WORTH THE DRIVE: 5 reasons you need to see the famous Terracotta Warriors in Cincinnati

A regiment of terracotta soldiers stands in a tomb pit at the Museum of the Terracotta Army in Xian, China.
Caption
A regiment of terracotta soldiers stands in a tomb pit at the Museum of the Terracotta Army in Xian, China.

Many objects have never been seen in the U.S.

"Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China" opened at the Cincinnati Art Museum April 20 after a run at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond and will be on display until Aug. 12.

>>RELATED: 12 museums you must explore in Dayton

Displayed in three large galleries, the exhibition focuses on the story of the First Emperor's rise to powerthe history of his Qin state, and his quest for immortality.

>>MORE: 6 of the BEST places for Chinese food in Dayton

Major objects come from the First Emperor’s well-known mausoleum complex in Xi’an and from other Qin tombs as well. Here are 5 reasons to go:

1. It’s the only place you’ll be able to see them in the U.S.

A partygoer is accused of taking a thumb from an exhibit of terracotta statues on loan from China to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
Caption
A partygoer is accused of taking a thumb from an exhibit of terracotta statues on loan from China to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

The Cincinnati Art Museum and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond collaborated on the exhibition and will be the only venues at which it can be seen before the precious objects are returned to China. The exhibit just finished its run in Virginia and will be in Cincinnati through Aug. 12.

>>PHOTOS: Take a look inside Dayton’s new Funk Museum

2. Dayton helped make this happen 

Cincinnati curator Hou-mei Sung talks about a rare bucket-shaped mask which dates from 4000-3000 BC. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Cincinnati curator Hou-mei Sung talks about a rare bucket-shaped mask which dates from 4000-3000 BC. CONTRIBUTED

A close friendship between two art museum curators who first met when they worked in Dayton and Cincinnati has resulted in an exhibition of ancient Chinese artifacts, many of which have never before been seen in the United States.

 >>TAKE A LOOK: Origami art reaches a whole new level in this Dayton exhibit

The two curators, both originally from China, met in 2003 when Li Jian, now the Curator of East Asian Art at the Virginia Museum, was working as the Kettering Curator of Asian Art at the Dayton Art Institute and Hou-mei Sung came to Cincinnati as curator of Asian Art.

>>RELATED: 6 must-see works at the Dayton Art Institute

Daytonians will remember Li Jian’s impressive show at the DAI in 1998; she curated “Eternal China: Splendors from the First Dynasties” with 12 life-size terracotta warriors on display.

3. Many objects have never been seen in the U.S. 

A regiment of terracotta soldiers stands in a tomb pit at the Museum of the Terracotta Army in Xian, China.
Caption
A regiment of terracotta soldiers stands in a tomb pit at the Museum of the Terracotta Army in Xian, China.

Don’t assume because you’ve seen terracotta warriors in other cities — or even visited the mind-boggling site in Xi’an — you won’t learn a lot in Cincinnati.

This exhibit features about 120 objects drawn from 14 Chinese museums and archaeological institutes and provides an excellent education about a ruler who was ahead of his time in a variety of significant ways.

>>RELATED: The artist who painted President Obama’s portrait has work on display at the Dayton Art Institute

It takes a big ego to order a 38-square mile tomb for your afterlife — complete with a palace, an armory, an entertainment area, stables, a garden pond and an estimated 8,000 life-size terracotta warriors.

But after touring this exhibit, you’ll see why Ying Zheng — who became king of Qin at age 13 and lived from 259-210 B.C. — had reason to boast and consider himself special.

4. Each figure is unique 

A Cavalry Horse from the Qin dynasty, 221-206 BC. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
A Cavalry Horse from the Qin dynasty, 221-206 BC. CONTRIBUTED

“No two warriors are alike,” explains Sung, who with her colleague selected the warriors that would come to America. “The body parts were molded and mass produced but each was then given individual features such as hair, mustaches and facial expressions. We wanted to show a variety of different ranks so you’ll see not just a general but a cavalryman, an armored charioteer, a kneeling and standing archer.”

>>Bucket List: See Frank Lloyd Wright's Westcott House

The exhibit is fortunate, she adds, to obtain warriors that still have traces of color on them. Originally all of the figures were painted in vibrant colors including purple, red, green, blue, brown, orange, yellow, white and black.

“The details on these objects are just amazing,”says Sung. “When we were installing the bronze goose, I had a flashlight and could see the webbing on the feet. And look at this horse’s braided tail!”

>>MORE: Your guide to art galleries in Dayton

Sung explains that the custom in China was for emperors to start building their tombs when they were first enthroned. “He wasn’t the first to build a tomb but it was the scale of his tomb that was so unusual,” she says. “He was obsessed with immortality.”

5. It’s family friendly! 

XI'AN, CHINA - MARCH 24: First Lady Michelle Obama with her daughters Malia Obama and Sasha Obama visit Museum of Terracotta Warriors during a visit to the historic excavation site on March 24, 2014 in Xi'an, China. Michelle Obama's one-week-long visit in China will be focused on educational and cultural exchanges. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)
Caption
XI'AN, CHINA - MARCH 24: First Lady Michelle Obama with her daughters Malia Obama and Sasha Obama visit Museum of Terracotta Warriors during a visit to the historic excavation site on March 24, 2014 in Xi'an, China. Michelle Obama's one-week-long visit in China will be focused on educational and cultural exchanges. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

The terrific Family Guide takes children on an archaeological adventure. Kids can color a terra-cotta warrior, design a coin and use clues to search for specific items in the exhibit .

>>MORE: 4 reasons Dayton moms love the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery

Concludes Sung: “I hope visitors will realize that many of the unification efforts of the First Emperor have continued to shape and influence succeeding Chinese dynasties for 2,000 years.”

>>LEARN MORE: Get a rare glimpse at famous Terracotta Warriors in Cincinnati

WANT TO GO? 

What: "Terracotta Army: Legacy of the Firest Emperor of China" 

When: Through Aug 12

Where: The Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati

Admission: Timed tickets are free for museum members and are available for purchase by the general public at the online at cincinnatiartmuseum.org. General adult admission tickets are $16 at the front desk, $8 for college students, seniors (65+) and children (6-17 years). Free access to the exhibition will be available on Thursdays 5-8 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. during Art After Dark events on Friday, May 25, June 29 and July 27. Timed tickets are required during these times. Dayton Art Institute members are permitted one free ticket to the exhibition but must present their DAI membership card at the Visitor Services Desk.

Tours: Tours are self-guided. Be sure to pick up the excellent gallery guide and family guide which are free. Group tours are booked through May but are available starting in June and must be booked at least a month in advance.

Related programs: Family First Saturday: "Explore China" from noon to 4 p.m. May 5; The Fourth Annual Cincinnati Asian Art Society Lecture at 2 p.m. May 6; Evening for educators from 4-7 p.m. May 17 and Artist workshop focused on clay from 1-3 p.m. May 19.