What is a teapot?
(That’s the Warm Up Question, not the Burning One.)
I know this much: In the world of contemporary ceramics there are both functional and sculptural teapots. The sculptural versions – which still reference all the right parts: body, spout, lid, handle – you might not perceive as teapots for all the imagery masking them. If you have never paged through the two Lark Books, 500 Teapots and 500 Teapots, Vol 2 – pictured up top – well, you will find it all there, straight-forward and not-so.
To be completely honest, throughout my ceramics classes and workshops I balked at teapot projects of any sort. Not interested. (Actually exasperated!) To fulfill the assignments, I made desultory objects that I did not enjoy or respect. Precisely NONE of which I kept.
Then one day in my home studio I got interested in making a ceramic version of an old red gas can: rippled sides, wood handle/wire bail assembly and dented, rusty painted surface. I was loathe to call it a gas can, even if it was. I liked the shape and found dozens of others to emulate, but the gas-petrol-oil monikers always gave me pause. I did not want to seem as if I was venerating something I was not. My explorations most definitely were not about Pop Art, products, or politics, but always about the fun and un-traditional pottery shapes and the dented/rusted surface.
Yet, for lack of any other description, I continued to refer to them as ceramic “gas/kerosene/petroleum/oil cans,” for that was their lineage. Stranger still, even if I did not want to make dinnerware, I made sure they were usable, food-safe vessels – some of the handles excluded.
And…I had a teapot blindspot.
Fast forward to July, 2013. I’m showing my latest faux metal works, gas and oil cans included, at the ACGA Clay and Glass Festival in Palo Alto, and who introduces himself but Sonny Kamm, soon joined by his wife Gloria. They, of the renowned Kamm Teapot Foundation Museum. They were funny and charming as they told me they admired my “teapots” and wanted me to email them more imagery so they could select one or more for their collection.
Huh? I make teapots? Sonny and Gloria’s perception gave me more than just a pause, it erased my blindspot and changed a long-held prejudice I did not know I had. I began to see what was laughingly obvious: body-spout-lid-handle = teapot!
If I never place my work in the Kamm Collection (still working on that one…) it will be OK, because the Kamms gave me new eyes and placed me in a ceramic tradition.
Now I need new words.
So here’s the Burning Question for Y’all: What do I call them? My working title for them is Teapot Cans. (I just don’t want to leave the can world behind!) But I have also called them Can Teapots, Teapot Style Cans and simply Teapots, but that last one feels misleading, like I’m leaving something out. Any additional thoughts and angles? Words, phrases, snippets? Your comments and feedback are sincerely requested, here on the blog or on Facebook or Twitter if you got here from there. I will read and play with it all. Thank you!
–Liz Crain, who was told by several early boyfriends she was too stubborn and replied to every one, “No, I’m NOT!!!”
Tags: 500 Teapots, ACGA, gas can, Kamm Teapot Foundation, kerosene can, oil can, Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival, petroleum can, Sonny and Gloria Kamm, teapot