Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vintage Gaiwans

I ask Michael if I can take photos of his vintage gaiwan collection to share with some friends on the web. "Just be careful with them," he says as he watches me raid the cabinets. "It's hard to find the older styles." Knowing the hefty price tag on some of them, I'm very careful with the gaiwans. But I do trip over a wire and knock his super expensive camera off the table. Surprisingly, he allows me to live and continue taking photos. Here are a few of my favorites. No gaiwans were harmed in the making of this post.
Lively brushwork on a rich orange surface. Michael believes this piece was crafted as early as the 1930's. Vintage gaiwans enhance a collection with different clay, discontinued colors and shapes. There's a variety of artistic styles missing in more modern forms; not to mention a level of creative expression that was stamped out during the Cultural Revolution.

A playful piece with bold primary colors. Is it a psychedelic plant creature with multiple heads? Was the artist recreating a childhood dream or nightmare?

From retro outburst to an elegant floral motif.

It seems there really is a style for every mood and every tea.

Let's compare a pre-Cultural Revolution gaiwan to it's modern counterpart:
Many older gaiwans are characterized by a bluish-grey tint to the porcelain. A hue made more apparent when compared to this modern gaiwan with it's milky white complexion. It's not hard to see why the short, shallow nob and straight walls of older styles have fallen out of vogue. It takes a skilled tea brewer with adroit, nerve-deadened fingers to maintain a secure grip on this type of vessel filled with dangerously hot tea. Newer gaiwans generally have a tall, easy-to-grasp nob and a flared rim that allows for a comfortable grip.

What's the safest way to handle a vintage lid with a shallow nob?
Pinch one side of the nob with thumb and index finger and brace the middle finger against the opposite side of the nob.

Another eye-popping design. This one I've used (very carefully) for tea tastings. I love to pair a decades old gaiwan with an equally old tea. The opportunities are rare but the experiences are unforgettable.

A more traditional looking piece with delicate artwork. Little details like the cobalt blue mountain peaks add something precious to the already graceful scene. Subdued and refined.
For a more contemplative tea experience. A rare find: the skillful brush strokes and delicate coloring by the artist increases the value of this piece from the 1930's. Sadly, many gaiwans of this caliber do not survive the decades of use. Often times, cups are missing lids or vice versa. But separate pieces still have a value and use. What was once a beautiful lid can be flipped over and used as a shallow tea or rice wine cup. The nob now becomes a little foot. New life for old porcelain.


Brent said...

Lovely photos, thank you for sharing! Do be careful around the photography equipment though... :)

toki said...

Great Start! Ms. Yumcha. Hope there is no broken saucer involved : )
Can't wait to see how this develop. - Toki

Janine said...

Very beautiful, Yumcha. What a great topic! When I got the email about this, my first thought was, "Oh no! They will post photos of my favorite gaiwan and somebody else will BUY IT!"

TheDarjeelingTeaLady said...

Some one may love antiques more than me?
But, I doubt it* Thank you for sharing such poetic reverie. Vessel surely deserves to impart its wisdom to the tea. Terrific topic!

Daniel said...

Speaking of gaiwans, do you drink from them? I was raised not too (and by raised I mean that the people I began drinking tea with regularly did not do it). Just curious, because I think it is fairly common?

yumcha said...

Good question, Daniel.
We don't drink directly from gaiwans. We brew tea from the gaiwan into a fairness pitcher and then serve into individual cups. You can see people drinking from gaiwans at teahouses but I don't know any serious gongfu cha practioners that would do that.

Daniel said...

Ok, thanks. That's good to know. Sometimes, when I use enough cups so that one infusion can fit entirely into the cups, I decant directly from the brewing vessel into the cups with an even pour. But either way, I will continue to use my little cups and not drink from the gaiwan! I like those little cups :)