mel jacobson on fri 10 jan 97
T bowls a primer,
What we do not know about the tea ceremony and tea bowls is too long to take
up on claynet. What we do know is simple and direct. And with all things we
do not understand totally could be wrong.
Japanese potters are serious.. and more serious about T ceremony objects.
Any pot that is made in a casual or asymmetric way will be made by a potter
that has complete control and skill of symmetric throwing. Things look
casual on purpose and it is practiced and planned.
The words for T ceremony are Japanese...it has very little to do with tea
(the drink). A tea bowl (cha/whan) is used in the T ceremony. The ceremony
is based on meditation, song, poetry, flowers etc. And a wonderful tea bowl
is used to drink a rich,green, deep tea. This bowl has a specific function
and a rich cultural tradition has developed about its aesthetic.
The historic bowls were plain, asymmetric, often black or deep red.. the
potter did not make any pattern or color that would detract from the
ceremony...and the color of the tea. The bowl was a vehicle for the tea
and was not ment to overshadow in any way the act of drinking the tea.
Two shapes dominate tea bowls...the winter bowl with tall sides and the
summer bowl with open sides. The sizes are very critical..I am holding an
"Arakawa" tea bowl in my hands this morning...it is four and one half
inches across and three and one half inches tall. It is a shino type glaze
with no pattern, simple and very quiet. It is slightly lop/sided and the
ring foot has been no doubt cut with a wooden knife. I have several others
that are the same size up to 5 inches across. Rarely does one find them
much bigger or smaller..
The tea bowl must have several elements historically. They are:
1. A dent in the bottom of the bowl..about the size of the bottom of your thumb
2. A wonderful ring foot with a slight asymmetric cut.
3. A nipple or small ridge inside the ring foot.
4. The color of the clay body should be warm.
5. Some regional differences unkown.
Western potters should be aware that in most cases Japanese potters do not
take liberties with historic rules. These elements in some form will be
seen on most real tea bowls.
In so many ways it is silly for western potters to mess around with
historic Japanese forms.. we do not know the reasons, functions, aesthetics
or generally why the pieces are made.. we make cheap imitations of a very
special pot. And of course then passing if off as real Japanese design is
I had to on several occasions make tea bowls for my teacher, in fact the
year and one half I spent in Kyoto I made all of his tea bowls..and everyone
that I made was the same...exactly the same.. I had to practice the nipple,
the casual 4 turns of the ring foot, the casual 5 turns of the wheel as I
made a fast trim, the exact location of the stamp on the bottom... and each
was glazed (by me) with a rich black chocolate glaze..dipped for 7 seconds
in the bucket and then turned upside down and spun with the hand so the drip
on the rim would run into the rim and not down the side.. I made 100 of
these to be given to very important Kyoto artists....at a very special
party..i was presented one at the party and had to give a short speech. I
thanked my teacher for a pot that was made by his "hands." He said the next
day "nice speech, correct thing to say."
I am sure that others perhaps even Japanese potters on the net could give
more details.. All I am sure of is what I was told, observed, and have read.
And of course I have held a great many tea bowls in my hands. Real
T-bowls. ( I make japanese style tea bowls in my studio...i do not sell
them, they are for gifts to people who understand what they are , and for
people I care for deeply.
Mel Jacobson/ Minnesota.