A State-of-the-Art Stoneware Archive Is Opening Soon at the National Museum

It's set to house up to 291 stoneware objects from the 15th to 20th centuries.

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PHOTO Courtesy of the National Museum of the Philippines ILLUSTRATION War Espejo

(SPOT.ph) The concept of shopping and "Add to Cart" is nothing new. Before our people started buying things with money, our forefathers were into bartering with foreign traders that arrived on our shores. Spices, local produce, gold, jewelry, and ceramics were transferred from one hand to another in the spirit of acquiring one-of-a-kind items. Part of this is a long local history that has to do with stoneware, which the National Museum of the Philippines hopes to highlight with a state-of-the-art stoneware repository.

The first of its kind in the Philippines, the soon-to-open Elizabeth Y. Gokongwei Ethnographic Stoneware Visible Storage and Resource Center will be on the fifth floor of the National Museum of Anthropology. It was made possible through a grant by the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation, which said in a statement that the project's aim is to "provide better access to the ethnographic stoneware collections through the establishment of a resource center and visible storage, development of special tours and educational activities, for educators, students, researchers and the general public."

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The Elizabeth Y. Gokongwei Ethnographic Stoneware Visible Storage and Resource Center is set to be completed by December 2021.
PHOTO Courtesy of the National Museum of the Philippines
national museum of the philippines
It's set to house up to 291 stoneware pieces from the 15th to 20th centuries.
PHOTO Courtesy of the National Museum of the Philippines
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PHOTO Courtesy of the National Museum of the Philippines
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Aside from serving as a display space, the Center also hopes to facilitate more ethnographic studies.
PHOTO Courtesy of the National Museum of the Philippines

The resource center is set to display the National Museum's varied collection of 291 stoneware pieces, which are mostly high-fired and glazed. The artifacts are from the 15th to the 20th centuries, collected from different ethnolinguistic groups in the country, including the Ilokano, Ibaloy, Bontok, Ifugao and Gaddang communities in northern Luzon; Pala’wan and Tagbanua communities in Palawan, and Maguindanao, Maranao, and Tausug communities in southwestern Mindanao.

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According to Senior Museum Researcher Jessica Marquinez, most of these artifacts are considered as heirloom pieces. "They collect them and give them to families or kin as gifts, or traded as part of the social status or social prestige. If a family or a household has a collection of different jars, it means that they are of high status in their community," she explained. Some items are also used as "pabaon," which our forefathers entombed with their deceased for an easier journey to the afterlife.

It's a colorful history that Deputy Director-General for Museums Dr. Ana Labrador hopes to tackle more when the Center opens. "I think with this Center, we can learn much more when people come in and do their research with us. There's a lot more to know about practices," she added. Other interesting questions to ask, according to her, are the designs and aesthetic that were preferred, what these items were traded with, and what other considerations were taken into account when they bought these objects.

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A blue-and-white Pala'wan bowl from the 15th century (possibly from the Qing Dynasty) was collected by Dr. Robert B. Fox, then chief of the Anthropology Division of the National Museum, in 1962. The rare piece is the oldest artifact in the Museum's stoneware collection.
PHOTO Courtesy of the National Museum of the Philippines
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The archive will allow the National Museum to display the artifacts in all their glory, for people to actually see or, in some cases, touch them, says Labrador. Prior to the partnership, only 10% of the objects were displayed in the galleries. Some are in the different regional museums, while others are in shelves behind closed doors.

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Maranao Jar
PHOTO Courtesy of the National Museum of the Philippines
national museum of the philippines
Kandanilwan from the Pala’wan (18th century) 
PHOTO Courtesy of the National Museum of the Philippines
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Panuman (water container) from the Ifugao
PHOTO Courtesy of the National Museum of the Philippines

The National Museum of the Philippines also plans to organize programs for the sight-challenged to appreciate the collections, including a hands-on approach for feeling the texture, raised designs, and temperature of the stoneware pots. In the past, these were limited to the touring exhibition programs of the Geology and Paleontology Division that involved touching fossils and rocks. A similar project can be be done for high-fired and glazed stoneware artifacts since they are considered more resilient and less sensitive than other museum objects.

If stoneware isn't something you'd typically go for when visiting a museum, this new section of the National Museum and its potential for interactive learning and exploring might just change your mind. Labrador adds, "We would like the past to become relevant to the present. That could help people understand where they're going in the future."

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Erratum: This article has been corrected to further explain the National Museum's projects for the sight-challenged.

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