The University of Pretoria curates and manages one of the most extensive ceramic collections in South Africa. These artefacts range from ancient pre-Columbian ceramics to one of the largest southern African comparative archaeological ceramic assemblages from Mapungubwe, as well as a vast collection of both Eastern and Western ceramics.
They cover the periods from the Neolithic era to the 21st century and have been donated, collected, bequeathed or purchased over decades. Research interest, mainly in Chinese ceramics and particularly the archaeological ceramics, resulted in acquisition and public exhibition of the collection, which in turn gave rise to a wide public awareness of the diversity of the ceramics collection housed at the University.
The collection includes exquisite porcelains, celadons, stoneware, earthenware, slipware, decorative items and glazed tiles, as well as bisque and other ceramic figurines such as rare commemorative World War I and World War II ceramics. As the diverse collection of European and African ceramics has gradually begun to find its social place in a new ceramics museum, so too has the research component significantly expanded.
Museum ceramics research is a core activity of the museum and in many instances research is largely an intangible component as it translates predominantly into exhibition panels, through conservation and collection management data.
The new ceramics museum is currently open for viewing but will only be officially launched in September 2016. The ceramics can now readily be appreciated by casual visitors, students, local and international tourists, as well as by specialists and researchers. The museum houses more than 982 ceramics, offering the possibility of further research, which is an ongoing process. Research has recently commenced on 589 of these pieces.
The Department of UP Arts is keenly aware that the beauty of the ceramic wares on display, the harmony of quality exhibition design, and the underlying scholarship has raised the standard of excellence in the presentation of museum ceramic collections. The collection will not only provide a greater appreciation for ceramics and their fine craftsmanship, but will generate greater research interest in university ceramic collection, which is generally not accessible elsewhere in South Africa.