Article published Jun 30, 2014 by Katie Klingsporn Herald staff writer

Earth, air, water, fire and tea bowls

Exhibition at the White Dragon Tea Room


Santa Fe sculptor Margeaux Klein has worked in everything from ink and glass to metals, fabrics and photography in her 40-year career. She has done large installations, married mediums in complex ways and explored the border between painting and sculpture.

Lately, though, she has circled back to where she started – clay – with a series inspired by one of life’s simplest pleasures: a cup of tea.

Using handmade glazes and a raku kiln, Klein makes ceramic tea bowls designed for the ancient Japanese ceremony of drinking Matcha tea, a green tea celebrated for its health benefits.

The tea tradition, known as the chado, is considered a spiritual experience that embodies harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

Klein said she was drawn into the creation of chawan tea bowls by her own deepening spiritual life.

“The tea bowl is a hand-held sacred space,” she said. “The drinking of tea is a form of meditation. As my spiritual life develops, I think that my artwork is going in that direction.”

An exhibit of her bowls will open Wednesday at the White Dragon Tea Room, 820 Main Ave. She will be there to talk about her pieces, and people can learn more about Matcha and tea traditions from White Dragon owner Michael Thunder.

Klein’s bowls are both rustic and delicate, with earthy markings created by the super-heated combustion of her technique and fine, even walls built with adept hands on the pottery wheel. While they appear rough-hewn at first, a closer look reveals complex glaze cracking and careful details.

The bowls are also imperfect – by design. She incorporates the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of Wabi-sabi into her pieces. Wabi-sabi, she said, is about finding beauty in asymmetry, impermanence and simplicity – qualities most often found in real life.

“The bowls are generally off-center and can sometimes look kind of ugly,” Klein said. “If you relinquish perfection, it reveals more beauty in life.”

She begins her process of creating the tea bowls by building a set of 108 bowls, a nod to the Buddhist mala, which contains 108 prayer beads.

“That gives me an opportunity to sit at the potter’s wheel and focus only on the making of the bowls,” she said. “Usually, it takes me about a month to do that.”

For the Wabi-sabi element of perfection, each bowl requires something to throw it a little off kilter, she said. And sometimes, that can be the hardest part.

“That has to be an authentic motion,” she said. “You can tell by looking at the tea bowl if there’s been a contrived effort to throw it off-kilter.”

Klein admitted some of her bowls come out “self-consciously” imperfect but said it’s all part of the practice.

“I’ll probably make bowls for the rest of my life, and with each bowl, it will kind of be a measurement of my day,” she said.

Once the bowls are finished, she fires them in a raku kiln, which uses gas burners to reach temperatures of 1,200 degrees. After that, she throws open the kiln, pulls out the bowl while it is still molten-hot and places it into a vessel full of combustible materials like paper and wood.

“Everything catches fire, you put a lid on it, and, as it smokes, the glaze hardens,” she said. “All these things happen that you can’t control, and I love that. You pull it out of that can, and you have no idea what you are going to get. It’s a good lesson in letting go and the impermanence of life.”

Klein said she finds deep satisfaction in working with clay, which is the medium she used as the foundation of her first pieces four decades ago.

“There’s something very essential about clay for me,” she said. “After 40 years, it’s like a circling back to my roots.”

The simple form of a tea bowl, she said, can hold a great deal of meaning, and the practice of drinking tea can be a moving meditation.

“Meditation and tea go hand in hand,” she said. “It’s a ritual. We all need rituals in our daily life to stop for just a minute and contemplate life.”

Klein said she has been seeking the meaning of life for years, mostly in the pages of books.

But, she said, “I’m finding that the meaning of life really lies in the stillness of a cup of tea.”