Hundreds of stories are embedded in the Chinese ceramics that have recently been reinstalled on the Great Hall Balcony (Gallery 200 through Gallery 205), at the heart of the Museum. Some of these stories tell of technological advances in ceramic production, others illustrate aspects of Chinese culture, and many—including comparative pieces from around the world—illustrate China's continuous and complicated impact in global ceramic history. All of these stories intertwine in fascinating and, sometimes, unexpected ways.
For example, the rise in the production of tea bowls during the eleventh to the twelfth century illustrates the growing use of tea, which, in turn, can be traced to the role of this beverage as a stimulant for Buddhist meditation. This demand became so intense that some of the hundreds of kilns producing ceramics in China at this time, such as the Jian kilns in Fujian Province in the southeast, began to specialize and produce only tea bowls. Bowls produced at the Jian kilns are characterized by lush black/brown glazes that show dramatic patterns such as the aptly named "hare's-fur" design in their surfaces. These designs were created by manipulating the amount of iron-oxide in the glaze. During firing, the excess iron segregates itself from the glaze compound thereby creating patterns such as the "hare's fur."
Although they were produced for domestic use and not intended for export, Jian tea bowls were sometimes brought to Japan by Buddhist monks who had traveled to China to practice and study with famous masters. Rare in Japan, these treasured bowls, which were sometimes used in the tea ceremony, were often repaired using gold lacquer.
By the fifteenth century, Japanese kilns also produced tea bowls with "hare's-fur" and other Chinese glaze patterns. These designs are collectively known as temmoku after the Japanese reading of Mount Tianmu, an important Buddhist center in Fujian near the Jian kiln complex.
Temmoku glazes, which continue to be used in Japan today, traveled from China and Japan to the West in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This was due to a renewed interest in Asian ceramics spurred in part by widespread concerns regarding urbanization, industrialization, and mass production that underlay the Arts and Crafts Movement (1860–1910) and its emphasis on individual production and artistic expression.
The "hare's-fur" pattern in the glaze on a tea bowl by Charles Fergus Binns is therefore a descendant of the eleventh- and twelfth-century tea bowls that are also on view on the balcony. Binns, who owned a collection of Japanese ceramics, moved from England to the United States in the late nineteenth century, and is credited with laying the foundation for the rise of the American studio pottery in the early twentieth century.