Imperfectly Beautiful: Inventing Japanese Ceramic Style

October 14, 2017 – Indefinitely

Tea ceremony water jar, unknown workshop, Japan, F1900.4a-b

Freer Gallery of Art
Jefferson Drive and 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC

Gallery 6 Floor Plan

Holding a bowl to drink freshly whisked green tea—this is the central experience of the Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu). Until the late sixteenth century, Japanese tea drinkers viewed Chinese ceramics as the ideal: standardized, symmetrical, and impeccably glazed. But as the innovators of chanoyu began to emphasize individuality, they turned to local potters for fresh interpretations of tea ceramics. New traditions were born.

As taste and opportunity converged, chanoyu participants and potters collaborated on creating a new kind of tea ceramic. Turning away from the impersonal, wheel-thrown form, they favored bowls that looked handmade. They sought vessels that communicated the feel of the potter’s hands on the soft clay and the fire’s kiss on the flowing glaze. Such bowls conveyed a message from the maker to the user through sight and, especially, touch. These early experiments sparked an approach to clay that still inspires many potters and tea drinkers today.