Dragon finial, Yuan dynasty, 13th-14th century. Courtesy Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.


Magic, Myth and Minerals: Chinese Jades from the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.

Animals—real and mythological—play a vital role in Chinese folklore and art. For centuries, Chinese people have attributed symbolic significance to birds, horses, bears, dragons, and many other creatures. Well aware of the power of these symbols, artists have long used them to enliven their works.

The Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery houses one of the nation’s premier collections of Chinese art. Among the treasures found in the Sackler Gallery are a number of exquisite, centuries-old animal figurines in jade.

Magic, Myths, and Minerals: Chinese Jades from the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery interprets the symbolism of these small jade masterpieces as well as what the objects meant to their original owners. It also explores the role and use of jade in Chinese society, touching upon the art of jade carving and introducing the special skills required to work the stone. (Smooth and lustrous, jade is too hard to carve with a knife.)

By comparing various jade animal sculptures, the exhibition highlights the skill and creativity artisans have painstakingly employed to shape lively, complex figures from the solid, colorful stone.

Magic, Myths, and Minerals includes 35 small jade sculptures dating from ancient times through the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Most of these pieces measure only a few centimeters across, and all are displayed in traveling casework that emphasizes their gemlike quality and the virtuosity of their carving technique.

Magic, Myths, and Minerals was organized by SITES in cooperation with the Sackler Gallery, and made possible in part by the Blakemore Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution Special Exhibition Fund.

Contents 35 antique Chinese jade animals (objects date from approximately 1200 B.C.E. to C.E. 1900), 1 specimen each of raw jadeite and nephrite, object brackets and mounts, floor and wall cases, decorative legend banners, photo-detail panels, text panels, labels.
Supplemental Brochure, educational materials, PR materials
Participation Fee

$8,250 for a 10-week booking period, plus prorated shipping

Square Feet (Meters) 1,000 sq. feet (95 sq. meters)
Crates 13

1,500 kg (3,300 lb.)

Category Art
Security High

Prorated, SITES-designated carrier

SITES Contacts Ed Liskey, 202.633.3142 (Scheduling)
Tour Through

February 2006


Dates   Host Institution Status
8/23/03 11/2/03 Perspective Gallery, Blacksburg, VA Booked
11/22/03 5/2/04 Museum of Arts and Sciences, Daytona Beach, FL Booked
5/22/04 10/31/04 Gemological Institute of America, Carlsbad, CA Booked
11/20/04 1/30/05 National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, WY Booked
2/19/05 5/1/05 The Trammel and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, Dallas, TX Booked
5/21/05 7/31/05 The Lentz Center for Asian Culture, Lincoln, NE Booked
8/20/05 10/30/05 Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Art Gallery, St. John's College, Annapolis, MD Booked
11/19/05 1/29/06 Dane G. Hansen Memorial Museum, Logan, KS Booked

Press Releases and Features


Smithsonian Travels Collection of Chinese Jades

Presented by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), "Magic, Myths, and Minerals: Chinese Jades from the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery" will premiere on Aug. 23 at the Perspective Gallery in Blacksburg, Va. The exhibition includes 37 small jade sculptures dating from ancient times through the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

"Magic, Myths, and Minerals" explores the art of jade carving, touching on the significance and use of jade in Chinese society, and introduces the extraordinary skills required to work jade. Most of the pieces on view are only a few centimeters across.

After leaving Blacksburg, Va. on Nov. 2, "Magic, Myths, and Minerals" will travel to Daytona Beach, Fla., Carlsbad, Calif., Jackson, Wyo., Dallas, Texas, Annapolis, Md., and Logan, Kan.

"Magic, Myths, and Minerals: Chinese Jades from the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery" was organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in cooperation with the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. This exhibition was made possible in part by the Blakemore Foundation and the Smithsonian Special Exhibition Fund.

Jade has fascinated the Chinese for more than 5,000 years. In ancient China, jade was recognized not only for its beauty and durability, but also for its reputed magical or supernatural qualities. It was believed that jade preserved the human body after death.

Jade long retained its symbolic value; however, in later centuries jade was primarily appreciated for its decorative appeal. Most of the animal sculptures seen in this exhibition were not made for ceremonial purposes, rather for private appreciation. Many of the animals that Chinese artisans represented in jade were taken from the realm of Chinese myth and fable. The objects in this exhibition are divided into sections that describe the significance of animals such as birds, dragons, horses, elephants, animals of the zodiac, and others.

The pieces in the exhibition vary as much in their look as they do in their significance. One piece depicts a mandarin duck, which holds a lotus in its beak. The duck is an emblem of faithfulness and marriage. Another piece painstakingly represents an elephant, which is regarded as a wise and patient animal in Chinese lore. Fashioned during the Song dynasty (10th-13th century), this piece displays the detail of a real elephant, taking into consideration the elephant's wrinkled skin, its curving tusks, its veined ears, and its large toenails.

There are few carving tools capable of carving hard jade rock. Instead, jade artisans apply a paste made from ground garnets, quartz sand, or other abrasive particles, and gradually wear away small areas of the jade to shape a sculpture. Jade workers must always consider the original stone when sculpting their pieces. Some of the best-loved jades are those in which the subject matter is perfectly adapted to the natural size, shape, and color of the original stone.

"Magic, Myths, and Minerals" interprets the symbolism of these jade pieces and describes what they meant to their original owners. Artisans recognized the power of these symbols and used them to enliven their works.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery opened in 1987 with a gift of almost a thousand works of Asian art given by Dr. Arthur M. Sackler. Sackler's gift included Chinese bronzes, jades, and sculpture. The Sackler Gallery holds one of the largest collections of Chinese jades in North America. The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is devoted to exhibition, education and research on the art of Asia.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science, and history, which are shown wherever people live, work, and play, including museums, libraries, science centers, historical societies, community centers, botanical gardens, schools and shopping malls.

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