A Kettle and a Teapot
I acquired this kettle when I was living in Japan and the teapot on a more recent visit.  Why did I want them?  I wanted them first and foremost for their appearance, workmanship and attention to detail.  I knew nothing of their back-stories and frankly that did not matter to me.  I was most interested in their forms, lines, high level of craftsmanship and materials—all aesthetic features.

I first saw one of the Nitto kettles sitting on top of a paraffin stove in a large canteen style restaurant.  This facility had very little “class” to report but was functional.  I don’t remember clearly now but I think it was either at a train station or a ferry port.  A bare freshly scrubbed and still moist concrete floor supported a collection of light weight metal chairs with either dull red or green plastic upholstery placed on either side of equally spartan tables with shinny metal bands around their tops.  Similarly, they were either covered with some kind of dull red manmade material that was heavily worn while others, equally shabby, were in the green—the signature colours of the establishment.

The large kettle on the stove was easily the best designed object in the whole place.  It was a beacon of quality.  The sight of it remained with me for some time until I spotted this 15 litre version in a builder’s merchant and was subsequently given it on my 50th birthday—my wife never understood why I wanted it.

Later I did see the same type of kettle in various sizes in a catalogue, ranging from the biggest down to one which almost looked like something from a doll’s tea set.  They were all exactly the same shape but lacked the spoon shaped lid to go over the spout and the bamboo whipping on the handle.  Actually I am not sure if it is bamboo.  It might be rattan.

It is made of aluminium, which is not the most exciting material.  Nevertheless, I found the kettle very appealing and have always seen it as a piece of design worthy of display, despite the fact that it has an obvious function and use.

An internet search has revealed very little except that Nitto, the maker, produces a number of kettles in various shapes and sizes.  Vintage examples of my 15 litre version are available on auction sites labelled “Showa vintage kettle” referring to the era of the previous Emperor, whose reign lasted from 1926 to 1989.

The teapot is newer.  It was purchased at the Ippodo tea store in Kyoto about six years ago.  Once again the urge to buy it was spontaneous.  It was love at first sight and that feeling was re-enforced the moment I picked it up.  Apart from its aesthetic features it seemed positively functional, too.

It was made in Tokoname, one of Japan’s six ancient kilns.  But is that important?  Does it really matter that it is a product with a very long heritage and was handmade by an extremely skill craftsperson?

Many Japanese have an accumulated knowledge of such things and some will purchase traditional items of repeatable craft in the same way they might buy branded goods like Burberry or Yves Saint Laurent.

It seems that the French and Germans place more value on knowing how something is made and its history.  The British on the whole are nonplussed.

I realise now that after I purchased the teapot my passively acquired knowledge of such unglazed pottery was enough to prompt me to wash it and to thoroughly dry it after use.  The teapot came with its own list of do’s and don’ts.  They actually specifically state meticulous care needs to be taken to dry every part of the teapot and especially the inside.  If not, mould may grow on the unglazed surfaces.  Great care was taken in the making of the strainer, a work of art in its own right.

I, however, was more than happy to buy the teapot while still being ignorant of the history of Tokoname ware and its delicate nature.  Yes, I may be an exception but I am ready to admit that knowing something of the background of this item adds colour and depth to its story.  It is an added value.

Such considerations are particularly important in the case of lacquerware.  Sadly, however, it often seems to me that the high price of a piece is being justified through the back-story—how many hours it took to make, the precious nature of true lacquer and other things besides.  Perhaps it is necessary.  Who knows.  I still maintain the notion that if a piece of craftwork is good enough and it appeals to the right buyer, it is the way it looks and functions that will sell it, not its back-story.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

Do feel free to pass on the address of this blog to anyone you think will be interested.  Or share it on a social media site.  Should you wish to leave a comment, please do so by clicking on the comment mark at the bottom left of this or any of the other posts.   If you have found this blog interesting, why not become a follower.  Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment