Time for Tea: The Much-loved Cuppa

Our new exhibition opening today, “Time for Tea: the much-loved cuppa” explores New Zealander’s love affair with tea. While we may now be a nation of primarily coffee drinkers, our relationship with tea has a much deeper history. For centuries, Māori have been steeping leaves or roots of certain plants to make infusions for wellbeing. After the arrival of Europeans, Māori accommodated the ritual of providing hot tea when hosting Pākehā, and today every marae has one or more large canteen style teapots.

Tea has been such a pervasive part of our heritage that an 1895 Hawke’s Bay Herald article claimed, “nowhere in the world is so much tea consumed as in New Zealand.” A vital part of daily living, tea was the first thing offered to a guest upon arrival. Many homes boasted a china cabinet to display their best and most treasured fine china; for use only with guests.

Entirely sourced from the collection, this exhibition effectively opens up the museum’s china cabinet and brings out a range of teapots, cups, saucers, plates and other accoutrements for the making and serving of tea. On display are the trappings required for a successful Victorian afternoon tea with all the elegance and ritual that entailed. More amusing items such as ‘moustache cups’ show the interior shelf that was developed to prevent wax from moustaches melting and dripping into the hot drink.

Souvenir items showing scenes of Hastings and Napier are on display alongside examples of Art Deco tea sets and chinaware. One cup, of which we have two examples, shows Emerson Street, Napier immediately following the earthquake on one side and on the opposite side shows the scene following the rebuild. We would love to know if anyone in the community has examples of souvenir china showing scenes from other areas within wider Hawke’s Bay.

At eye level for children, three miniature china tea sets are displayed to view and enjoy. These reminisce back to a time when make-believe tea parties were a regular feature of childhood. With teddy bears and dolls, children could hold court and host their own tea party presiding over the teapot.

On the mezzanine floor upstairs, the Nelson Gallery provides a wonderful light-filled space but is challenging in terms of protecting objects from light and heat. However ceramics and metal are unaffected in this environment and we’re sure the public will enjoy the opportunity to see these beautiful, and sometimes quirky, objects in the clear natural light.

In our shop we have sourced a great range of books on tea along with Annette Bull mugs, beakers and milk jugs made using sand from Clive beach. All of which are beautiful as a treat for yourself but would also make fabulous gifts.

From the elegant rituals of Victorian tea through to rough and ready bush tea from a billy, this exhibition displays a variety of beautiful, utilitarian and odd items that were used in the preparation and drinking of tea. Every time I look at this collection of objects I develop a new favourite – my current is a tall rectangular teapot from Japan; clearly not made for a large party. We hope you’ll come in and enjoy this glimpse into New Zealand’s history and relationship with, what was once, our national drink; tea!

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 25 March 2017

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