These collectible Mudmen of China figurines were hand made by artisans during the early 20th century. The history of the mudmen figurines can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty, when artisans in South China began creating them. (TMP Photo/J. Bragg)
Someone recently asked if I collect things.
I read once that to qualify as a collector you needed to have seven of something. I have sevens of a lot of things, and all are important to me.
There are the porcelain black and white spotted dogs in my study and the fillpots, which are similar to the famous Toby Jugs, sitting beside my antique trophies stacked among scores of books. I also have antique handkerchiefs and odd pieces of old needlework.
Yes, I collect things.
When my mother was ill in 1989, I would drive to Knoxville to sit by her side.
She was on hospice care, and we knew it would not be around much longer. It was comforting to be with her after relieving my other siblings.
I would usually drive back home following a nap, but sometimes I would browse antique stores to unwind.
On one such occasion, I bought three ceramic-type characters, and at the checkout the clerk said to me, “Oh, you’ve bought mudmen.”
I had no idea what they were. They just reminded me of some inexpensive oriental figurines Mother owned.
I later learned they are Chinese made figurines, featuring mostly men, from the early 20th century and were used in bonsai plants, planters and vases. They are modeled out of clay and generally hold fish, scrolls or other objects in their hands.
The older figures are glazed in blue, green and yellow, and their facial features are usually holes in the clay. No two of these are the same.
When I brought them home, I was happy with my purchase, which of course led to finding more.
I found the next one at an antique show near Nashville. It featured a seated man with a cracked white glaze and looked like it was carved on three fingers, instead of two.
I think I paid $35 for it. Now, I know I was lucky to find it because, while it was one of my earliest pieces, it is among the most unusual.
The rest came once at a time, many from the Oaklands Antique Show and Sale.
I just found a receipt rolled up in the bottom of one of my nicer ones dated 2007. That is probably one of the last ones I have bought because they are becoming increasingly hard to find. And to be honest, I have enough.
When my grandchildren were here in July, I was thrilled to see they had taken the mudmen carefully out of their Plexiglas case and played with them as if they were dolls.
While these figures are dear to me, they are virtually indestructible, and I loved seeing them in their little hands.
A few years ago, I found the receipt for my original purchase at the Knoxville antique mall and was taken aback when I saw the date: Dec. 9, 1989.
That was the last day I drove home from Mother’s bedside because three hours later they called me to say she had passed.
When I leave these figures to my children, I will pass along the stories of where they came from and what they mean. I hope these material objects will give them some of the happiness they have given me.
‘Til next week.