Tea In America Exhibit At Historic Deerfield April 28

Photo: Penny Leveritt

Teapot, Staffordshire or Yorkshire, England, inscribed “Love Unites Us” and on reverse “When this you see/ Remember me/ tho many miles/ we distant be,” 1770–80, lead-glazed creamware with overglaze black and red enamel. Gift of John B. Morris, Historic Deerfield, Inc, Deerfield, Mass. —Penny Leveritt photo

DEERFIELD, MASS. — Historic Deerfield opened a lobby exhibition, “Tea Talk: Ritual and Refinement in Early New England Parlors” in the Flynt Center of Early New England Life, which explores the fascinating history and material culture of tea and tea drinking in America. The exhibition will be celebrated with an opening reception, presentation and tea tasting on Sunday, April 28, at 2 pm.

Amanda Lange, curator of historic interiors, curatorial chair at Historic Deerfield will give a presentation on exhibit highlights, and Bob and Mary Lou Heiss, tea connoisseurs and owners of Tea Trekker in Northampton, Mass., will discuss their experiences traveling and photographing the world’s tea-growing regions. The presentations will conclude with a tea tasting, courtesy of Tea Trekker.

Tea and tea drinking arrived in New England by the late Seventeenth Century, a time of burgeoning trade and expansion of the British Empire. This stimulating brew was first touted as a cure for a variety of illnesses, such as colds, headaches, sleepiness, poor digestion and hangovers. But in no time tea was soon counted among the necessities of life, many found a warming cup of tea invaluable for entertaining friends, sharing polite conversation and town gossip, practicing etiquette and lessons in refinement, displaying their family’s wealth and status or just withstanding the rigors of a cold New England winter. 

Although at first its high cost confined the beverage to the parlors of the wealthy, tea eventually extended to all economic levels of New England society. The popularity of tea proved to be a boon for craftsmen, such as potters, silversmiths, cabinetmakers and glassblowers. The caffeinated beverage required a host of novel equipment with which to prepare and serve it properly: a table and chairs, a hot water kettle and stand, a teapot, sugar bowl, tea canister, slop or waste bowl, cream pot and silver spoons — not to mention the cups and saucers. Porcelain tea wares from China were the logical early choice for serving the beverage, but it was not long before British and American craftsmen produced their own wares in competition. Utensils made of earthenware or pewter served people of average or lesser means, while the wealthy turned to the silversmith or the china merchant for more fashionable equipage.

With more than 50 objects from the permanent collection on display, various themes and subject matters discussed include forms and functions of tea drinking equipage; issues of refinement, etiquette, and socializing; tea wares as gifts for family, lovers, and friends; and the marketing of tea and tea wares in early New England. 

In association with this show is a second tea exhibition in the adjacent Flynt Center Hallway titled “Precious Leaves: China’s Legendary Spring Green Teas,” consisting of more than 13 contemporary photographs of traditional hand-processed tea production taken in rural China. The photographs were taken by Mary Lou Heiss, a nationally recognized authority in the field of tea and tea culture. Heiss is the co-author of The Story of Tea (2007) and The Tea Enthusiast Handbook (2010), as well as co-owner of Tea Trekker. Both exhibitions will be on view until February 16, 2014.

The April 28 reception is free for members (registration required) and $15 per person for non-members (includes museum admission).

Historic Deerfield is at 80 Old Main Street. For more information, 413-775-7127 or www.historic-deerfield.org.

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