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Terracotta Art & History

Ancient though it may be, terracotta (aka terra cotta or terra-cotta) remains a décor mainstay throughout the world that has never really lost its appeal, despite being inexpensive, easy to acquire and altogether plain in appearance.

So, why do people love it so much? It’s hard to say, but a good guess is that it’s for those very reasons.

Terracotta History

It’s been around since the beginning of recorded history. In fact, ancient history was recorded ON IT. The Sumerians used to etch onto moist clay tablets and then let them harden in the sun as far back as 2400 BC.

It’s pretty meta – we know the history of terracotta because of terracotta. And, we tend to love things that have a history as rich as this. 

Terracotta Science

There’s not much science to terracotta, as demonstrated by the Sumerians some 5,000 years ago, but there were advances along the way. Sundried clay was only so strong, and it didn’t take too long for tribes to start firing clay, which resulted in a more durable product.

Refined clays added to the strength, and various forms of painting and sealing contributed to further improvement.

By the time the Chinese Terracotta Army marched into history, the material was very strong indeed. And, durability is very appealing, which is another reason why we like it. 

Terracotta Art

The Terracotta Army is perhaps the most famous example of terracotta art in the world, which makes it a fine example demonstrating the durability (both physically and historically) and significance of the medium. 

Writing tablets, pottery, game pieces and boards, tables, plumbing, tile – all these have been made from terracotta for thousands of years, and that’s no small thing. But, that the Chinese could use terracotta in assembly-line fashion to create thousands of life-sized terracotta warriors more than 2,000 years ago boggles the mind.

It’s a testament to the medium’s versatility, and proof that the best things never go out of style.

You can visit a few of the warriors and their legendary horse-drawn chariots in Chicago at the Field Museum through Jan. 8, 2017, if a trip to China isn’t in the cards for you this year. 

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