Imagine a teapot that doesn’t really look like a teapot. It doesn’t have a traditional teapot shape. Nor is it made out of traditional teapot materials. No porcelain or clay for this teapot, but rather wood – maple, cherry and holly to be exact. It’s also flanked by Monarch butterflies.
The vessel is Pennsylvania potter Michael Kehs’ interpretation of an old tea kettle. He calls it “Tea Fit For A King” and at $5,300 it’s the most expensive of the 215 teapots on display at Cedar Creek Gallery’s National Teapot Show.
Here the teapots range from traditional to contemporary and are made out of everything from a guitar to thread. While 75 percent of the vessels hold tea, others are strictly art – objects of beauty. All of the teapots are for sale and prices start at $70, with many of pots in the $150 range.
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This year 160 artists, including 60 from North Carolina, are represented in the invitation-only show, which the gallery now hosts every three years.
Some of the state’s most notable potters, such as Cynthia Bringle, Brad Tucker, Ben Owen III and Marsha Owen (they are not related), are a part of the exhibition.
Among teapot collectors, the show is a big deal. Jennifer Dolan, gallery manager and show curator, estimates about 7,000 people will come through before the exhibit closes in September. Collectors from California, Maine, Texas and Vermont already have bought teapots from this year’s show.
Dolan says she is always curious about how artists will portray a teapot. There are so many ways to interpret the spout, the body, the handle and the lid. “This gets discussions going,” she says.
Chapel Hill textile designer Elizabeth Prioli contributed “Scottish Tea for ‘Twa,’ ” meaning two.
Prioli, originally from Scotland, was inspired by her country’s emblem, the thistle. Her whimsical pot’s body is made out of green wool and has a lavender cotton-thread top.
Prioli attended a previous teapot show at Cedar Creek and was disappointed that there were so few fiber pieces. But she liked what she saw.
“There were some fabulous teapots,” she says. “Some were made like animals. It made me think outside the box. It doesn’t have to be straight up and down. A teapot can have a round shape. The thistle came to mind.” She challenged the women in her felt group to make one out of fiber.
She didn’t fathom that her creation would be included in this year’s show and sell within days of the opening. It’s price? $450.
Artists, new and old
“When we put together the show, we are always looking for new voices,” Dolan says. This year, there are 39 newcomers, including DeLanie Wise from Massachusetts, C.J. Niehaus of Illinois and Bayle Owens of North Carolina.
Bayle Owens is a member of one of North Carolina’s most famous pottery families. She’s the daughter of Vernon and Pam Owens of Jugtown Pottery in Seagrove. Bayle Owens created a functional pumpkin-shaped teapot with shades of light blue, green and gray stripes. The teapot’s lid mimics the greenery found at the top of the squash plant. “It’s sort of my impression of the pumpkin’s leaves,” says Owens, who explains she’s excited to be in a show that also highlights the work of her mother, father and brother. “It’s something a little different than I normally make … a lot of table wear: mugs, plates and bowls.”
Teapots are a tricky shape to make, Owens says, but she learned from a master, her mother, Pam Owens.
Pam Owens explains it’s all about proportions: A teapot must pour well, the handle must feel comfortable in the hand and the body needs to fit the rest of the vessel. “You are always trying to calculate everything,” she says.
This year, Pam Owens collaborated with her sister Jennie Lorette Keatts, and created a functional ceramic pot in brown, black and shades of green with a soft iron glaze. Keatts, a jeweler, added a copper and bronze handle and lid to the creation.
Pottery from the heart
The Cedar Creek Gallery National Teapot Show started in 1989. The initial show was the idea of the late Cedar Creek founder and potter Sid Oakley, who saw the event as an opportunity to showcase creativity, imagination and craftsmanship within a theme.
At times, the show has run every two years, but now it’s held every three years because of the work involved in organizing the huge exhibition. This year’s show is the 10th.
The teapot theme was chosen because of the infinite interpretations of its traditional components.
“Pottery is more than a business,” Dolan says. “It’s so from the heart and who you are.”
Bridgette A. Lacy is a freelance writer and the author of “Sunday Dinner, a Savor the South cookbook” by UNC Press of Chapel Hill. Reach her at www.bridgettelacy.com
What: National Teapot Show X
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily through Sept. 5.
Where: Cedar Creek Gallery, 1150 Fleming Road, Creedmoor.
Cost: There’s no charge for looking.
Information: For directions from other parts of the Triangle, check out www.cedarcreekgallery.com/ or call 919-528-1041.