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Forbes House Director Travels to China, Introduces Milton Museum at International Seminar

Robin Tagliaferri, the executive director of the Forbes House Museum, spent 10 days in China presenting at an export porcelain symposium and traveling.

Since taking over as Executive Director of the Forbes House Museum in 2010, Robin Tagliaferri has stressed collaboration and outreach. In late October, that outreach—and the potential for future international partnerships—stretched all the way to China.

Tagliaferri represented the Forbes House Museum, a family house museum that focuses on the local connection to the American China Trade and the Forbes family, during a 10-day trip to china that included an export porcelain seminar at the Nanchang University Museum.

Tagliaferri was one of 16 presenters at the weeklong symposium that featured speakers from the United States and China as well as England and the Netherlands.

“I got the chance to introduce everyone to the Forbes House,” said Tagliaferri.

Tagliaferri explained that much of China’s history was lost in the revolution, and that some of that history lives in the stories and artifacts at the Forbes House Museum.

In her presentation, Tagliaferri shared that Captain Robert Bennet Forbes, a 19th century China trade merchant, personally took the two-year trip to China multiple times to purchase porcelain.

She said the attendees were also very interested to learn about the Captain’s relationship with the Chinese official he interacted with during those visits.

Tagliaferri was struck by the fact she could be of service to the people who originated so much of the history at the Forbes House. The experience could be the start of a tighter relationship through history.

“It’s sobering in a way and it shows the great promise that these two cultures can work together,” she said.

Tagliaferri is currently brainstorming ideas to connect the Boston area house museums that have China trade history with Chinese historians.

“The distance isn’t going to inhibit us,” said Tagliaferri of a future exchange of information.

Two connections to China are what brought Tagliaferri overseas to begin with. Through the museum, Tagliaferri met Chun Ming Yu, a professor and founder of the Museum of Nanchang University and landscape architect Xio Wei Ma.

“He has gotten the bug of collecting Chinese export porcelain,” Tagliaferri said of Ma, who has offices in Boston, Shanghai and Beijing.

The Europeans and Americans began their visit to China in Shanghai where they met Ma for a traditional Chinese banquet. The stop was an opportunity to see his collection of porcelain as well.

They also visited an art museum before moving on to Nanchang for the symposium. Following the seminar they visited Jingdezhen to see ancient kilns and Beijing where stops included the national museum and emperor’s palace.

College students, who served as interpreters and guides, led the group’s travels.

“They were the glue that kept us together,” Tagliaferri said of the students.

Tagliaferri is currently putting together a workshop about her trip and is developing ways to reach local students with the information she learned in China.

“My thought is, I’d like to have a series of lectures,” she added as another idea.

The trip also opens Tagliaferri and others associated with the Forbes House to another visit to China. Since she’s done the scouting, Tagliaferri said she may lead a trip overseas next year or attend the next Nanchang porcelain seminar in 2014.

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