MAD masterclass: ENTRE VOS MAINS

Hands-On Ceramics

This tiny cup is the result of a huge amount of time and effort — each color required a separate round of glazing of firing. The thin, translucent quality of the material made it highly desirable, so the surface decoration merely augments an already-precious piece.


On Saturday, February 10, MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies students were able to break that ultimate law of museums–DO NOT TOUCH. After a tour with curators Béatrice Quette and Sophie Motsch to see how ceramics are currently displayed in the museum, the students were led down into the reserves, where objects await installation or transfer to a storage facility. There, they were treated to an hour-long session where they got to handle ceramics from different times, places, and production methods.

MA HDCS student Celia Hsu examines a finely-etched pattern on the gilding of this cup. The gold is incredibly delicate, so gloves are worn when handling to prevent it from being rubbed off.


How can you tell the difference between hard- and soft-paste porcelain? What changes between European stoneware and Korean stoneware? While observation can reveal much about objects, nothing can replicate a direct, tactile experience. Weight, texture, balance, density, opacity, scale–all of these elements are revealed only when witnessed in person.

The best way to understand something is to have it in front of you, ideally, in your hands.

This piece of Korean stoneware may seem simple at first glance, but holding it reveals the subtle complexity of textures at play, from the rough raw clay a the base to the silky smooth top layer of glaze.