Taiwan – Silver teapot dialogue

20.09.2010 - Taipei - Tony Henderson

Chung Wei-wen was quite touched at the sight of the Bangladeshi jewellery workers crafting decorative pieces in gold as shown in photographs at this writer’s home and made possible following my visit to Savar, near Dhaka. There lies a dusty back street area replete with like craftsmen, men and boys, busy in their traditional ways of manufacture.

*“I prefer using those same simple, basic tools and machines to produce my designs, just as they are doing but they are using even more basic tools, quite old fashioned, so compared with those craftsmen I am relatively sophisticated but compared with other silversmiths in this line of work, no, I am something of a traditionalist as well,”* he smiled.

That’s how he likes to work, using simple tools and basic skills. The techniques are largely the same. The Savar artisans are taught father to son.

This Taiwanese, who prefers to be known as a silversmith and craftsman rather than an artist, came to Hong Kong for the September 2010 jewellery show but did not go to the show on the final days when finished products were displayed, because, he says: “I do not want my designs to be infiltrated by other’s ideas but want to keep my mind clear to develop in my own way.”

*“I went to the show because I need to purchase good stones and silver necklaces, in original materials. Not to buy very expensive stones but true stones, in beautiful colours, particularly seeking out moonstones. They have a certain purity, in their whites, that somehow brings about peace of mind,”* he informs.

He has declined orders from wealthy clients in the past because he was well aware that those asking for one-off exceptional pieces were just desirous of possessions and accumulating, they did not cherish what was offered as a piece of workmanship as such. ‘Just make it unique and luxurious’ he would be asked.

*“I don’t want to serve the rich only. In the designs I bring out I intend to spend my time on products that meet the needs of ordinary people who can spend some money but not that much, so they must not be excessively expensive. It is easier to make luxury items than it is making items suiting ordinary people because the rationale behind making something extraordinary for rich people is, in the mind of those people, they just want a unique luxury item, and that’s not a problem for the maker.

“I can feel the emptiness in the heart of those people, hiding behind that search for prestige, but not all rich people are like that. Some share my values and I can work with them. I treasure the values of people, what’s in their minds, not their wealth. I want to enjoy communication with people if I can connect with them, and if people come with honest intentions that can happen.”*

When this comes to silver teapots it is an additionally difficult task as Chung Wei-wen must consider the cost of the silver, the time spent in the work itself, and, the design that has to be broadly acceptable yet he wants to put his own stamp on it, after all, it is his work. He has to like what he produces.

He admits that in the beginning his teapots were quite ostentatious befitting their role serving tea in high society. The silver teapot is not an original idea of his. They are in museums everywhere as they were used in the long gone dynasties when they were owned by the top families. For him a teapot is quite different from a fashionable silver accessory as it is a real luxury, even today.

*“In my early days I was agitated because at that time people said the most wonderful artworks were from Japan. I did not agree. I wanted to show that we Taiwanese can also make classic silver teapots, here in Taiwan. Thankfully, this phase did not last long. I soon realised this was wrong thinking. Now I know that it is not necessary to compare which country makes the best of whatever because you might have a good way and I might have a good way, both ways can result in a classic silver teapot!”*

So today Chung Wei-wen makes silver teapots and although these are much more expensive to buy than his accessories, his intention is that they are not prohibitively expensive and out of reach of ordinary people – in the end, it can be said that they are affordably expensive.

*“When I make a silver teapot I have shifted the realm down into the ordinary classes; from making them for the rich, to making them for ordinary people. And I have a conversation about peace of mind with everyone through the teapot. My teapots are affordable, don’t break easily, and silver teapots can make excellent tea as they maintain the temperature, retain the taste, and the tea pours smoothly, without gulping or splashing,”* he ended.

It’s the same with religions, it’s not that one is better than another but just that that one appeared here and another there. The point is, “does it pour smoothly and make ‘good tea’!”

Categories: Asia, Culture and Media, Interviews

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