By Stephanie Hanson
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia. Never have I seen so many teapots and tea paraphernalia in one place. In fact, it was quite overwhelming, and requires many hours of scrutiny to fully absorb. The collection focuses on Early American decorative arts.
One section of the exhibit is entirely devoted to tea culture through the early history of the country. It featured a large collection of tea sets and tea urns, such as the large tea urn featured in this picture. Its purpose was to keep the tea warm throughout an afternoon of enjoyment. You will notice that the teacup lacks a handle, a common element during this period. The American colonies, as well as Britian, were experiencing a period of Oriental fever, and based many tea pieces on Chinese and Japanese designs.
Another section focused on silverwork, both in the colonies and in Great Britain, including Ireland and Scotland. This collection of spoons has its home in that exhibit. In the top left, you see the tongs and nippers used for the cones in which sugar was sold during this time. The tiny teaspoons in the middle were children’s spoons, used to teach them the etiquette of the table. At the bottom in the center, you will see a gold mote spoon, pierced in the bowl to strain the tea and barbed at the end to clear clogs from teapot spouts.
The museum provided a great deal of information about the craftsmanship that went into the pieces in the collection, including the differences between different techniques of painting and pottery. In the example below, the placard explains the techniques of hard paste porcelain.
In the case below, the display shows the technique of slip-casting. Clay and water are mixed together to make slip, a mixture with the consistency of heavy cream. Then the mixture is poured into a mold, made of plaster of paris. The plaster absorbs the water and the clay hardens to the mold.
The museum also has exhibits about stoneware, pewter, copper, and brass, for tea and other niceties of civilization.
See more photos from the DeWitt on Stephanie’s blog!