Friday, July 24, 2009

Proposal Research - The Beginning

I have been do a lot of prep research for my upcoming school project. The project is to submit a proposal for a museum exhibit. All the other students in my intake group are creating exhibits for already existing museums, but I asked if I could create an exhibit for the museum I hope to one day be able to open, a tea museum. After some discussion I was given the go ahead.

This is very tricky because I 1)have no actual collections from which to draw from and 2)have no actual space in which to house the museum. The second problem I am overcoming by assuming that the Tea Museum will exsist in the space currently occupied by the Austin Children's Museum (in Austin, Texas). The first problem is a bit trickier, because I have to do some very quick research to see what objects a small and new museum would likely to have acquired and then figure out what connections the museum might have with other people and institutions from which loans could be acquired.

I first had to decide exactly what the focus would be. Ultimately I decided to persue the topic of tea cups. Since this is a LARGE topic I had to narrow it down. I decided to follow cups from raw material to object of use, reverance and collection. To accomplish this I plan to divide the overall topic into three main topics; manufacture, styles, use. Each of these topics contains approximately four subtopics. I have decided to go ahead and be bold and attempt to show objects covering a wide range of time and space, but at the same time keep the exhibit from being too stimulating. If I can pull that off I will have demonstrated a pretty key skill.

I plan on supplementing this object-heavy exhibit with some art of tea cups. I want to incorporate some hands-on elements, audio and video elements and personal stories. I need to carefully consider the overall narrative and then find how the personal narratives will forward the main narrative.

So far, I am created (for my own use) a table/timeline which incorporates time periods and significant tea/tea cup related events for China, Japan, Korea, Russia, Europe, Mongolia....there are also some notes for places like Turkey and Moracco. This has been tedious, but quite enlightening if sometimes baffling. For instance, I have had a hard time tracking down what tea cups existed in Japan pre-Edo. I hope the mysteries might be able to be solved when I can finally get to the library.

The Japanese tea ware so far has been overwhelming for me because there is SO much variety. At least 26 chawan shapes, about 5 yunomi shapes, and I have yet to really look at the senchawan. There are about 52 glaze finishes and styles I have found listed so far.

Some interesting things I have run across are Indian "chullarhs" which are low fired cups that street vendors and tea shop owners serve chai in. The idea is that when you are done with your chai you just throw it on the ground and it shatters and eventually will become mud again. I also love the 'ear cups' from China's Eastern Han dynasty. I also loved the design of a shufu cup from the Song Dynasty that looks like a typical small bowl style tea cup, but it is up on a tall stem.

I have also discovered that archaeologically speaking the first use of tea leaves is in India where about 5000 years ago the leaves were used with other herbs to flavor oils. Also, the first medicinal teas in Chine were like thick soups containing tea leaves that had been packed into myriad shapes (bricks, cubes, spheres...) as well as spices, orange peel and onions! Later they would add salt to the tea, which they seem to have liked thick and bitter.

I am also fascinated by how often in the history of tea, the culture is spread through religion. Monks travelling. Even the first European to encounter tea who was a Portuguese Jesuit Father travelling to China as a missionary.

My research so far is a little all over the place and if I find something which interests me I might follow a tanget. If you have any specific questions about anything I have found, feel free to ask. If you have knowledge of any fascinating tea ware or of a good reference which would aid my research feel free to let me know!

Much of what I am learning, I will note, I don't necessarily have documented as well as I would like and so my knowledge of things my change and I keep persuing this topic.


  1. Hi there, we talked briefly on teachat, but as I was in the midst of moving and thus lost internet for a few days, it got put on the backburner.

    Please email me if you want to talk. Just send it to my username at gmail.

  2. Hey you! I didn't know you had a blog! Great stuff. Its Hop by the way from teachat. Talk to you soon!

  3. Hello Tanya!,

    I was wondering if you were open to receive press releases regarding tea and tea products? If you are, please comment back on this post or feel free to email me. Thanks!

    Geoffrey Kutnick