BALTIMORE – Traditionally teapots pour tea, but at a North Baltimore ceramic arts center they speak as well – telling stories of passion, tradition and inspiration.
The teapots start “talking” Jan. 13 when the “100 Teapot III” exhibit opens in a converted gray stone convent, now home to Baltimore Clayworks in Mt. Washington. The exhibition, the third of its kind, showcases 100 teapots chosen from a pool of 670 entries from artists nationwide. The exhibit closes February 21.
“I think that each of these pots – whether they are narrative or functional pots – tells the story of the artist and what people find beautiful,” said Forrest Snyder, exhibitions director for Baltimore Clayworks.
The stories behind the teapots range from tales of hiking through the redwood forests of California to whimsical jokes about a “fat lady” once ogled by circus-goers. Other teapots seem to be elaborate sculptures that are barely recognizable as teapots.
Potter Matt Hyleck created a small teapot that holds a shot glass amount of tea and a slightly larger teapot made for serving guests. The teapots have wood ash trickling down the surface and crackling within the glaze. Hyleck created the pots in this way to mimic the Asian aesthetic of craftsmanship and detail.
For Hyleck, teapots recall a time when he drank tea from a similar tiny pot in Taiwan, where he lived for three months in 2005. The elaborate ceremony that surrounds the serving and drinking of tea in Taiwan enchanted Hyleck and inspired him to capture the ritual of his own life in his pottery.
“As a functional artist, it’s difficult to find our own ceremonies because we as Americans have such a diluted culture,” he said. “Tea has such a cultural family lineage in China and Taiwan. I try to find the ceremony and purpose behind the vessel.”
Hyleck was born into a house in Kentucky with hand-crafted, eclectic pottery – where none of the dishes matched – because his father was a potter. His mother drank tea everyday and Hyleck himself grew-up drinking tea.
Another potter, New York-based Alice Simpson, tells the story of her struggle with food through the image of Dolly Dimples, a woman whose passion was eating.
“I love food and can’t always eat as much as I’d like,” Simpson said.”(The teapot) deals with my issues of eating and dieting and my friends’ issues.”
Dolly Dimples headlined a freakshow act billed “The World’s Prettiest Fat Girl” in the early 20th century. In the 1930s Depression era, when many Americans struggled to put food on the table, Dolly weighed 555 pounds and boasted a 68-inch waist, 84-inch hips and a 74-inch bust in her prime. She was barely five feet tall.
The dimples in her elbows – hence her stage name – were one inch deep. Dolly ate four to eight eggs, one half a pound of bacon, icecream, a loaf of bread and cafe au lait for breakfast, Simpson said in a note accompanying her teapot.
Simpson covered one side of her teapot with a painting of Dolly in a flimsy pink dress grinning coyly while lifting her skirt. Underneath is written, “Eating was her joy – the defining passion of her life.” The ceramic top of the pot is what appears to be a slice of apple pie, and on the back is a square hole just big enough for a cupcake – a place to hide desserts, Simpson said.
Simpson used the story of Dolly Dimples on her teapot to challenge the traditional concepts of beauty, sexiness and desire. Simpson said she wanted to bring an edginess to her work because the photos she saw of Dolly were titillating – the fat lady dressed as a young girl lifting her skirt.
“In these images there is a quality of sexuality, hunger and something sort of beautiful about them as well,” she said.
Another teapot “Green Garden” by Farraday Newsome evokes the long days she spent trekking through the redwood forests near her home in Boulder Creek, Calif., a small lumbering town isolated in the woods. She hiked until dusk with her dog, collecting spiders and their webs, shells, old wood and rocks.
“Some of my earliest memories are being acutely fascinated with the form of flowers and leaves,” she said.
On Newsome’s “Green Garden” her love of nature is evident. A mother bird perches next to her eggs while a large purple snail rests nearby. On the front of the teapot, orange and purple fruit protrude against a green, glossy background.
Potter Collette Smith’s teapot tells the story of how Smith fell in love with pottery. Smith has been a potter for the last 30 years and said she has always loved the feel of clay, even as a child.
She went to school for fashion design, but became enamored with pottery when she saw heaps of it in South American markets during a stay with her husband who was in the Peace Corps.
Smith brought her love of color and pottery to her work, a triangular teapot with clouds of brown splattered against a light blue backdrop. “We put our soul into our work, and it’s like having a little piece of the artist’s personality in it,” she said. “It’s the humanity of it. It’s why people still crave hand-crafted objects.”