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Saturday University: The Colors of Space & Time

Although the Asian Art Museum is closed until further notice, the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas is still offering their popular Saturday University Lecture Series. This season, like all SAM programs, Saturday University is being offered virtually. Another unusual thing about this season is that it’s free! Tune in on Facebook live or Zoom every Saturday through November 21 for talks on Color in Asian Art: Material and Meaning such as The Color of Space and Time presented by Marco Leona, the David H. Koch Scientist in Charge of the Department of Scientific Research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Marco Leona speaks on recent findings on the materials and techniques of Edo and Meiji Period paintings and prints in the recording of this lecture from October 10. Japanese painters and printmakers of the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) period achieved a rich visual language within a narrow range of pigments. Yet artists such as Jakuchu, Korin, and Hokusai produced evocative possibilities in ways far more complex than generally thought, especially in experiments with new synthetic color.

Leona shows how technological developments were not only readily embraced, and often prompted by artists and their audiences, but also that they in turn created new forms of expression.

The Saturday University Lecture Series is presented with the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies and the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Object of the Week: Rat water dropper

Made from ceramic, bronze, copper, or even jade, water droppers are small vessels used in calligraphy and brush painting. Designed with two small holes, one for adding water and one for dispensing water, only a few drops fall out at a time—a crucial feature when preparing liquid ink, which involves grinding a stick of ink against an inkstone with water.

Though an unassuming instrument, water droppers have a long history. The earliest known examples of Chinese water droppers can be dated to the 5th and 6th centuries, while Japanese water droppers date to the 8th century. Centuries later, during the Edo period (1603-1868) and into the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan saw the emergence of more complicated water droppers in various shapes and sizes, ranging from plants and deities to animals and fruits.

Such decorative droppers became popular accessories for the nobility and literati, and were often inscribed or made in auspicious forms. The zodiac animals are a set of calendar symbols that came to Japan from ancient China, and their representation served to invoke good luck and prosperity. This 19th-century dropper in SAM’s collection, modeled in the shape of an undeniably expressive and charming rat (the first animal in the zodiac), was likely intended to symbolize success, creativity, and intelligence.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection and Provenance Associate

Image: Water dropper modeled as a rat, 19th century, Japanese, bronze, 1 5/8 x 3 1/2 x 1 7/8 in., Gift of Frank D. Stout, 92.47.119