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Tea Time

Kevin Arnfield
Ceramics teacher getting pottery off a shelf
Pottery on a shelf
Tea Time

On a shelf above his desk, visual arts teacher Kevin Arnfield keeps a study collection of hand-sized ceramic cups. Beheld as a cluster, they form a photogenic mosaic. Individually, they are even more striking. With different shapes, patterns, and textures, each cup is a universe unto itself. 

“They ultimately derive from the Japanese tea ceremony cups that go back five hundred years,” Arnfield says. The cups were introduced to Japan from China between the 13th and 15th centuries CE. The ones adorning Arnfield’s shelf are a study collection comprising the work of professional artists sprinkled with some teacher and past student examples. “They’re very popular in contemporary ceramics, ‚Äč‚Äčlike a little sketch pot for studio potters to explore surface ideas. I like them a lot. I make them, I teach with them, and I use them for this daily ritual.” 

During the winter, Arnfield oversees Tabor’s afternoon art program. In recent years, he’s started a tradition that has become quite popular. Every afternoon, before students arrive, he lines up a selection of these cups on a table in the studio. He then makes two pots of tea, one caffeinated and one decaffeinated, and sets them next to milk and honey. Finally, he lays out some sort of baked treat, usually cookies or scones.  When the students come in, they each select their cup for the afternoon. “It’s a personal choice,” Arnfield says, “an artistic decision.” As they sip their tea and nibble on the confection du jour, they use the time to be present and enjoy each other’s company. 

“We’re just casual,” Arnfield says. “It’s just about being friendly and having a little unscripted time together. Life, in general, in institutions can be very scripted. Students really react to having a little bit of downtime, even if it’s just fifteen minutes for a cup of tea.”

Sometimes the conversation will focus on a specific cup or a particular technique, but Arnfield believes the students are learning about art even if there’s no academic discussion. “Just using and touching the cups is one of the wonderful things about ceramics,” he says. “It’s an art that’s democratic and individual, but sort of common at the same time. It’s a wonderful way for people to connect to art because it’s not intimidating.”

While the cups are appreciated by the winter art students, they play a more active role in the advanced ceramics course. “Those students are a lot more certain about which cups they like and for what reasons,” Arnfield says. “They become discussion points — details to study or techniques to try.” 

For the winter students, the food tends to take priority. “I actually think some of them sign up because of the tea and cookies,” Arnfield laughs. And who’s to blame them? Every afternoon, he brings in a different treat. “Scones are my specialty,” he says. “I make currant scones often, and sometimes I’ll do lemon and ginger ones. Those are quite delicious, but harder to make.” If Arnfield doesn’t have time to bake, he’ll bring in cookies from the local Aldi’s market. “They have this German butter cookie with a stamped chocolate top that I’m particularly fond of.” 

In the future, tea might play an even more prominent role on campus. Arnfield is always looking for opportunities to launch exciting interdisciplinary projects involving art and ceramics classes. Arnfield is currently collaborating with colleagues History Teacher Rick DaSilva ’89 and Head of School Tony Jaccaci (who has been teaching in the history department) to design a cross-discipline unit for the Wheel Working and Asian History classes exploring Japanese tea bowls and the history of the tea ceremony.   

Editor's Note: During times of COVID, students in classrooms observed proper COVID protocols and wore masks while working. Food and beverage were not offered during class, but we hope to resume this portion of the beloved tradition soon.