Formed in 1969, the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society’s purpose is to widen appreciation and acquire knowledge of the ceramic art of China and countries adjacent to China, especially those of Southeast Asia. To pursue this aim, local members meet for periodic discussion, to hear talks by experts, and to study and compare ‘pots’.
The Southeast Asian Ceramic Society organised an inaugural Exhibition at the University Art Museum, Singapore in 1971. This landmark exhibition featured 350 examples of Khmer, Annamese and early Thai pottery, drawn largely from the university’s collection built by its curator, William Willetts. A substantial number of pieces also came from the collections of Helen Ling, the society’s first president, Don Sinclair and other members of the first council.
The historian John Guy has noted that this “presentation of the then little known ceramic tradition of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam caused a stir amongst the oriental ceramic cognoscenti.” Furthermore, “the Willetts pioneering Catalogue for the Society inspired a generation of younger scholars and stimulated the interest of government archaeological departments throughout Southeast Asia.” As a consequence, ceramic societies emerged in ensuing years in West Malaysia, Jakarta, Manila and Hong Kong, following the lead of the Singapore chapter.
The society held 10 exhibitions in the period 1971-2009, and since 1999 has organised an annual William Willetts Lecture, held immediately after the Society’s Annual General Meeting.
In 2009, the society celebrated its 40th anniversary by publishing a new book entitled Southeast Asian Ceramics: New Light on Old Pottery and arranging an exhibition of the same name held at the NUS Museum, Singapore from 14 November 2009 to 5 September 2010.
In 2019, SEACS celebrated its 50th anniversary with a series of talks by local and international experts, a joint symposium with SMU entitled “What’s so Fascinating about Ceramics”, a trip to the kiln sites of Jingdezhen and Longquan, and an exhibition in the National Library of Singapore. The exhibition featured representative ceramic items from each of the society’s exhibitions since 1969, with the corresponding catalogues (many of which are available for free public download from the National Library of Singapore as pdfs). The exhibition was open to the public March 20-April 20, 2019.
William Willetts Lectures
According to the Minutes of the 135th Council Meeting held on 29 April 1999:
“Point 3b. Name of Annual Lecture Following the Annual General Meeting: It was unanimously agreed to name the lecture, which follows the AGM, The William Willetts Lecture in memory of Mr Willetts who founded the Society.”
The first William Willetts Lecture was held in 1999. Below is the list of all the William Willetts Lectures held since then:
2010 Rose Kerr: “Chinese Ceramics made for export to Southeast Asia in the Victoria & Albert Museum”
2005 Heidi Tan: “New Insights on Rare Vietnamese Ceramics in the Asian Civilisations Museum Collection”
2004 Professor Kwa Chong Guan: “The Indianisation of Southeast Asia”
2003 Dr Kenson Kwok: “Blanc de Chine – the Hickley Collection”
2002 Mr Anthony Lin: “The Imperial Porcelains of the Kangxi Era”
2001 Mr Dorian Ball “Salvage from Shipwrecks – Recovering Antique Porcelain for Collectors”
2000 Mrs Jean Martin: “Chinese Blue and White Ceramics: Singapore 1978 in Retrospect”
1999 Mr. Christopher Frape: “The Jade Culture of Ancient Vietnam”
Exhibitions organised by the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society, Singapore
11th exhibition, 2019 – SEACS 50th Anniversary
10th exhibition, 2009 – Southeast Asian Ceramics: New Light on Old Pottery
9th exhibition, 1993 – Ceramics in Scholarly Taste
8th exhibition, 1991 – Spirit of Han: Ceramics for the Afterlife
7th exhibition, 1983 – Song Ceramics
6th exhibition, 1982 – Vietnamese Ceramics
5th exhibition, 1981 – Khmer Ceramics, 9th – 14th Century
4th exhibition, 1979 – Chinese Celadons and Other Related Wares in Southeast Asia
3rd exhibition, 1978 – Chinese Blue and White Ceramics
2nd exhibition, 1973 – Chinese White Wares
1st exhibition, 1971 – Ceramic Art of Southeast Asia