Shiwan Pottery | Mud Figures


History and Characteristics | Shiwan Art Pottery

As an important part of Chinese traditional culture, ceramic wares have a long history reflecting the customs of this ancient culture. One of the most famous types of ceramic works is called Shiwan, (Shekwan) ware, which has been the shining star in Chinese folk ceramic art as early as the Tang and Song Dynasties (618-906AD), and which flourished in the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Chinese classical Shiwan ware is a type of traditional pottery that comes from the talented artists of a small town located in the south of China called Shiwan, in Foshan City, famous for its culture and pottery. Here craftsmen are well-known for their glazing techniques and unique forms. All the sculptural work is hand-formed, and sometimes involves numerous family members within a village, while directed by a master craftsman, every object is unique, and therefore, a limited edition, which attracts art collectors the world over.

The main thrust of Shiwan Art Pottery ranges from artistic ceramics, figurines and animals, garden ceramics, elaborate roof tiles, stone-porcelain tile and artistic garden tiles. All are especially famous worldwide, particularly the figurines, both large and small. There are numerous art masters who have developed an outstanding tradition of creative Shiwan clay pieces,, ranging from realistic human figures, (men, women, (rarest), wise men and old sages), all which are holding cultural artifacts such as books, flutes, scrolls, pots and fish also fishing poles. Other objects of mystical importance, animal and zodiac forms, miniature sculptures, and tile-bridge pottery pieces, all based on particular local styles, customs, and technique. This unique artistic style made Shiwan ceramics extraordinarily splendid, (not to be confused with the export mud men, which were smaller figures made of mud-like clay forced into a mold and/or finger-formed, and used as decorative additions to in bonsai, planters and aquariums. These lack the expression, detail, and individuality of their handmade counterparts).

Good, antique and vintage, (1890-1950), Shiwan figurines and sculptures are quite rare because of their delicate, fragile nature. The greater the detailing, the more likely the figure has been made by a master artist, hence the higher value. Also the larger the piece, the more valuable, (8” or larger; pieces over 20” tall are extremely rare). The age of Shiwan ware can be verified by the markings, or lack of markings, the figural forms, decorative elements, the regional clay type (sandy, course clay is the oldest), and stylistic differences. Finally, pieces signed or stamped by the artist/craftsman are rare, and indicate the importance of the craftsman. The oldest Shiwan pieces, prior to 1890, will not have a signature or stamp. A mark of simply “CHINA” or “HONG KONG” is from 1890-1919. From 1920-1951 the phrase “MADE IN CHINA” was added to the mark. Since 1952, the stamp will include the pottery works stamp and a number, since they were mass-produced with minimal detailing, and poor color rendition. Original pieces are hand-formed; primitive in sculpting techniques; vivid in imagery; rich in hand-glazed colors, (yellow, blue green, red purple, pale blue, brown and white), and demonstrate exceptional three-dimensional techniques, unglazed clay faces, hands and feet, and highly expressive detailing.

All of the Shiwan figurines being offered on our site are from an estate of a long-time publisher and collector of antique, and vintage Chinese pieces, which were purchased prior to the 1960-70s. The collection was acquired under the advice and guidance of the late Rudolph Schaeffer, (1886-1988), a renowned educator, (Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design), and art collector at the time in San Francisco.

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