Tea caddies and a letter from the Gregory Kinsey Collection

The collector and tea practitioner Gregory Kinsey offered his expansive collection of tea utensils to the museum in 2018. The works offered this year highlight key aspects of the layered history and aesthetic practice of tea in Japan. For example, tea caddies like the so-called Ueda Bunrin in the Kinsey collection showcase how Chinese-made objects were combined with originally distinct objects (the caddy and lacquer tray), fused into a Japanese cultural framework, and given distinctly Japanese names. This practice extended to works like the seventeenth-century Japanese-made tea caddy named Ariake (“early dawn”). The caddy was owned by the influential early nineteenth-century feudal lord and tea aesthete Matsudaira Fumai (1751–1818). He named the vessel after the appearance of its glaze, which resembles the glow of the moon in early morning. Fumai also added his own poem in homage to the caddy on the lid of the accompanying box, further enhancing the work’s rarity as a collector’s item.

Tea is considered a total work of art, drawing from virtually every genre of East Asian arts: painting and calligraphy, lacquer, ceramics, metalwork, and so on. Works of calligraphy, especially related to the Kyoto Zen monastery Daitokuji, have been prized collectibles among tea practitioners, displayed in gatherings for centuries. Letters were also much desired. A letter in the Kinsey collection was sent by a Daitokuji abbot to Sen Sōtan (1578–1658), a key figure in the shaping of the Japanese tea ceremony. The letter details the abbot’s feedback on Sōtan’s Chinese-language poetry—the only such existing document.

Brown stoneware tea caddy.Tea caddy, named Murasame
Japan, Momoyama period, 1568–1600
Stoneware, ash glaze, lacquer
Gift of Gregory Kinsey, Kinsey Chanoyu Collection, in memory of Iwamoto Mieko Soshi, long-time Chanoyu practitioner and teacher, Tokyo, Japan.
Freer Gallery of Art, F2021.3.4a–n