The Thorp Collection of Chinese Art, Art Collections | Earlham College
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The James and Eleanor Ballard Thorp Collection of Chinese Art

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The Art Collection is proud to maintain selections from the James and Eleanor Ballard Thorp Collection of Chinese Art in a permanent display at the top of the staircase in Lilly Library.

James Thorp was an integral part of the Earlham community for many years.  After graduating from Earlham in 1921, he held a position with the United States Department of Agriculture as a soil scientist.  From 1933-1936 he worked in China directing a soil survey for the Chinese government and training Chinese soil scientists in methods of soil analysis.  During his time in China, Thorp amassed an impressive collection of ancient Chinese art, and before his death in 1984, Thorp’s family donated a portion of this collection to Earlham.

Thorp 4Thorp 3Though relatively small, Earlham’s Thorp Collection contains representative pieces from most of the major periods of Chinese art history.  It is particularly strong in ceramics from the Tang Dynasty (618 – 908 A.D.), Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 A.D.), and Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 A.D.).  Celadon-glazed porcelain ceramics form a significant portion of the Collection.  The celadon glazes were first produced in China over 3500 years ago, and they remain well known for their soft blue and green colors.  Various bronze pieces ranging from the Warring States period (479 – 221 B.C) to the Song Dynasty are also notable, including mirrors, belt hooks and clasps, and currency.  Funerary figures and grave offerings from various periods, buried with the deceased to help him or her in the afterlife, are among other exciting pieces in the Collection.

Geology, soil science and art-collecting were only a few of James Thorp’s interests.  He was also an avid photographer and artist himself.  While in China with his wife, Eleanor, he photographed the countryside and documented rural life in some of the country’s most remote areas.  These images, donated to the College in the 1970s, provide a rich context for the objects in the Thorp Collection.


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