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Morgan Pitelka

Ceramic Truths
Premodern Japan

Monday, January 9, 2023


Sponsored by Janice Rabinowicz

Tea bowl with cranes. Late 18th-early 19th century. Raku Ryōnyū. Raku ware; earthenware with red glaze. 3 5/8 x 4 3/4 x 4 3/4" (9.21 x 12.07 x 12. 07 cm.) Minneapolis Institute of Art (open access). 2015.79.317.1.

One of the most profound insights to emerge from Japanese tea culture is the idea of “one time, one meeting” (ichigo ichie), which encourages tea practitioners to cherish the uniqueness of each tea encounter as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. According to this concept, the specific ingredients in any particular tea gathering—the host, the guests, the season, and even the ceramic utensils themselves—cannot be reconstituted, and thus should be cherished. In this presentation, Pitelka will explore this and other truths in relationship to the Japanese tea bowl. There is in Japan’s tradition of the tea ceremony (chanoyu) a deep commitment to mindfulness, embodied experience, non-verbal communication, and the power of objects. Over the course of five centuries, this commitment has resulted in a series of meaningful truths that can be gleaned from consideration of even a simple ceramic container for frothy green tea. 

Morgan Pitelka received his B.A. in East Asian Studies with honors from Oberlin College and his Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from Princeton University. Before joining the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2010-present), he taught at Occidental College (2002-2010). His scholarship focuses on the history of late medieval and early modern Japan, with an emphasis on the samurai, tea culture, ceramics, cities, and material culture. His new project is an environmental history of Kyoto. 


Morgan is the son of the American potter Vince Pitelka. He grew up in his father’s ceramics studio and learned to make pots at an early age, continuing the practice in high school in Amherst, Massachusetts, and later as a member of the Xiem Clay Center in Pasadena, California. Morgan’s first scholarly research project was a study of the Raku ceramic tradition in Japan. The book that resulted, Handmade Culture: Raku Potters, Patrons, and Tea Practitioners in Japan, used original Japanese documents from the 16th-20th centuries; heirloom Raku tea bowls from collections in the U.S., Europe, and Japan; and new archaeological evidence to completely revise our understanding of the Raku tradition and its role in Japan’s traditional tea culture. 

CCC Jan '23 Pitelka Head Shot.jpeg
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