The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current, July 30, 2015, Image 19

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A 2-pound lump of clay, wedged with
two hands and centered perfectly on a pot-
ter’s wheel. Centered. That is the beginning
of the form called a tea bowl, and that sim-
ple form holds a simple green tea and is,
inextricably, a milestone in Japanese cul-
ture. If I had my way in a peaceful world,
it would become a part of our world. I’m
talking to you, friends.
Let me introduce you to a tea bowl. Let
me introduce you, fair readers, to a particu-
lar magic, a fusion of art and clay and crafts-
manship. These small bowls are vessels,
vessels to be held in two hands delicately
and lovingly. This dance becomes a form of
The conception of the clay form is pure
Japanese. This culture covets the bowl, cov-
ets the shaping and ¿ ring of clay. If Ameri-
ca has a love affair with the coffee cup and
the thick bitter brown brew within, then the
Japanese dote on the tea bowl. Dote on the
pungent green tea. Dote on the ceremony
around both.
The bowls are named: Sunrise, Sea at
Dusk, Moon over Bay. Bowls from the 16th
century are locked into wood chests inside
Buddhist monasteries. Once a year they are
brought forth and put on dis-
play. People actually line up
to see a simple tea bowl, to
honor the master craftsman
who threw the bowl. To ooh
and awe and oh my!
Both the Portland and Se-
attle Art Museums display
a few. Mostly, we scamper
past. What, after all, is the
big deal about a small bowl?
Let me tell you: The vessels
represent the Zen of life.
As many of you know, the
Japanese have a tea ceremo-
ny. They build small shrines,
tea rooms where humans visit and drink the
tea. Hold the bowl in two hands. Let it warm
their skin. Turn it in four directions. Offer a
favorite side to the host. Then, they sip the
tea as if it is a magic elixir. This is some-
times called respect for the Here and Now.
In a better world, it is not de¿ ned. Perhaps
it is the Tao.
A potter centers a clay lump on a wheel
head. Perhaps the lump weighs 10 pounds.
He or she centers that lump, brings it into
an even concentric ball of clay. The shape
is formed into a kind of small pinnacle. The
potter pulls up about two pounds of clay
from that larger mound until it is even and
A Japanese tea bowl made by the author.
A Japanese tea bowl, made by the author.
centered in his hands, and then — some-
times with eyes closed in concentration —
enters the clay and opens an even crater into
the middle. From there the piece is drawn
into a bowl shape. Hands pass over the clay
several times, on a good day, like a prayer.
If the potter is experienced and dedicated,
the clay opens like a À ower’s
Drinking tea is a year-
round avocation. But there
are different-shaped bowls
for different seasons. There
is the winter bowl, with the
sides drawn in, closed a bit
at the top to hold in the heat,
to warm the hands and the
stomach on a cold winter
day when snow falls on ce-
dars, on gardens and tile roof
tops and the world surely is
at peace. It is, isn’t it? There
is also a summer bowl, with
sides À ared to allow the escape of the tea’s
sweltering heat. It is hot outside, and the
cherry blossoms are wilting on the ground,
a lush carpet of cranberry and pink. A breeze
moves off the sea and whips the steam that
rises from the clay bowl. Watch that steam
drift and write a poem or a short story, later,
after the tea is drunk and friends scatter.
In Japan they have master potters. They
are respected like our ¿ nest athletes. The
older they get, the more they are respect-
ed. After all, the older they get, the better
they get, more sensitive and revealing. The
greatest of the artists in Japan are designated
as national treasures. A tea bowl by one of
It is transforming
clay while it
transforms you,
you the potter,
and these, your
small clay bowls.
these masters can bring thousands of dol-
lars. But it isn’t the money. Money only am-
pli¿ es respect and honor. Money is of lesser
signi¿ cance. It is the substance of a lesser
god. Stone purity: the bowl, the clay ves-
sel — that is what is signi¿ cant. Art is love.
And love sometimes is art.
(ach of these bowls is ¿ red in a brick
kiln. The kiln can be ¿ red with gas or stoked
with ¿ rewood. I’ll tell it to you straight:
¿ re is best. Fire is deep and mysterious and
primal. Ash called À y ash attaches to the
bowls. Scribes inside-outside like lava rush-
ing over raw earth. A stoneware kiln uses
gas and remains, like its sister ¿ ring, a mag-
ical moment. Silica becomes glass; clays
melt and fuse and shape the bowl as if by
a magic ¿ re stick or wand. Colors and hues
jump forward and claim space.
In the middle of the night when tempera-
tures hit 2,300 degrees and higher, white
light dances before your eyes and you see
ghost-like forms as you peer into tiny ports
on the side of the kiln, on the dragon’s side.
A wave of heat moves past you and up the
belly of the dragon kiln, heat moving like a
river. You stop and gulp and then avert your
eyes It is so hot, you can’t look for long.
and whatever prayer or poem or song or
chant that you are humming or whispering
or forming like clay in your heart or head,
you À ing those same prayers or poems or
songs or chants at the heart of the dragon,
into this inferno of split, stacked and dried
¿ rewood, into the white-hot ¿ re box, into
the belly of the dragon.
Well, it is transforming clay while it
transforms you, you the potter, and these,
your small clay bowls. And that is why
clay is art, and art transforms our lives and
the world we live in. And art can be a clay
stoneware bowl.
Sit quietly facing a friend, and turn a
small tea bowl in your hands until your fa-
vorite side, your favorite vista, faces that
friend, and say thank you for the day, the
tea and the song that tea makes turning to
steam and escaping into the soft breeze that
À oats like gossamer dreams, here, there
and away.
the arts
Story and photos by DAVID CAMPICHE
July 30, 2015 | | 9