An Interior and Exterior Journey
I begin this blog knowing I have a profound lack of understanding and knowledge on the subject of Tea bowls. Since I have been studying and attempting to make them for over fifty years (50+) I am beginning to feel that I may never fully comprehend them. Thus this blog.
During those years I worked under Kenneth Beittel author of Zen and the Art of Pottery, Hamada Shoji, Japanese Intangible Cultural Treasure - Mashico, Inoue Manji, now Japanese Intangible Cultural Treasure- Arita. Then I worked nearly a year in Icheon, Korea at the studio of Lee Jun Hee.
While working under these internationally acclaimed artists was important to my development as a ceramic artist, none of them is known for their Tea ware - although all made tea bowls.
In the last dozen years Mary, my wife, and I have been to Korea 24 times researching Tea and Tea ware. Early in our research, we developed a friendship with Professor Chung Yang-mo, now retired Director of the National Museums of Korea and Korea’s foremost authority on Tea bowls – actually all Korean ceramics. We have discussed Tea bowls with him on many occasions. That’s just one of the reasons that I am keenly aware of my lack of understanding and knowledge on the subject of Tea bowls.
My career as a tea bowl artist is having considerable success, particularly in Korea and Japan, but "success" isn't much of a marker for true quality so, even after more than fifty years of work, I remain aware of my shortcomings in the areas of Tea ware and Tea. In particular, my Tea bowls have not yet reached the level of maturity I seek.
Both subjects – Tea ware and Tea - are so deep and broad that focusing on just one item – such as Korean Tea bowls or only green tea may lead us into great areas of depth and hopefully insight. There are many "schools of Tea" each possibly preferring a particular and different style or type of Tea bowl. Others may chase the "ornate" Tea bowl, not I. Hamada Shoji once told me, "Be careful of what you chase or it may in return chase you." I will continually look behind me while cautiously undertaking this journey.
I begin this blog as a student, in an effort to look both within and to others such as authors whose work I admire and to you who join the discussion so that we can move closer to understanding the aesthetics of Tea ware and in particular Tea bowls.
Most of us first heard the term “chawan” related to Japanese Tea bowls, but the term really is Chinese and was used in both China and Korea before Japan. It may surprise you to learn that Korea held the first “tea ceremony” before either China or Japan. Authentic documents suggest that the first 'tea' ceremony began in Korea in 661 CE. The Silla King Munmu ordered tea to be used during ceremonial offerings. The term “dawan” or 'ceremonial bowl' is still used today for their ancestral rites ceremonies. Thus the first 'tea' ceremony gave birth to the first “dawan” (ceremonial bowl) for the drinking of tea. The term “wan” is Chinese for bowl. “Da” means ceremony and “cha” is tea. The ancient Korean "Cha-rye" tea rites ceremony for ancestors continues today. (see www.TeaTourKorea.com. It also reviews Japanese Tea.) China developed the first Tea ceremony, as we know it today, and the term “chawan”. Like the word “cha” or tea, the word “wan” or bowl is Chinese. Therefore the term chawan became the international term for Tea bowl – not just a Japanese Tea bowl. Never the less, because the term chawan has become so associated with Japanese Tea, in recent years, Korea began using the term “chassabal”. "Ssabal", also Anglicized “sabal”, means bowl in Korean or more specifically a bowl from which one eats - not a bowl from which one drinks. In using the term “chassabal”, Korea is giving some nod to Japan who converted Korean ssabal - simple rice bowls - for use in their Japanese Tea ceremonies.
It would be very easy to digress and follow the “Tea ceremony” path but our central topic is the Tea bowl, so I will leave most comments on the Tea ceremony to the many websites, YouTube postings, web sites and blogs that address that topic. The links are my picks for today. Please contact me with additional suggestions. Also be aware that there are many types of Tea ceremonies including those for infused tea and powdered tea. Each country's Tea aesthetic is very different and each "school" or even area within a country may have a series of different ceremonies. Another purpose of this blog to to begin to shed more light on Korean Tea and Tea ware. An author, who has studied both Japanese and Korean ceramics, recently told me that, "... removing all Korean influence from Japanese ceramics would be like removing all African Americans from the Jazz Hall of Fame". When many in the West think "tea ceremony" or "tea bowl", they also think "Japanese". I hope this blog will also serve to broaden our understanding. From time to time I will invite others who have a particular expertise in tea ware or tea to post on this blog. Your thoughts are welcome be you novice, artist or connoisseur. Join us as we undertake the adventure that is "chawan". Please submit your comments and suggestions in English. Your voice and insights are truly valued no matter what your level of experience.