Seldom have I enjoyed a tea-related exhibit as much as the Colors of Tea: Taiwanese Teaware and Tea Settings at the Culture Center of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles. The teaware showcased were exquisite, whimsical, thought-provoking, and every item was made in Taiwan!
It is not easy to pick a favorite among so many elegantly designed pieces. Ceramic artist Cheng-hsien Wu’s Pumpkin-shaped Teapots and Taiwan Tree Trunk Teapots – part of the exhibit’s Skillful Realism series – have my vote. The three Pumpkin-shaped Teapots in subdued hues of orange, red, and green are embellished with fungi and tiny ladybugs. While examining the Taiwan Tree Trunk Teapots, I reminisced about Taiwan’s lush forests. The first that came to mind was the LaLa Mountain Scenic and Nature Preservation Area, where giant red cypress have flourished for thousands of years, though the tree trunks featured in this set of teapots are supposedly those of Taiwan hemlock (tsuga chinensis var. formosana).
Internationally renowned ceramic artist Ah Leon’s Tea Set comprises items created between 1988 and 2010: Lazy Man’s Teapot, Chivalrous Teapot, a tea tray, a stove, a serving tray, and several tea cups. The rustic tea tray looks in every way like a piece of natural wood and has no trace of clay. In his youth, the ceramist ran away from his farming family to pursue a career in art. He visited the U.S. for the first time in 1987 at the age of 34 and has since conducted lectures at colleges and held solo exhibits in numerous galleries.
A gregarious volunteer provided additional information on a few tea sets. In the exhibit’s Expression of Glaze Textures series, Hsiao-fang Tsai’s Ju Kiln Tea Set, also named Celadon Tea Set and an ambitious attempt at the reproduction of Northern Sung Dynasty’s (960–1127) Ju Kiln porcelain, displays a pleasant, calming greenish-blue hue, often described as the color of “blue sky after rain.” (Celadon is a ceramic glaze that originated in China.)
A folk anecdote says that some of the Ju kilns located in Honan Province’s Pao-feng County were intentionally destroyed by the ceramists themselves in order to prevent similar pieces from being produced. A similar but more gory story about India’s Taj Mahal mentions the murder and disfigurement of laborers to ensure the structure’s perpetual uniqueness on Earth.
This exhibit is ongoing and I was told the items on display will soon be replaced with another group of magnificent works.
This post was first published on the T Ching website February 2, 2011.