The Elusive Tea Bowl Workshop

by Ceramics

The world in a bowl of tea, in community and communication. There was solace, hope, inspiration and laughter. The critical mass of knowledge and heart at each of the events was beautiful. Rona Conti, Japan Society (Boston Member), on the Ceramic Program’s workshop The Elusive Tea Bowl
White carnations adorned the studio entrance, a symbol of mourning for those lost in the devastating events in Japan. Beside the carnations, the delicate blossoms of a cherry tree were beginning to emerge. The participants -- scholars, students, collectors, artists and general tea bowl enthusiasts -- were humbled to be in the presence of Tsujimura Shiro and Suzuki Goro, two of Japan's masters in the art of the tea bowl.The Elusive Tea Bowl Workshop was a day of demonstrations by these two Japanese master potters, as well as American ceramic artists Jeff Shapiro and Richard Milgrim. More than 100 attendees witnessed the artists create tea bowls, observing first hand the competency of each distinct potter. The diverse spectators generated lively conversations despite language barriers. Collectors and students alike were fascinated by the aesthetic processes unique to creating vessels for the tea ceremony.

Shiro commented that he begins each morning by throwing more than 200 tea bowls, which are dried and trimmed by the end of each day. A small percentage will later be deemed as acceptable enough to fire and use. Others will be placed outdoors on his land to be rediscovered some 20 years later. Shiro revealed his gentle nature through stories of his life in Japan, of welcoming dinners and drinking sake with friends, gathering clay from the mountainside and making long trips down the mountain to sell his wares.

Suzuki’s approach to creating seemed that of a mad genius, throwing bowls onto bowls, slashing slip trails whichever way his hand flung. The audience was in awe of his uninhibited process and asked about his inspirations, processes and artistic beliefs. His translated responses were as succinct as his creations: "yes," foiled by the occasional "no."After a Japanese/American potluck lunch, Mari Milgrim performed a simple tea tasting using Matcha, finely-milled Japanese green tea. Mari, amongst the din of the milling group, quietly instructed on the correct way to turn the bowl in one’s hand before passing along to the next person. As the afternoon sessions began, the assistants ran about endlessly, carefully balancing full ware boards. The freshly thrown bowls from the morning had been set out to dry so that the artists could later "trim," by carving the excess clay away to produce the "foot" of the bowl, with careful consideration for the overall form.Later, the group gathered in the main studio for visual presentations of each artist’s work. The avant-garde approach to clay by Suzuki was shown through his life size, intricately patterned clay chairs and puzzled, gold inlay tea bowls. Tsujimura’s traditional, almost compulsive nature of creating was an interesting contrast, further spurring the dialogue of the cultural relevance of the tea bowl. Milgrim spoke of his introduction to ceramics and his early adventures in Japan as a student, explaining why he fell in love with the country and its traditional art forms. Shapiro also traced early inspirations and how he stumbled into the world of tea bowls.The workshop was the closing event of a weekend-long celebration, including an exhibition at the Lacoste Gallery in Concord, Mass., and the Rad Smith Symposium on Japanese Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, in cooperation with the Japan Society of Boston.Work from the event will be auctioned to raise funds for the Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami relief efforts. For more information about the auction, check out "Handmade for Japan," an online auction and fundraiser. For more information on how to donate, visit the Japan Society of Boston’s website. []

[Caption: Cherry Blossoms]

[Caption: Participants watching Jeff Shapiro and Suzuki Goro]

[Caption: Matcha: finely milled Japanese Green Tea]