Updating this thread with a great
introductory article to Present ... The Sinologist Victor H. Mair writes in his recent book the True History of Tea:
The new trend of infusing loose-leaf tea also gave rise to the utensil that has come to embody the human cult of the Camillia sinensis plant—the teapot. Ever since the Ming, the most famous Chinese teapots have been made with a porous clay known as zisha, purple sand, found in Yixing just west of Lake Tai. Yixing teapots are prized for their ability to retain heat, store the aroma from every infusion, and maintain the freshness of the tealeaves during lengthy tea parties. Lovingly nursed by connoisseurs, they grow lustrous and beautiful with age. (Mair, 111)
According to the recent archaeological findings, the Zisha clay was not discovered until the Ming Jiajing Period (1522-1566 CE). It seemed to happen all of a sudden—from its birth to its maturity—the early evidence of Zisha teapots already achieved the highest technical and artistic levels. Unlike the ceramic creation, which was based on mass production with a great variety and many locations of kilns, the Zisha clay production was an individualistic and artistic execution from the beginning with a limited variety and only one location of kilns.
There is diminutive evidence to indicate a clear link from the early artisans such as Gong Chun or Shi Dabin (active in the mid-late 16th century) to a previous groundwork, or the technical and artistic progressions of the Zisha production since its early appearance. What it has left for us to study is only the climactic periods of Zisha production in the 1600s, 1800s, 1930s, 1980s, and the present day.
. Zisha clay is one kind of rare clay among the Yixing clay mines. The term Zisha, also known as Yixing Zisha, is used as an umbrella term to describe the Zisha clay or the “purple sand,” which consists of iron oxide, silt, mica, kaolinite, varied quantities of quartz and iron ore as its main mineral constituents. The inimitable dual-porous structure and mineral composition of Zisha clay gives superior ability to retain heat, reduce oxidization, and enhance and store the aroma from tea infusion. In comparison with the ability of heat conducting of common ceramic, Zisha clay's ability of retaining heat can mitigate water temperature fluctuations so that Zisha teapot can dissuade tea aroma and flavor from diminishing. Zisha is such distinctive clay also in the sense of having been only found one place on earth—the Dingshu town of Yixing City 120 miles northwest of Shanghai, and it hardly has ever been exported out of China.
Zisha generally includes three distinctive types of clays. Zini, or “purple clay,” is dark and fine brownish-purple clay, zhuni, or “cinnabar clay,” is orange-reddish high iron content clay. Duanni, or “fortified clay,” is formulated in various quartz and minerals in addition to zini or zhuni, and it appears in various textures and colors, including beige, blue, green and black. Due to the increasing demand for Zisha teapots over time, zhuni is now nearly non-existent in quantities
. Zhuni is not to be confused with Hongni, or the “red clay,” another reddish clay.
Besides the exceptional structure and mineral composition of Zisha clay, the most unique characteristic about the Zisha teapot is the traditional coiling technique of “forging the body” that is used to make a Zisha teapot. Unlike the common “earth clay” which comes in the form of “mud,” the raw Zisha clay comes in the form of rock, and it only appears to be like “mud” after many steps of preparing and refining. For this very reason the true Zisha clay cannot be turned on a pottery wheel. The true Zisha clay can only be manipulated in the following two ways: casting and molding, half-hand building and hand building.
It is easy to tell a Zisha teapot was cast or molded with mechanical equipment; the difference is the cast Zisha teapot is finer in its texture and has a thinner wall than the molded pots. One teapot maker can produce 300-500 pots a day. so that these Zisha teapots cannot encourage tea aroma and flavor from diminishing.
Hand-build teapots are made by the traditional coiling technique of “forging the body,” which was invented by Shi Dabin from the Ming dynasty according to the Zisha history. After raw Zisha clay was being prepared into curbed “mud,” the artist begins to beat and forge the “Zisha mud” with a wooden bat. ... Learning how to build a simple Zisha teapot is equivalent to becoming a sculptor of realism in the art college.
Today, the hand-built Zisha teapot technique is still taught in the traditional way. Master and disciple sit side by side, everything is taught by something called “oral and physical transmission.” It takes 4-8 hours a day and minimum three years to master the basic coiling technique of “forging the body” in order to make a decent teapot, and it takes about ten years to make a masterpiece Zisha teapot. The disciple not only learns how to make a good teapot but also learns how to be a good human being and live a good life from his master. Like a course of metamorphosis, ideally, the master wishes to transform his art and his life, in sum, his soul into his disciple.
The practice of Zisha Art has remained as one of the last traditional cultural and habitual activities that require deep and lasting connection within the artists and the others as the essential part of the art and practice. ...This social and cultural condition has become a severe concern in the practice and development of the Zisha Art today.
the official and professional representative of the Zisha industry, the State Council of China has certified 11 State Grandmasters of Chinese Arts & Crafts, 14 Provincial Grandmaster of Arts & Crafts, 105 Advanced Masters of Arts & Crafts, 223 Masters of Arts & Crafts, 760 Assistant Masters of Arts & Crafts, and 1081 Associates of Arts & Crafts by the end of 2009.
The Zisha Art market has dramatically changed since the 1980s, and the price of a Zisha teapot can range from several US dollars to several million US dollars today.
1. Always remember that making forgeries has been a part of Chinese art history, the ability to tell the forgery from the original is a part of the game for the forger and the collector to play.
2. The Zisha resource has been reduced rapidly due to increasing Zisha ware demands at the Chinese market. Today, one Chinese pound (0.5 kilogram) of high quality raw Zisha clay is priced at 20,000 Yuan (about US $ 3,000).
3. The average Chinese's income has increased dramatically in recent years. Chinese are known as fanatic collectors, between a car and a fine Zisha teapot, the local collector may choose the later. Thus, it is highly unlikely that the Yixing teapots made of authentic Zisha will export to the US market at a low price (let's say $50 per pot at retailer price)
Conclusion: you should not expect to buy a utilitarian teapot made of true Zisha clay for less than a few hundred dollars regardless of how the pot looks or what the dealer tells you, less should you expect to buy a basic Zisha teapot made by Grandmaster for less than $10,000 from the local dealers today.///His “Pine and Cloud,” Zisha teapot sold for $85,000 at the Beijing Rongbao auction in November 2010.References
1. K. S. Lo, 1986. The Stone Wares of Yixing, from the Ming Period to the Present Day.
2. Victor H. Mair, 2009. The True History of Tea.[/i]"Source: http://www.yeyoungtea.com/zisha-teapot.php