Tempestuous teapots


February 17, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

If you're blue and you don't know where to go -- try the National Museum of Ceramic Art, where they're having a show called "The Tea Party."

That's right, folks, 52 teapots from all over the country, Maine to California and Oregon to Florida.

If you think that's dull, you ain't seen these teapots.

These aren't historical teapots. They're all by contemporary ceramics artists who have let their imaginations go.

The teapot form, writes curator Leslie Ferrin, tempts ceramics makers by its challenges; most of these are essentially sculptural expressions, but, we're told, they're all also functional.

Some of them look decidedly more functional than others, but no matter. Ferrin also writes that they reflect "many influences, styles, and periods in art, including modern, folk, contemporary, traditional, and Eastern," and if you like you can look for all of those.

You can, in fact, be as deadly serious about your viewing experience as you like, but it takes nothing away from the seriousness of these artists to say that you can also relax and enjoy the sheer delight of teapots such as you have never seen before.

Jerry Berta's "Blue Diner" is in the shape of a diner, complete with doors and windows, and that's one of the least flamboyant works here. One of the most is Leslie Roth's "Picnicque Parfait," which has an entire dejeuner sur l'herbe on its lid -- a woman regarding a roast chicken, wine and fruit on a big flowing cloth.

Joellyn Rock made her "First Lady Teapot" in the shape of a woman, with a teacup as a head, and decorated it with an eagle, the White House, a woman on a pedestal carrying a briefcase, and first names of first ladies from Martha to Hillary.

The animal kingdom is well represented: Annette Corcoran's "Great Egret," Nancy Adams' "Laughing Horse" and Gloria Pacosa Cain's "Dog Tea Scene Box." Kathryn McBride's "Elephant Ride" has the elephant as the pot, a child riding it as the lid, and his mother putting a coin in the slot as the handle.

A bawling baby's head forms the pot of Mark Burns' "Ba Bee Sting," with a bee on the lid, and the red lump of a bee sting on baby's forehead as the spout. Maybe the most curious is Richard Notkin's "Pre New World Order I -- Heart Teapot Yixing Series." It's in the shape of a human heart, with arteries and veins, painted in camouflage colors.

It's enough to make you turn for relief to a few of the simpler examples here, included no doubt for their sheer beauty: John Neely's "Untitled," a classic form in dark brown with wooden handle, and Peter and Peg Saenger's "Tea Service" with its understated art nouveau lines.

My favorite titles in the show aren't titles of teapots, they're titles on a teapot. Henry Cavanagh's teapot "Brownstone" is in the shape of a building, with shops on the first floor and organization names on the second floor windows, such as you see in New York. The organizations include Veterans of Local Wars, Winkin Blinkin & Nodd Attorneys, Surgery "R" Us and Beau-Hunks Escort Service.

How you gonna go home to your china teapot after you've seen these gems?


Where: National Museum of Ceramic Art, 250 W. Pratt St.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; through May 15.

Admission: $1.

Call: (410) 837-2529.

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