Small Wonders: Snuff Bottles from Bay Area Collectors

Snuff bottle

July 15 – October 8, 2000

Wondrously intricate and beautiful, the diversity of Chinese snuff bottles has captivated people for three centuries. Over the years, they have found their way thousands of miles away from their place of origin and into the hands of international collectors. Amalgamating the most outstanding pieces from local collections, the Chinese Culture Center’s Small Wonders: Chinese Snuff Bottles from Bay Area Collectors exhibition will assemble one of the largest and most diverse snuff bottle displays. To be held from July 15 to October 8, the show is curated by Mr. Clarence Shangraw, currently Curatorial Consultant to the Crow Family Museum of Asian Art in Dallas. With Mr. Shangraw’s experience as Chief Curator Emeritus of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and Director Emeritus of the Tsui Museum of Art in Hong Kong, the viewer can expect exceptional organization and selection.

Since its introduction to China nearly 400 years ago, tobacco has gone through waxing and waning periods of popularity and condemnation. But regardless of tobacco’s overall level of acceptance, social convention continually favored snuff over smoking. Initially used to store medicines, snuff bottles were perfectly suited for tobacco storage in China’s climate, and their originally simplistic design quickly evolved into fine works of art. Made of glass, ivory, jade, gemstone, porcelain, and other materials, snuff bottles were further accentuated by carving intricate details on the surface, or by painting both on the exterior and interior surfaces of the bottle. By the 1700s, when snuff was reaching the height of its popularity, the snuff bottle found a high level demand as storage, conversation pieces, and collectibles.

Snuff bottle

Given the wide diversity of media, sizes, and time periods, this exhibition will diverge from convention and group the snuff bottles into 21 themes, ranging from dragons to landscapes. With snuff bottles attracting the curiosity and appreciation of collectors over 300 years, the show will sure to be a wonder for neophyte and expert alike.

Funding for this exhibition has been provided in part by Grants for the Arts of the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund and the California Arts Council.