The Museum’s Asian collection began with the Crockers’ daughter Jennie Crocker Fassett. Jennie and her husband pursued business interests in Korea in the 1910s and ’20s, and during their many trips to the East, became enamored of Asian art.
Jennie’s taste ran to ivories, jades, and ceramics, which she acquired and ultimately donated to the museum following her husband’s death in 1924. The Korean ceramics, notable among those gifts, formed the basis of the Asian ceramics collection. Over the years the collection has grown to include ceramics from throughout the region, with significant donations introducing new areas of interest.
For instance, the Hubert A. Arnold collection of twentieth century ceramics, which consists largely of Western wares and was given in the early 1990s, also includes works by such mod ern Japanese masters as Shoji Hamada and Tatsuko Shimaoka. The inclusion of works by these founders of the Mingei (folk art) movement affords not only a view into Japanese aesthet ics of the period, but also imparts a better understanding of the development of Western ceramics in the early twentieth century, as American and European potters looked to the East for inspiration.
While these Japanese ceramics are largely tea wares, Asian trade ceramics have influenced the course of ceramic devel opment for centuries and the Hiroko Hara and Shigeharu Takahashi Collection of Asian Trade Ceramics, donated at the beginning of this century, greatly expanded the Crocker’s holdings of work from Southeast Asia and China. The major ity of the Vietnamese and Thai vessels date to the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, though the Chinese pieces are later; all but a few were made for export. Other recent gifts in the medium of clay include Chinese tomb figurines, which bring further diversity to the ceramic collection.
Ceramics have not been the only area of strength in the Asian collection. Since the early 1990s, South Asia has been well represented through the William and Edith Cleary gift of more than 600 Indian and Persian miniature paintings and drawings. Along with additional donations from Anne and Malcolm McHenry and Phyllis Oja Jones, these paintings have formed the foundation of the South Asian collection. A gift of Southeast Asian decorative arts and sculpture of this century from the Doris Duke Collection of Southeast Asian Art has initiated a new direction in our South and Southeast Asian collecting.
The Duke gift added a sculptural dimension to the gallery that other recent gifts and purchases of South Asian sculpture, both Buddhist and Hindu, have further enhanced.
The objects in the Southeast Asian collection illustrate Buddhist Theravada practice, for in addition to Thai and Bur mese images of the Buddha, many donative objects found in Buddhist temples of the region are also included.
Recently acquired Indian and Himalayan sculpture illustrates other aspects of Buddhism. Gandharan narrative sculpture tells us of the Buddha’s life story, while Himalayan bronzes indicate changes in religious practice. Sculptural additions to the Hindu pantheon expand the way we interpret the Cleary collection, as many paintings and drawings depict the gods and goddesses of that religion.
Until recently, Indian paintings have been the primary focus of the Asian works on paper, but recent gifts have added a small, but fine, group of Chinese paintings, as well as a number of Japanese woodblock prints. Although gifts of collections have moved the Crocker into new realms, a small gift—such as a Japanese Edo period picnic box—impacts the way in which we view and interpret a region and period. The many donors and patrons who have thoughtfully added a single, well-loved work of art to the expanding Asian collection have collectively enriched the whole.