I've always been attracted to blue and white porcelain so for the past few months I've been looking around for a few pieces that could be the start of a tiny collection.
I was surprised at the range of ceramics available.
Landmark's display of blue and white ceramics
At the home section of department stores, there are inexpensive jars and vases for a few hundred pesos. They look brand new and shiny, the colors bright and even. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for.
Then I came across the pot traders in Mandaluyong who bluntly asked me if I was looking for antiques: "anong klaseng gusto niyo? Yung may glaze or wala? Puede kahit ano" (What kind of antiques are you looking for--those with glaze or without? We can make any) Don't you love our access to made-to-order-antiques?
new jars, made to look old
Then of course there are the pieces which are priced so high, and dealers mouthing off "Qing dynasty" this and "Ming dynasty" that. This was all too intriguing.
Then on a trip to Baguio last summer, I happen to walk into the shop of Mary Ngalawen, an antiques dealer (and apparently a healer too). She obviously could tell that I didn't know anything about blue and whites-- and was happy to explain to me what each piece was and why it was considered common or important.
Mary Ngalawen showing me some antique powder cases
She showed me some of the ceramics she had in the store and explained the patina of different pieces. Ceramics that have been found in the ground usually have the glaze worn off, and those that are still intact is because the piece has been passed down through generations or was found in a shipwreck. Aha! No wonder those Mandaluying dealers were asking me what type I wanted.
When I told her I was beginning to read about blue and whites, she encouraged me to continue researching and to come back whenever I visited Baguio. She was so modest to even add, "naku, after you've read and studied everything, you'll know more than me!" She said all her knowledge comes from many years' experience of handling these wares.
An excerpt from a book 'Way of the Ancient Healer", by Virgil Apostol, which I found online
After visiting her three times this summer I was more sure I wanted old wares and not newly-minted decorator-style ones, even if these new ones are very pretty.
new blue and white ceramics at a home store in Istanbul
I have since ordered books online. The history of blue and whites goes way back and is extremely fascinating.
The best part about this research is that the Philippines figures largely in most (foreign) books because it was within the trade route of China.
This explains whey there are a lot of old blue and white wares in the country, and the reason why everyone has a tita or lola who probably has old Chinese wares at home.
And what a surprise to find--right in my own "backyard"--the Ayala Museum has a permanent collection of blue and white porcelain!
They have an extensive display of old tradeware from the private collection of the Villanueva family. If only we could handle them...
But what got me excited was this...
I haven't checked it out yet and I wonder if it will be too nerdy for my taste but can't wait to find out!
And so the learning continues...