Taking a teabowl into one’s hands conveys volumes of information that cannot be gleaned by viewing them from behind glass–a sad necessity in museums. Staff, volunteers, and the public have been fortunate to have been able to handle several museum quality teabowls over the past few weeks in the context of the tea-related programming.
Sen So-oku, Future Grand Master of the Mushakoji Senke tradition of tea, used all one-of-a-kind teabowls in his gatherings on June 12-13, many of which were kindly loaned by his friend Koichi Yanagi.
The participants were permitted to handle all the bowls, starting with the Momoyama period (16th century) black Oribe style bowl. Drinking tea from a 400-year-old bowl is a rare treat, one which brings a poignant sense of living history that continues to shape the present. If only the bowl could talk…instead we must hear what the bowl has to say with our hearts and our hands.
The second bowl he used was a red Raku style bowl by Hosokawa Morihiro (born 1938), the current head of the illustrious Hosokawa daimyo family, whose collection is on view in the Lords of the Samurai exhibition. Morihiro was a journalist and politician before retiring to focus on making art himself. Several of his bowls are on view in the exhibition.
The third bowl was made by Dame Lucy Rie (1902-1995), a modern British potter who was born in Austria.
These three bowls viewed together told a unique story that could not be conveyed by any of them individually. This assemblage of contrasting (color, size, texture, age) objects is one of the delights of tea practice. Mr. Sen’s utensils–which also included stunning cherry tea furniture designed by Mr. Sen, a contemporary lacquer tea container with silver-coated lid, and a generous white porcelain water jar–conveyed a strong sense of his style blending time-worn, patinaed objects with sparkling, sharp-lined new works. And yet, the oldest piece, the 15th century bowl, represented in its own day a revolutionary new aesthetic–a turning away from the perfection of imported Chinese ceramics towards rustic, homegrown works.
Today we were treated yet again to a tactile experience thanks to renowned Bizen ceramic artist Abe Anjin, who explained the tradition of the careful handling and wrapping of tea objects in specially made silk bags and paulownia boxes as an extension of the concept of hospitality or concern for others, which is at the center of tea practice. Participants were invited at the end of the talk to take the works in their hands with some insightful coaching by the artist to take off rings and hold the works firmly in both hands close to the table surface.
Upcoming tea programs are listed on the museum’s website. One wonders what interesting stories the teabowls will tell at these events…
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