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Tea Utensils Under Wraps at the Freer Gallery of Art
June 21 to January 4, 2004
Everyone who owns dishes shares the same challenge. How do you store and protect them when they’re not in use? In Japan, where tea ceremony vessels may be treasured works of art, this issue takes on a different dimension and the challenge becomes an opportunity. Some particularly significant and decorative storage solutions are on display together with their contents in a small exhibit opening on June 22 at the Freer Gallery of Art. “Tea Utensils Under Wraps” runs through Jan. 4, 2004.
“In Japan,” says curator Louise Cort, “the tea utensil is the core of a much larger package of bags, boxes and wrappers that protect it but also define its identity and significance. Especially old and important objects may rest within several concentric boxes provided by successive owners. The variety and quality of the packaging materials reflect the status of the utensils within and the personal tastes of their owners, constituting a sort of material manifestation of the utensil histories.”
Storage boxes are typically made to measure from lightweight and fire-resistant paulownia wood. Not surprisingly, the box lid usually bears handwritten documentation of the object within. This may, however, also include information about the identity of previous owners, many of whom commissioned box inscriptions from tea masters or other professional connoisseurs.
Textiles also play important roles in storing and adorning tea utensils. A square of silk or cotton or a drawstring bag padded with silk batting characteristically protects the utensil in its box, where additional paper authentication documents may also be stored. When displayed in the tea room, containers for powdered tea may be placed in bags tailored from scraps of precious Chinese silk. During storage, squares of Indian block-printed cotton or handspun cotton cloth are favored for wrapping the entire package into a secure bundle, the contents of which are identified by an inscribed wooden tag.
Objects on view, which are gifts to the Freer Gallery of Art from Peggy and Richard M. Danziger, include:
The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call 202.357.2700 or TTY 202.357.1729, or visit the galleries’ Web site at asia.si.edu.