Yixing Teapots: Curated by Xiaoping Luo

Sep 2nd - Sep 25th, 2005

Yixing Teapots have an interesting history that dates back to the Sung dynasty (960-1279) when purple clay was first mined around Lake Taihu in China. This signature clay of Yixing, an area situated 120 miles northwest of Shanghai is located in the Jiangsu province. The unpretentious earthy tones and subtle beauty of these teapots flourished and matured during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1573-1911). In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, scholars variously praised, made, inscribed, and collected this renowned classic Chinese art form.

Highly prized for its porous nature, which is excellent at absorbing the flavor of tea, Yixing clay occurs naturally in three characteristic colors: light buff, cinnabar red, and purplish brown. Additional colors can be created by mixing these three together, or adding mineral pigments. It is said that if you use a Yixing teapot for many years, you can brew tea just by pouring boiling water into the empty pot. The special zisha clay (containing iron, quartz, and mica and found only in Yixing) from which the pots are made absorbs the delicate flavors of the tea and the teapot becomes more seasoned with each use. The clay also is renowned for its ability to hold heat. Minute pores produced in the clay during the firing retain both heat and flavor. The low shrinkage rate of Yixing clay also allows the skillful potter to make a closely fitting lid that inhibits oxidation, thus heightening the teas flavor.

Traditionally, Yixing teapots were small so that each person might have their own. The tiny cups were proportionate to the pots, so drinking many many cups a day may not be considered excessive. Now as then, each piece is hand made and left unglazed, both because it makes better tea and because doing so also allows the color of the clay to shine through.

The artisans making Yixing teapots serve a long apprenticeship under established masters, receiving vigorous training in all aspects of their craft. Many of today's Yixing teapots reflect contemporary themes; modern artisans produce not only replicas of old pots, but continually create new and innovative designs, their inspired imaginations lending individual character to each teapot. Many aspects of the Chinese culture are beautifully brought to life and preserved for future generations through the medium of these treasured works of art.