Saturday, May 8, 2010

London: Historic teaware is everywhere

Sunday in London: rainy, cold, blustery. Time to hit the museum! And museums in London are gloriously free. I opted for the Victoria & Albert Museum, for two reasons. First, they have some gowns by Norman Hartnell in their collection, and he's on my family tree (alas, none of them are on display currently). Second, they just opened a Grace Kelly fashion exhibit (alas, it was already sold out for the day when I arrived). So I wound up roaming the collection and snapping photos of all the teaware — in the British collection, in the Asian collection, many continents and many eras.

This, I discovered, was the third reason I enjoyed the V&A. They focus less on Art and more on art. The collections are filled with handiwork, everyday stuff rather than fine art — I'll stop short of saying "crafts." Thus, they have a lot of tea items in house.

Forgive my crap photo skills, but here's a look:

In the Asia gallery, straddling the China and Japan rooms, there are two shelves in a case along one wall dedicated to teaware. Instead of snapping a couple of dozen photos, I simply passed my video camera along the cards and then the shelves of pots, cups and other artifacts. Sorry for the soft focus on the cards, but here they are ...

I loved both of these pots because of the mixed media, which I'm not sure I've seen before. The one on the left is a classic British silver design with a wicker handle. The one on the right, circa late 1600s, is Yixing clay with a silver spout and a wicker handle.

This beautiful silver tea pot was made in western India around 1880 by (deep breath) Oomersi Mawji, the court silversmith to the ruler of Kutch, Maharao Shri Mirza Raja Sawai Khengarji Bahadurno.

Dig the colorful detail on this pot in front, showing a Cantonese viceroy from 1745.

A black bowl and stand with intricate dragon motif from 19th century Japan (left), and a stoneware tea pot with a crackled cream glaze and a phoenix vs. dragon design made in Kyoto, early 1800s.

Finally, for a different take on teaware history, here's video of Stephen Twinings — during an interview with him at the Twinings HQ in The Strand — talking briefly about the background of the antique tea box collection on display there:

More to come on the chat at Twinings ...

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