Thursday’s opening reception for the Ikebana show and “Tea” included a visit from John Neely, who flew in from Utah to see the international ceramics show he juried digitally. John wanted to see the pieces — ceramic teapots, cups, bowls, and other wares associated with drinking tea — in person before selecting the award winners, which he announced last night.
Black Iron Chawan, a stoneware bowl by Robert Fornell, of Seattle, won best in show:
Tea has played such an important role in the history of ceramics, that when Blair Meerfield offered, I jumped at the opportunity to jury this show. The difficulty of the task didn’t dawn me though, until I started my review of the submissions. It took a number of viewings before I realized that the objects fell into three main categories. There were things intended for use with powdered tea, as used in the Japanese tea ceremony. There were teapots and tea cups intended for use with brewed leaf tea. And then there were sculptural objects, in most cases inspired by teapots, but clearly not intended for use.
The sculptural objects were perhaps the easiest to deal with since they could be analyzed in purely formal, visual terms.
The bowls, water jars and lidded containers that referred to use with powdered tea were more difficult, since there are functional requirements for this kind of tea ware, along with the baggage of historical precedent. I could rely on measurements for a sense of scale, and but could only guess at weight and material.
Scale was important in evaluating the the teapots and teacups in the remaining category, too. I had to rely on external evidence of fit and finish to guess at whether a teapot might have a proper strainer, a lid that fits and and spout that would pour a clean stream. Visual clues – the shadow of a a foot or the turn of a lip – were all I had to suggest how a cup might feel in my hand. For brewed tea, there is broad range of possibility, but the human hand remains the critical reference point.