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  • Installation image

    Maker: A selection of tea vessel ceramic works - by various makers - from the private collection of Lex Dawson
    Courtesy Lex Dawson collection
  • Installation image

    Maker: A selection of tea vessel ceramic works - by various makers - from the private collection of Lex Dawson
    Courtesy Lex Dawson collection

Tea Bowls From A Non Tea Drinker

25 July 2009 - 12 September 2009

Potter Lex Dawson has long been fascinated by the rituals and representation of tea drinking. His fascination started as teenager and he discovered this interest through reading about 1950s American poetry and writing. A beautiful picture of Tangier resident and American expatriate Paul Bowles surrounded by mint tea making paraphernalia was an early entrancement. In reading Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac he came across a tantalising account of the Japanese styled home of poet and Japan enthusiast Gary Snyder. These small things triggered a lifelong fascination with the rituals and appurtenances of tea drinking which span the roles of both collector and potter.
This interest moved Dawson, in his early 20s, to enrol in pottery night classes and like most learners of the time was schooled in the Anglo-Oriental tradition as espoused by Bernard Leach. He consequently made things like tea bowls. He was able to see and handle actual oriental ceramics, including tea ceremony pieces, at the Auckland Museum. And he began to collect works by other potters - local and international - who were inspired by the tradition of the Japanese Tea ceremony.

Drinking green tea has great significance in Japan. The tea equipage includes a cloth (chakin), tea bowl (chawan), caddy (temae), scoop (chashaku) and whisk (chasen). In Japan these objects are revered: some tea bowls hundreds of years old are still in use on special occasions. Whisks, which are easily damaged, are taken to temples and ritually burned in an annual ceremony. Dawson also respects the ritual quality of these objects and their quality as ceramics. For him the tea bowl is almost a test case ceramic. When asked what he thinks the hallmark of a good tea bowl is he says that it is the quality "of making you want to pick it up, examine it and then decide where to drink from".

The installation is based on Dawson's lifelong interest in the ritual of tea drinking. The first part is his collection of tea bowls, together with tea ceremony cake dishes, that are made by himself and others. The second part is his homage to a ritual New Zealand tea ceremony: the Kiwi Smoko which includes items that are made by Dawson and others which are ‘real'.