Bowl de­signed per­fectly to let the flavour flood out across the cen­turies

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA -

MATCHA is, ap­par­ently, hav­ing a mo­ment. Cho­co­late bars, lat­tes, cup cakes – pow­dered green tea is sud­denly a favourite flavour.

In Japan. pow­dered green tea has been pop­u­lar for cen­turies, but is used to flavour all sorts of things and that flavour has come Bri­tain’s way.

But it was orig­i­nally a Chi­nese drink and The Wil­son holds a ves­sel for drink­ing ex­actly that kind of tea.

It looks the sim­plest of ob­jects but it and oth­ers like it helped shape a way of think­ing about art in Japan, which trav­elled to Bri­tain in the early 20th cen­tury.

The bowl looks mod­ern too, but dates from the 12th or 13th cen­tury.

This bowl is called a hare’s fur tea bowl, and you can see why. The streaky pale mark­ings on the bowl do make it look like a lit­tle like fur.

It was made in Jianyang in Fu­jian Prov­ince in south east China and came into the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion in 1989, ac­quired to add im­por­tant older pieces to the mu­seum’s Berke­ley Smith col­lec­tion of Chi­nese ce­ram­ics, which date from around the 14th to 19th cen­turies.

Th­ese bowls were made for lo­cal con­sump­tion.

For sev­eral cen­turies the best pot­tery – porce­lain – has been made in Jingdezhen in cen­tral China, but in the Song dy­nasty (960–1279) there were sev­eral lo­cal cen­tres mak­ing high­qual­ity ce­ram­ics.

The bowl is not made of porce­lain, it is stoneware made with a black clay.

It has sev­eral lay­ers of iron glaze ap­plied to it and the furry ef­fect is caused by the lay­ers run­ning to­gether and re­act­ing with each other.

Each bowl would have been fired with thou­sands of oth­ers in what is called a dragon kiln – long, thin kilns that go up a slope.

They can reach very high tem­per­a­tures which you need for stoneware and porce­lain and were ad­mired in China.

Scholar and poet Cai Xiang wrote about the bowls in the 11th cen­tury: ‘Tea is of light colour and looks best in black cups. The cups made at Jianyang are bluish-black in colour, marked like the fur of a hare.

“Be­ing of rather thick fab­ric they re­tain the heat, so that when once warmed through they cool very slowly, and they are ad­di­tion­ally val­ued on this ac­count.

“None of the cups pro­duced at other places can ri­val

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th­ese. Blue and white cups are not used by those who give tea-tast­ing par­ties.”

Tea was al­ready very im­por­tant in China by this time, but not the leaf tea we use to­day.

In the Song dy­nasty, pow­der tea be­came pop­u­lar, a kind of green tea whisked up with wa­ter in the tea bowl. It comes out a pale green colour which must look dra­matic in the black bowls.

Pow­der tea went out of favour in China and the leaf tea we drink came into fash­ion, but in the 12th cen­tury, a Bud­dhist monk car­ried the tea and the method of mak­ing it back to Japan.

Bud­dhist monks com­ing to study at a monastery on Mount Tianmu in Fu­jian Provinces­tarted to carry the black cups back to Japan.

The Ja­panese started mak­ing very sim­i­lar bowls, call­ing the glaze ten­moku af­ter the moun­tain where they had orig­i­nally found them.

The tea cer­e­mony we know to­day de­vel­oped in Japan us­ing th­ese and other sim­ple, ir­reg­u­lar-shaped and dra­mat­i­cally glazed bowls.

They stayed pop­u­lar, and when western pot­ters started to learn about Ja­panese ce­ram­ics in the early 20th cen­tury un­der the in­flu­ence of Bernard Leach and his friend Shoji Ha­mada, they started to make ten­moku glazes.

Michael Cardew was Leach’s first pupil and started the Winch­combe Pot­tery in 1926.

He used an iron glaze for some of his pot­tery, but his pupil Ray Finch, who later took over the pot­tery, was re­ally in­spired by Ja­panese pots.

If you’d like to see some of our Chi­nese ce­ram­ics col­lec­tion, visit the WOW Gallery, and if you’d like to find out more about a very dif­fer­ent kind of pot­tery made in 19th cen­tury Bri­tain, par­ian ware, book on our next Ob­ject Talk about veiled Bride by Copeland with cu­ra­tor Kirsty Hart­si­o­tis on March 14 at 6pm.

You can book at chel­tenham mu­seum.org.uk by phone or visit the mu­seum’s re­cep­tion and Tourist In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre.

A tea bowl 12th-13th cen­tury tea bowl made in China. Be­low, a bowl from Winch­combe in the 1940s

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