Famous Piece of Tea Culture Enters Freer’s Collections

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I am absolutely in love with iced tea—I chug it morning, noon and night, horrify my friends with my cache of Sweet N Low (which has been proven to be non-carcinogenic, thankyouverymuch) in my pantry and twice a year I make my dental hygienist turn tricks with a water pick to remove resultant dental staining. Based on that description, one might surmise that tea rituals in my home are perfectly mundane, if not somewhat indecorous. And, after looking at one of the Freer's most recent acquisitions, I'm liable to agree that my Mr. Tea looks a mite shabby by comparison. Granted, it's extremely hard for anyone to upstage the Chinese or Japanese when it comes to presenting tea.

At almost 17 inches high, an amber-glazed tea jar known as Chigusa—which, roughly translated, means "abundance of varieties" or "abundance of plants"—is a prime piece of tea time flair with an unusually long provenance. Based on the ciphers—which date as far back as the 15th century—that decorate the jar, the piece traveled and was traded amongst artists, tea enthusiasts and persons of political power. Indeed, Chigusa is known to have played the part of a diplomat and was used to maintain alliances between the Tokugawa shoguns and their political rivals. The jar passed into the hands of the Tokugawa government, which dissolved in 1868, before entering into private hands, where it remained throughout the 20th century. The first time it left its homeland was to travel to New York where it was auctioned and acquired by the Freer.

"Chigusa is an ensemble of Japanese art practices unlike any other in an American collection," says Japanese art historian Andrew Watsky of Princeton University. "It has traced a long journey, beginning in China and then to Japan, where many admired it for centuries. It is a great stroke of good fortune that Chigusa's new home is the Freer: there it will join a long-standing collection of tea objects; visitors from around the world will see it in the galleries, and scholars will be able to study it under ideal conditions. I applaud the Freer for this important acquisition, and I look forward to many visits there to see Chigusa."

The Freer will announce its plans on how it will display Chigusa sometime in 2010 so that tourists the world over can enjoy this unique piece of tea culture.

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