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Cultural Collections

$5M gift expands U-M Museum of Art's Chinese ceramics collection, creates Weese Program

By Christopher Ankney

Scythian Media

University of Michigan alumnus and longtime UMMA supporter William Weese has given a gift of art and endowment with a combined value of about $5 million that will expand the U-M Museum of Art’s Chinese ceramics collection.

The gift, which will create a new fund in support of scholarship and programming around ceramic arts, will greatly strengthen the museum’s place as a leader in ceramic arts and continue to build its nationally renowned collection of Asian art, according to Natsu Oyobe, curator of Asian art at UMMA

“This incredible collection includes many representative objects from several major periods in the history of Chinese ceramics, with special strength in art from the Ming and Qing dynasties,” Oyobe said. 

The collection Weese gifted, which is valued at $3.35 million, includes more than 1,000 ceramics and decorative arts from China’s Neolithic period through the Ming and Qing dynasties, with pieces dating from as early as 3000 BCE through to the mid-19th century. 

Having works of art that span such a vast time period will allow the museum not only to tell the progression of techniques, trends and tastes in Chinese ceramics, but how those trends and techniques filtered into the broader, more global ceramic arts scene. 

A Qing Dynasty Brush Holder, Kangxi reign (1662 – 1722)

“I have been studying and collecting Chinese art and ceramics since the early 1980s—the craftsmanship and history of the works has fascinated me my entire life,” Weese said. “My goal in gifting this collection to the University of Michigan is both to preserve it for generations to come, but also to help foster that same love and passion for the exploration of technique and history that I’ve developed over the years. I hope students embrace this love. I hope the community comes out to see it as well.” 

The gift will also create a $1.7 million endowment to establish the William C. Weese, MD Endowment for Ceramic Arts to “develop, promote and implement programs to further the education, appreciation and understanding of ceramic arts.” 

This endowment fund will be used to provide support for exhibitions, guest curators, consultants, new ceramic art commissions, museum staff, student internships or fellowships, ongoing research, program development, art acquisition, outreach efforts, symposia and other initiatives related to ceramic arts at UMMA. “Clay as Soft Power,” a touring exhibition planned by UMMA for 2022, will explore the role of ceramics as a diplomatic tool following World War II. Other initiatives will be developed and unveiled in the coming years. 

“We are incredibly grateful to the Weese family for their generosity,” Oyobe said. “I just know that the passion and love they felt for these pieces will continue to live on at UMMA and inspire a new generation of interest and scholarship for ceramics.”

Weese is a longtime U-M supporter and has built a strong legacy of developing programs in the arts and humanities. Together with his wife Lynn, he established the William C. Weese, M.D. and Lynn Wetherbee Weese Internship in Asian Art Fund in 2017. This gift supports student internship opportunities at UMMA and encourages students to study and appreciate Asian art. 

Weese has balanced a career in pulmonology with a passion for Asian art, and specifically Chinese art. He and Lynn are also deeply committed to supporting students and have established scholarships at several other universities in the medical and nursing fields.

Select pieces from the Weeses’ collection will be on view at UMMA as early as fall 2021. Meanwhile, online museum visitors can explore the collection in-depth with interactive features and curator commentary.

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