Art Exhibition Center—a large complex of 50 exhibition halls covering 1.7 hectares.

After passing through the museum's tall and heavy wooden gates, visitors will be able to see various rare purple-clay artworks from different dynasties and periods. The museum's collection includes more than 1,000 purple-clay teapots and other objects. Among them are works by purple clay masters such as Gu Shaopei, Wang Yinxian, Jiang Rong, Lu Yaochen, Xu Xiutang, Xu Hantang and Ge Jun.

All these graceful works have a distinct Chinese flavor. For example, a huge purple-clay teapot stands at the museum's entrance. At nearly 2.9 meters high by 1.9 meters in diameter, the teapot features a style developed by Su Dongpo, a famous artist, poet and statesman of the Song Dynasties (960-1279). The teapot integrates many art techniques, including kneading in teapot making, sculpturing and painting. It took almost a year to complete and was created under the supervision of the famous artist Gu Shaopei and Li Shuaiyuan, President of the Purple Clay Art Exhibition Center in Wuxi. The teapot can hold 2,500 liters of water.

In addition to the exhibits, purple clay artisans will also display their craftsmanship at the museum. Visitors can learn about the entire process of creating a purple-clay teapot.

Li, also the museum's founder, graduated from a medical college and worked in various enterprises for several years. Due to his enthusiasm for purple-clay art, however, he set up a purple clay business in the 1990s. Now, after nearly 20 years, Li owns the Shuaiyuan Purple Clay Art Exhibition Center and has established his own brand.

After setting up his business, Li realized that China lacked systematic research and collection of purple-clay art. In 2000, after consulting with experts and artists on purple-clay art, Li decided to build a museum to collect and display different styles of purple-clay artworks of masters. The museum will also facilitate trade of purple-clay works by collectors. In addition, the musuem will host academic seminars on purple-clay art, with the goal of continuing and spreading this traditional art.

Purple clay is the generic term for the clay material midway between earthenware and porcelain. The history of purple-clay pottery in China dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.), but it was in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that purple clay was used in the teapot making. Tea made in purple-clay teapots can retain its fragrance for a long time without getting stale.

A purple-clay ware completely made by hand is not only excellent in brewing tea but also an exquisite artwork. Its aesthetical beauty derives from the variety of colors, its texture, the exceptional artistic design in shape, and superb workmanship of the artisan. A classic purple-clay piece needs perfect combination of all these factors.

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