Teapot, late 18th-early 19th century
Ceramic 5 1/4 in. x 7 in. x 4 1/4 in. (13.34 cm x 17.78 cm x 10.8 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of Titi Halle in memory of Henry Ginsburg
Tea drinkers worldwide covet the unglazed teapots and scholars’ accoutrements developed in Jiangsu province in the town of Yixing 150 miles west of Shanghai. Legend has it that a monk produced the first yixing teapot in the 10th century. However, it was during the late Ming Period (1368–1644), when tea drinkers began to use leaf tea rather than block tea, that teapots were produced in quantity. Scholars recognized the beauty and practical worth of these modest vessels. The purple iron-rich clay fires to a fine porosity that is ideal for tea making, as it absorbs the flavors of the tea.
While potters have traditionally created yixing teapots in classical forms, they have also playfully copied nature, producing vessels shaped like wood, nuts, gourds, or vegetables. In the 17th century, yixing wares arrived in Europe with the earliest teas—often packed in the tea—and served as the models for the production of European teapots. This late 18th-century teapot is a classic example of the simplicity of form of the majority of these vessels.
Production continues in Jiangsu province and has influenced potters farther afield, including the Taiwanese artist Ah Leon (Chen Ching Liang). He trained in painting at the National Academy of Arts then, in 1978, apprenticed himself to potters. He has mostly eschewed glazes, instead working with iron-rich clay akin to that used by traditional yixing potters. His early works were often in a classical mode, but he soon branched out, adopting and exaggerating the more playful natural forms.
His innovative work, begun in the mid-1980s, resulted in vessels such as this sculptural T-pot, as the artist calls these works, one of his characteristic “wooden” vessels that result from his interest in bonsai and antique wooden furniture. He also acknowledges influence from American potters Marilyn Levine and Richard Notkin in the trompel’oeil rendering of wood.