GIA Museum Shows Chinese Jade Carvings

A collection of intricate Chinese jade carvings will be showcased in the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) Museum in Carlsbad, Calif. May 24 – Oct. 31. “Magic, Myths, and Minerals: Chinese Jades from the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery” will be on loan from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). It includes 37 ancient jade sculptures dating from the Shang dynasty (13th-11th century B.C.) through the Qing dynasty (17th-18th century).

The exhibition explores the art of jade carving, touching on the significance and use of jade in Chinese society. 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. Early Chinese jades often were shaped for use in religious ceremonies and burial rites, and jade objects frequently were interred in the tombs of China’s ruling elite.

Most of the sculptures in this exhibition were not made for ceremonial purposes, but rather for private appreciation. The jade objects are divided into sections that explain the significance of what is represented, including animals, birds, dragons, horses, elephants, and Chinese signs.

One piece depicts a mandarin duck—an emblem of faithfulness and marriage—holding a lotus in its beak. Another piece represents an elephant, which in Chinese lore is regarded as a wise and patient animal. Fashioned during the Song dynasty (10th-13th century), this piece displays the detail of a genuine elephant, taking into consideration its wrinkled skin, curving tusks, veined ears, and large toenails.

A segment of the exhibition illustrates how jade sculptures were carved in early times. Because few carving tools were available to ancient peoples, artisans used an abrasive paste to gradually wear away small areas of the jade to shape a sculpture, says GIA Museum curator Terri Ottaway.

“Magic, Myths, and Minerals: Chinese Jades from the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery” is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in cooperation with the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. The exhibition is made possible in part by the Blakemore Foundation and the Smithsonian Special Exhibition Fund.

GIA’s Museum galleries are open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and are free and available to the public through scheduled tours. Contact Yvette Wilson, Guest Services supervisor, to schedule a tour: e-mail, or call (800) 421-7250, ext. 4116. Outside the United States, call (760) 603-4116.