In 1993 Douglas Dawson Gallery mounted its first exhibition of African ceramics – then a little known area of African art. At that time ceramic-specific literature was almost non-existent. Most academic information had been gleaned as an aside to other areas of interest to Western scholars doing field work in Africa. Scholars made note of ceramics but mostly in the context of gender studies (ceramics being, in most areas of Africa, the domain of women) or anthropological surveys of material culture in traditional African societies. Ceramics were seen primarily as a cultural marker whereby ethnicity was determined or clarified by the manner in which potters made pots. Little attention was directed to the pots themselves and even less to the aesthetic considerations of the potters.
Since then considerable changes have occurred in the study of African ceramics. Most museum exhibitions of African art now include ceramics. Increasingly ceramics are
recognized as an integral component of African art and ritual. The literature on ceramics has expanded significantly as museum exhibition catalogs, art books, and academic articles.
Terra Cotta: Twenty Years of Exhibiting African Ceramics, the eleventh exhibition on African ceramics mounted at this gallery, celebrates a quarter century of collecting, studying and promoting interest in this field. The exhibition will contain approximately thirty examples of rare, historic, traditional vessels and ceramic sculpture. Most pieces date between the late 19th century and World War 2, with priority given to pieces of significant aesthetic merit. Much of the African continent will be represented, many from cultures that abandoned pottery making decades ago.