This is an underglaze decorated madara glazed yunomi fired in the wood kiln in 2013. It was heavily reduced in the firing, resulting in the dark clay color and carbon trapping in the glaze.
It is a small yunomi, and could almost be called a large guinomi, and certainly has the character of a guinomi. People generally confuse guinomi with sakazuki (sake cups), but Guinomi are cups used for tea, sake, whiskey, etc…, that have a higher status among pots than yunomi, because they are usually one of a kind pieces, not made in large batches like yunomi usually are. Think of them as a sort of ‘mini chawan’.
I am making the distinction, because this last trip to Korea and the tea bowl festival really accented the differences between the preferred shape of a tea bowl between cultures.
The one type of bowl here that probably illustrates the point best, but of which I don’t have a good example, are the Ido chawan. We make these forms in Karatsu, but don’t refer to them as Ido Chawan. Rather, we call them Karatsu Ido, or Ido Gata Chawan. The original Ido Chawan are from Korea, and contrary to the idea that the ideal shape is like Kizaemon (below), Ido come in many shapes and sizes. I’ve even seen on Ido bowl with a warikodai (foot carved into sections).
Anyway, if you look carefully at Ido forms, two things are often noticed: One, the lip is quite sharp on the inside edge, even though the outside of the edge is rounded, and two, the interior of the bowl is not rounded but rather pointed. These characteristics seem unrelated or even impractical for tea, after all, who wants a lip that is less durable, wouldn’t a round lip be more practical? Also, a cone shaped pointed interior is not suitable for whisking tea, is it? There is no room for the whisk to move, after all.
So why did tea masters choose these bowls as paragons of ‘teabowlness’? The answer is simple. They weren’t used for whisked tea. Most tea practice revolves around usucha, or whisked thin tea, but the tea that holds the highest position in tea ceremony as an indispensible part of Chaji, the full tea ceremony, is koicha, or thick tea. Thick tea is not whisked, it is kneaded and folded slowly into a thick paste with the whisk, and the coned interior of the bowl allows for this to happen much better than a flat or rounded interior. Then when drinking this thick paste, it is much better to have a sharp interior lip in order have a clean separation from the bowl when drinking. Koicha is usually a shared bowl, and will be shared by two or more people. After drinking, you must wipe the lip and pass it along to the next person. The sharper interior lip makes both drinking and wiping an easier less messy experience. So, these two characteristics end up being optimal for tea, in the proper context of Japanese koicha.
Even more interestingly, these two characteristics were not intentionally designed by the makers with koicha in mind. They are the direct result of the clay, process, and tools used to make the bowls, which were likely made quickly in large numbers.
In Karatsu, we use cows tongue ribs to shape the clay, because it is large particle material and not very plastic. In some cases, such as porcelain stone and sandstone, it is not even clay at all. The cows tongue allows shaping by compressing the clay body, rather than stretching, like a standard rib would do. I always thought that cows tongue ribs came from Korea, but I have never seen one there during my visits. There is, however, a tool that looks a little like a mini tugboat that functions much the same way as a cows tongue. When making bowls quickly with as little wasted movement as possible, the interior of the bowl naturally becomes conical rather than rounded, and pressing the lip between finger and cows tongue naturally produces the characteristic Ido lip shape, while preventing splitting of the lip by compressing the un-plastic clay body, and also eliminates the need to use a chamois on the lip to compress or clean up.
So, I seem to have gotten off on a bit of a tangent here, but back to the main goal of simply leaving you with some images of tea bowls:
In 2010, when we started digging the trench for the wood kiln, we found a seam of clay from about 60cm – 90cm down. This 30cm thick seam stretched as far as we dug, but with varying levels of iron. I ended up keeping a few hundred kilos of the lightest stuff, and it has been taking up space in bags that have been slowly decomposing over the last 3 – 4 years.
Finally, I rallied the gumption to get that big pile of clay moved today. First, I built an enclosure on the edge of the property behind the kiln chimney, then I started shoveling. The bags were so far gone that they just tore apart if I moved them, so there ended up being very little heavy lifting.
I recently came into a big load of boards used by roadside crews to build temporary retaining walls. They are nice sturdy pine boards (2 1/2 inches thick) and are great for all sorts of projects, although they are not all that great looking.
I ended up just pounding in some steel stakes and tying the boards to them. I looked for some little screw-in brackets to go around the rods and onto the wood, but alas this is Taku, and none of the hardware stores had that sort of hardware. This happens often, and my go to solution is almost always the same: stainless steel wire. It is cheap, comes in various thicknesses, and pretty much lasts forever once in place.
Once two sides were finished, I had a place to put clay, but the storage area is not quite finished. I still plan to put in one or two dividers, so that I have 2 or 3 sections for storing different types of clay. Here is what it looks like so far:
The clay that is still in bags came from about 200 meters away, from the farm reservoir. We drain and muck it out once every 2 years, and that is when I discovered the clay seam. It is not very refractory clay, but it makes very nice pots if fired to the proper temp.
During the process of moving all of this clay, I ended up killing 4, count ’em 4, centipedes , ranging from medium to gargantuan. Normally I would let them go, but lately I’ve been getting a lot of them in the workshop, and they have a very nasty bite.
I’ve just come off of a week of pot showing and selling, sharing space with some very fine young (and older) potters who are making crazy good work. This last week was Karatsu Yakimon Matsuri, which ran concurrently with Arita Touki-Ichi. This was the third year for the Karatsu event, and attendance jumped to 100,000, from 70,000 last year.
The theme was tableware, and there were many collaborative exhibits between potters and chefs. What a great time it was to see all of the wonderful work. Gave me a LOT of new ideas and inspiration, as well as some great feedback from customers and restaurant owners.
I had been scheduled to go to the Mungyeong Teabowl Festival, however the ferry accident resulted in most or all of the spring holiday’s festivals being cancelled or postponed.
This is the teabowl that fell into the firebox during the last firing and broke into about 12 pieces. After falling and breaking, the firing continued, and the larger shards warped a bit, making it hard to get the pieces to fit just right.
Everything went back together, but some of the spaces were 1mm wide or more, and a lot of filling was required. Not only that, but the edges of the larger pieces didn’t meet evenly, making a lot of uneven fill lines. I thought about grinding down the higher edges, but in the end decided against that, because the fill lines were already so wide in some places.
So, here is the finished piece, with the lacquer and gold brushed on over the fill lines. A pro could have made thinner, more even lines probably, but it was good practice for me. A few more days to dry completely, then it will be time to whip up some tea…