Date: 13 April 2000
Place: Shida's apartment
Attending: Stephen Dydo, Matthew Flannery, Shida Kuo, Bo Lawergren, Gopal Sukhu, Yuan Jung-Ping
Guests: Willow Hai, Devan Moss, Diana Chen, Mona Kao
Events: NYQS trip to Washington, D. C., to visit the musical finds from a Warring States tomb, Sackler Gallery, 23-25 June (Friday-Sunday).
It was further agreed that Willow Hai is invited to become a member.
There was discussion of the logistics of a trip to Washington to visit an exhibition at the Sackler Gallery of the musical finds from a Warring States tomb, including a number of instruments. It was proposed that the last weekend of the month (28 June-2 July) might best fit members' schedules, traveling on Thursday to make Friday available for a possible talk from Jenny So, curator of the exhibit, which Bo will try to arrange. Shida said that inexpensive rentals of nine-passengers vans are available near him; he will look into this. The van will not accommodate everyone; some people may drive or train down. Matthew (his wife, really) will look into lodging; a group rate may be available.
During the Yuan (1279-1368) dynasty, the ruling Mongols returned to the use of loose tea leaves but added cream before serving. Further, tea producers developed methods of scenting tea with flower fragrances. In the Yuan, it became the custom to consume tea in company with nuts and seeds, including walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, almonds, and chestnuts.
The Ming (1368-1644) initiated the practice of brewing loose tea in water without added ingredients. Shida believes that the smaller teapots popular in recent centuries came into vogue during the Ming. They arose from the realization that long steeping brings out tea's bitter qualities. Smaller pots meant more frequent changes of leaves and a higher quality of brewed tea.
Yixing, a town shortly west of Shanghai near T'ai-hu, China's largest lake, has large deposits of fine, unusually dense clay found in a variety of colors. Shading principally from brown to red, its colors include tones of black, yellow, buff, bronze green. Yixing was long a center for producing ordinary ceramic wares, but a change came in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For a thousand years or more, many literati had made a cult of tea, carefully studying types of leaf and the clarity and sources of water to determine which made the best tea. These adherents of tea then began to take an interest in the pots in which tea was brewed. In a rare joint effort of social elite and working class, the literati worked in conjunction with pottery masters to developed a distinctive tradition of teapot design. Typically, a literatus would design the pot, sometimes adding an inscription in his calligraphy, and the potter would realize the design in clay.
Today, "everyone" in Yixing designs and builds teapots. Shida, arriving there for a conference on Yixing wares, was asked by his taxi driver why he was in town. Duly apprized, the driver quickly pulled out his own Yixing catalog. Potters use a wooden mold to rough-cast a pot's basic form, extensively work it by hand for two or three days, then fire it. Because Yixing clay is dense, viscous, and fine, it easily holds detailed shapes.
Early pots of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries were of simple, often monumental designs with both rounded and squared shapes. The more elaborate antique teapots imitated vegetables or fruit, ancient bronzewares, plum branches, or appeared as if made of bundles of bamboo or wood. Since the twentieth century, more elaborate and decadent versions of the old styles include complex shapes, sentimental detailing, and engravings of side scenes and calligraphy touched with colored pigments. However, the development of superior new styles and the continued manufacture of fine old designs have meant that there is a wide range of quality in both style and production, making taste and careful selection increasingly important in purchasing good pieces.
Thus, finish and detail are subject to a wide range of quality. A refined, carefully finished surface that brings out the natural solidity of the clay is a prized attribute of good Yixing. The material of a pot should look as heavy as bronze, but its shape should be airy and full. Closely-fitted lids, a fine delineation of decorative detail, and a pristine quality of line at corners and edges are important. Occasionally, the clay has inclusions, sometimes of a different tint than the body clay, that contribute to a pebbled or freckled surface. Some pieces are skillfully finished to imitate such materials as pear skin or bronze. The seal of the maker is impressed into the bottom of the pot and sometimes into the underside of its lid.
Most Yixing wares are teapots, but there is the occasional teacup or desktop articles like sealpaste boxes and brush holders. Some of these are lined with a white crackle glaze for easy maintenance. Extremely rare are imitations of nuts, caltrop fruit, and their like. For example, Yixing peanuts, apparently of the seventeenth century, provide a terminus ante quem for the introduction of the peanut into China from Africa.
The clay is fired in its natural state, unglazed. Its great density and high firing temperatures create tough, watertight teapots. A slight porosity encourages tea residua to adhere to inner surfaces. These are left in place with the idea that, supplemented by theoretical affinities between clay and tea, they improve tea flavor. However, Shida says that he cleans antique pots carefully before use, since their environments of provenance might have left deposits of anything from grave dust to industrial pollutants.
Shida passed around more than a dozen examples of Yixing teapots, which, driven by his potter's interest in the technical and historical aspects of Yixing ceramics rather than by a collector's desire to acquire in a more systematic fashion, he accumulates rather than collects. Forms ranged from an unusually tall, dark brown rectangular volume to a small, antique green pot of exquisite workmanship that was made as if from lengths of bamboo culms. He also passed around a fake antique whose dirt and patina had disappeared with washing, an imitation Yixing pot from Guangdong made of a clay not as dense as that from Yixing and with faint circular striations that showed it had been thrown on a wheel rather than cast in a mold, and a piece from Thailand, where metal bands are typically added to the lips and other edges of imported Chinese ceramics. In the latter piece, except for the base, where the original red-brown biscuit remained, the ceramic surfaces of the latter piece had been highly polished to a shiny, dark, tarnished-bronze color nearly indistinguishable from its metal additions.
|Copyright © 2002 New York Qin Society. All rights reserved.|