Chigusa and the Art of Tea
The power of seeing: to discern, distinguish, define. The power of owning: to possess, to share, to transmit. The power of naming: to designate, to define, to give meaning. The power of displaying: to show, to ornament, to enrobe. The power of writing: to describe, to record, to remember.
Japanese collectors have long engaged with objects through the practice of formalized tea presentation called chanoyu. Within the compact and focused setting of the tearoom, they singled out exceptional works through use, scrutiny, and discussion. They gave added distinction to stellar tea-leaf storage jars—utensils of imposing scale and presence—by awarding them personal names and adorning them with precious textiles.
This powerful process of seeing and naming created the tea-leaf storage jar named Chigusa. It transformed an imported Chinese jar from a practical container into a vessel worthy of display, ornament, and contemplation, although its practicality did not cease to be important. Remarkably, diaries kept by sixteenth-century tea participants record in great detail exactly what they admired when viewing Chigusa. The diaries allow us to see the jar through the eyes of these tea men.
Chigusa is accompanied by storage boxes, textiles, and documents that accumulated in the course of its changing ownership. This cumulative assemblage of material and meaning created the jar we see today. Chigusa also appears among other cherished objects—calligraphy by Chinese monks, Chinese and Korean tea bowls, and Japanese stoneware jars and wooden vessels—that were among the diverse ensembles of utensils used and enjoyed during this formative era of Japanese tea culture.
Two related exhibitions expand upon our understanding of Chigusa. Jars, which looks at the Chinese model of the storage jar and its expansion to kilns in Southeast Asia and Japan, is in Sackler Gallery sublevel 3 (opening March 15). Chinese Ceramics for Tea in Japan, an exhibition of tea utensils, is in the Freer Gallery of Art (opening March 8).
Chigusa and its accessories were purchased by the Freer Gallery of Art; they are designated by numbers beginning FSC-P.