Chinese Folk Art Ceramics

I have always been partial to Folk Art Ceramics, even though they are inexpensive and rustic. It wasn't until recently that such pieces began to get attention from scholars. Their art value is based primarily on the paintings along their sides. Many of the books written on this subject have decided that the auspicious patterns drawn on the folk ceramics are a reflection of the poor people's hope for a better life.

I grew up in a very small village in Tainan. My grandmother was a farmer, so she could not read or write, I was too young to attend kindergarten, so during the day, she and I spent lots of time together. I remember how when a villager brought us a bowl of cooked sweet rice, Grandma would tell me to transfer the rice to what we called the "rooster bowl", and then wash and dry the villager's bowl. The bowl would be returned with our thanks, but not before we filled it with uncooked rice. I remember how the ceramics that we used all had paintings on them, whether it was a rooster, some fish, bamboo, oranges or even sunflowers. Dishes were almost always referred to by the name of the painting. My grandma nor my mother nor anyone else ever mentioned that rooster meant good luck, or that bamboo represented hope for a job promotion. We did not have many pieces of dishware, just one or two of each pattern, so there were times when we children fought for a particular pattern of bowl or plate. The ceramics were not of high quality, they were rough, often with uneven bases but they were "precious". If we broke any, we were beaten badly. I have a friend who owns an antique shop, and his mother is a famous artist. She does beautiful calligraphy and paintings. I had never thought that he, with his "well educated" parents, would ever undergo the "barbarian" things that happened in my family. I could not believe my ears when he spoke of how when he was young he was beaten with bamboo sticks if he ever broke any dish ware. Each household had only a few dishes, so if any villager was getting married and giving a banquet, dishware would be borrowed for the event. Also when villagers gather to worship ancestors, an event that happens many times a year, or when there are family celebrations, each family would bring food in their own dishes. In order not to mix up the dishes, often they will be marked with red paint or the family name or symbol would be etched into the bottom.

I have always thought folk ware as unique:
1. The ceramics have been used by millions of people and improved over hundreds of years. Its design is an accumulation of wisdom. For instance, the chicken water bowl is so well balanced that it just will not tip over.
2. An average folk ware painter painted over 1000 pieces per day. So you may find extraordinary handsome brushwork on the folk ware. Besides on lots of practice, painters had the freedom to add their own creation, so the artwork is very liberal. Consequently, on a rooster bowl, the rooster is depicted in a flowing motion as if it is moving.
3. Sometimes I find Lajiward cobalt blue was used in the folk ware. The clay quality on the ceramic is not as fine, but the real beauty is found in the brushwork and color. You will love them just as well as a very expensive piece.
4. There are many imitations of high end ceramic ware or imperial ware. When one is ready to pay high prices for expensive ware, one also has to worry about imitations. Since folk ware is inexpensive and for general use, the price is low, and getting an imitation is not such a concern. In fact, there are just many fewer imitations to begin with.

Antique folk ware are real "antiques", but affordable, and you may enjoy using them without too much of a burden. I have a customer who sells teapots, sometimes one teapot sells for a million dollars. He brought his son to my store to buy folk ware teacups. He told his son that these were real antiques, and inexpensive. These were what one should use to begin an art collection with appreciation. I tell my children the same thing. I only hope that they will believe me one day.