Clandon Park: ducks and other animals

Curator holding the stoneware duck

China figures, vases, cups and saucers are fragile. Or are they? Our experience at Clandon Park has proved this to be right, but also wrong.

Take this little duck as an example. It was made of stoneware in South Korea more than 600 years ago and during the fire it made the most remarkable journey. On display with feathered friends from Mrs Hannah Gubbay’s collection, the duck was in a rather superior mahogany cabinet looking down into the Marble Hall. 
The green celadon duck, plucked from the rubble
Closeup of the stoneware duck
The green celadon duck, plucked from the rubble

In the days after the fire, we mapped all the collection objects that, because of the pace of the fire, sadly weren’t among other collection items salvaged on the night. The duck, along with two parrots, a pair of chickens, three more ducks and, rather surprisingly for animal harmony, a cat and two lions, had to be left to fend for themselves. 
And what strength…what guts, that duck has shown us all.
Tuesday 8 September was a big day at Clandon Park. It was the day our archaeologists started to pick through the debris in the Saloon, a beautifully grand room on the ground floor. Carefully briefed with our plans and so aware of where any objects might be, they began to trowel through the ash. The first object to be dug out was our little duck friend who had flown all the way from the first floor, dodging a collapsing wall, falling roof and ceiling to land safely about 40 feet away.
That moment felt nothing short of miraculous, and the news spread quickly across the ‘salvage village’ and was met with big smiles. Ever hopeful that objects could be found amongst the ash, it was fantastic to have our optimism rewarded. The duck has slight damage, but is remarkably intact after a fall through fire.
Debris in the saloon confronts our archaeologists following the fire
Debris in the saloon after the fire at Clandon
Debris in the saloon confronts our archaeologists following the fire

What makes our stoneware duck so special?

This little swimming duck was made in Korea during the Koryô / Goryeo dynasty which dates it between 918 and 1392. A potter moulded the duck out of green stoneware called celadon and then incised it with the duck’s features such as the feathers and the lotus leaf on its back. The green colour comes naturally from the clay used in southern Korea and it is a happy coincidence that this resembles the colour of jade; a precious gem stone with royal associations which was admired for its rarity, hardness and beauty. In Korean culture the duck symbolises happiness and fidelity, because mandarin ducks mate for life.
The duck would've been used by a calligrapher as an essential part of a set of writing apparatus: mulberry tree paper and paper weights, brushes and pot, ink stone, ink stick and a container for water. The duck would have held a small amount of water, which would have been carefully tipped to wet a hard ink stone one drop at a time. This, in turn would have been rubbed to make a small amount of dark ink, which would have been used to write with a fine brush.
This was an amazing moment for us all to celebrate at Clandon and we wanted to share it with you.

A remarkable find

Sophie Chessum talks about the extraordinary flight through fire experienced by our tiny stoneware duck, the first object found by our archaeologists when salvage began.