Judging a Pot

The tea pot is a product of applied art. It must be practical, pour well, fell good, look good, and balance pleasantly in the hand. But to the artisy who first creates a new design the tea pot becomes a vehicle for Fine Art. He uses it to express emotion-nobility, rectitude, long levity, prosperity, serenity, tenderness¡­¡­ . And a good piece should affect the connoisseur with these emotions.

To achieve these effects the makers make use of shape and style. Tea pots may be square or round, smooth or segmented, solid or graceful, abstract or made after particular shapes in nature. He may choose the pine, bamboo or plum tree, the orchid or lotus flowerrr, the dragon or the phonix or both. Pots are made on the likenesses of fruit, crops, fish, birds, turtles, frogs, squirrels and insects. Their shapes are inspired by stones, rocks, streams, wallsm wells, and ¡®mountain and river¡¯ landscapes. Or the artist may use the formal patterns of the tripod or the coin.

Purple clay, which has a high iron content, gives its name to Yixing pottery, but this is not the only colour to emerge from Yixing kilns. Red clay and yellow clay are also used, independtly or mixed, and after firing many different colours or shades of colour are produced.

The potter makes his by hand and handles it when finished. His hands will tell him if the pot is good or bad. The feel of a pot in the hand must be satisfying.

And the completed pot has many parts-a body, spout, handle , lid, knob¡­¡­

These should be in balance. Their relation and structure must be clear and reasonable. The lid must fit, not jamm or rattle, and it must be deep seated and firm- not fall off easily and break. Spouts and handles are separately made and then connected to the body. This connection must be smooth and the transition between the body and the spout should be reasonable. Together they must handle well, the spout allowing the liquor to flow freely, and the handle providing a pleasant grip and balanced leverage and control.

Use and function have produced the pot and shape and colour provide the canvas. The engraving of this clay is the final touch. Fine decoration must compliment the subject. This decoration, often by the scholar artist or calligrapher and seal cutter, displays his accpmplishment in literature. And in such a pot, with its simple useful daily function, pouring a cup of tea, all the arts combine.

In recent years there has been an upsurge in admiration of purple clay. prices have jump from a few dollars to thousands for a single pot. And with this increase in value there has been also an increase in quality. More time and care goes into every pot, and many more are rejected and smashed when they come from the kiln. With the prices, standards have risen too.

To authenticate an ancient pot the expect has to know the politics and economy of that time. He must have knowledge of the techniques and raw materials in use, and the principal potters and potteries of the day. To identify a 'Mansheng Pot', he must know the seal and calligrahpy of Chen Mansheng and be familiar with the pottery teehnoiogy of the 19th century and with the knife engraving of the potter and the period. And to become an expert today is perhaps an even more formidable task-there are so many famous potters, and such a variety of the first rate artistic work.

An article shows the writer, calligrsphy shows the calligrapher, a painting shows its painter, and pottery shows the maker of the pot. But perhaps the pot is the most revealing. You can feel it in your hands h= just as the maker did. Some potters like a little spout, some a heavy handle. Some reproduce trunks and knotty branches. Others have exquisite engravings of ratans or leaves. Each artist has some form that he likes best, and every pot reflects of pottery there emerges and expected style, a signature or masterstroke, individual to each article yet common to every product from that hand. When you can read this signature you too will be an expert in this art.

Besides his style and characteristic features each potter marks with his own seal every product from his hand. This seal authenticates the work. The seal itself is chosen with great care. Every famous potter has his seal from a well known engraver. The characters of the seal are cut in stone with steel and the resulting inprint is said to 'smell' of stone and metal. And there is no finger substrate for the well carved seal than unfired clay. Pottery shown off best the character of the perfect seal.

A potter gives this advice to amateurs.

'Exchange information with each other, and meet and talk to the potters themselves. Do not buy with undue haste. If you pay a high price be sure that your pot is not a counterfeit.

'And remeber that not every pot from even a famous potter is a good example of his work. We have a saying:"Three prototypes can not reach your ideal.' This is jargon in the pottery business. It means that it is not possible to perfect an idea in the first throw. A fine pot must be made many times, and there may be many failures on the way.

'And if famous potters some times have failures, the hands of unknown potters may produce a great sucess. If you like a pot, collect it.

'Beauty in purple clay is good for the mind. It will mould the sentiments, foster temperament, improve health."

In other words, to be happy and successful drink tea with puple clay.