Collected porcelain jars, wine pots and cups. Credit to Zhu Li.
Collected bronze sword and mirrors. Credit to Zhu Li
This summer I began working in Collecting Department of Nanjing Museum as an intern remotely. Nanjing Museum is one of the three largest museums in China and was the first comprehensive museum invested and built by the central government in 1930s. Since Nanjing was the old capital in many dynasties in ancient China, innumerable valuable historic relics were discovered in this area which represent brilliant civilization of different periods. Most of them are stored and displayed in Nanjing Museum now.
The major duty for this department is to search for qualified historic objects from outside which have potential to be displayed in an exhibition and worth preserving and studying. They make collecting plans, calculate the budgets, communicate with the seller, identify the authority of the newly collected objects, make decisions and finally submit the report. They have close relationships with Exhibition Department because in most cases the main purpose of collecting is to fill the vacant spots of a new exhibition. Regular meeting will be held between two departments to exchange thoughts when a new project was proposed. Exhibition Department will describe the topic and make clear clarification of the objects they want and Collecting Department will try their best to satisfy their requirement.
My major work was building an electronic document database which recorded the basic information of all collected objects including name, dynasty, shape, color, technique and original owner. Each object we collected during this period can be looked up easily by typing in the key word. So far it has included over 2000 objects. The excel skills I leaned in Digital Media (HSPV 660) is very useful in this process. It was a great a pity that I had to do my job remotely which means I couldn’t touch and feel every object we collected for the display. However, I still learned many useful skills especially on identifying historic objects from experts on the regular online meetings. Besides the interns, there are six staffs working in the Collecting Department. They are all experts in identifying historic objects and each one is well experienced in one or more specific fields, such as gold, bronze, jade, classical Chinese painting and calligraphy. In general, the experts identify the objects based on their experience rather than technique skills. They tend to rely on traditional method with their eyes and hands rather than microscopes.
My supervisor is graduated from Nanjing University and haven been working in the porcelain field for 10 years. As a result, compared with other materials I became more familiar with porcelain, which also took the largest proportion in all collected historic objects. I read many related academic books such as Chinese Porcelain and studied lots of precious samples on the official website of the Palace Museum. Conservation Science (HSPV 555) really helped me to have a better understanding of the process of the porcelain production. From a close observation, recognition, decoration (color and pattern), body and glaze all can be critical clues to the identification results.
Over all, I enjoyed my position and the working atmosphere was perfect. All of the experts were friendly and willing to share their knowledge and experience to me, a greenhand. Although many of them are over 50 years old, they are still energetic and travel around the province to collected objects which may deserved to be preserved. I think they have set an ideal career model for me.