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Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Art of Tea(pots)

One of my favorite albums is by jazz musician Michael Franks. It’s called “The Art of Tea,” and serves as the inspiration for this article. 

For many people, an important aspect of decorating includes building and showcasing one or more collections. Choices include fine china, sculptures or other works of art – or any number of unique and interesting items.

One of the most popular collectibles over the years has been the teapot. Since its introduction hundreds of years ago, this little pot of warmth has been sought after by collectors just as the brew itself has been consumed by tea connoisseurs.

Given its seemingly unlimited potential for individual expression, it is no wonder that the teapot has sparked the interest of many an artist over the years.  In its lifetime, the teapot has evolved from strictly functional to sculptural; offered up as works of art in shapes and sizes as varied as the artists who create them.

Here’s a look at some interesting examples of teapots as art:

Tea service by Suzanne Crane

Suzanne Crane has recently added red to her glaze palette, something her collectors will applaud. 9″ x 7″ x 8″


Crane’s wheel-thrown stoneware pieces are largely functional and their forms are inspired by both Etruscan pottery and the vague Orientalism of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Surface treatment is a reflection of the artist’s deep love for the endless “variation on-a-theme” offered up by wild plants. She presses botanical specimens that she gathers from the woods and creek-sides near rural Virginia studio into the slightly stiffened clay, arranging them both to capture the natural flow of the vine or frond, but also to flatten the object in an abstraction similar to that of 19th century natural history book illustrations. “I work both forwards and backwards in this process,” says Crane, “throwing a piece to best compliment a particular specimen, or searching for a specimen to work with a piece I’ve already thrown.”

Pair of miniature teapots by Michael Banner.
Maquettes with enamel lids.  Completely functional.
6″  x 3″  x 3″


Banner creates a variety of hand-wrought sterling silver pieces, including teapots that have found their way into museum collections.

Contemporary hand-fabricated sterling silver is created in the artist’s
studio using traditional silversmithing tools and techniques such as anticlastic shell and sculpted hollow forms. Color field enamels are vitreous high fired cloisonne enamel over embossed fine silver with hand cut cloisonne.

Banner’s work has been compared by museum curators to the design traditions of Knox and Georg Jensen.   Sculptural as they are, Banner’s teapots are also functional.

Stacked teapot set by Jim Cohen evokes an art deco sensibility. Sterling silver, wood and acrylic.
12″  x 4.50″ x  7″D


For Jim Cohen, the journey that he currently finds himself of started a little over ten years ago when he resigned his position as an attorney in Washington, D.C. to pursue a Master of Fine Art degree.  The fact that he wound up in Sante Fe, New Mexico couldn’t hurt, either.

“My mantra is whimsy-aesthetic-function” says Cohen “I try to imbue each piece I make with those

elements. I want the viewer to see the piece as more than what it appears to be and to enjoy the piece visually, functionally and intellectually. ”

“The Ecstasy of Leda”Teapot inspired porcelain stoneware piece by Kirsten Stingle. 17″x 15″ x 9”


“The goal of my work” says Stingle, “is to create honest depictions of the human quest toward self-revelation and a contemporary identity.”  The artist combines discarded elements from the past with my ceramic work. The mixed-media creates an intriguing dialogue of materials and informs the viewer of the scope of the figure’s journey within each narrative.  One of her recent pieces, “The Ecstasy of Leda,” takes on the form of a teapot.

Yellow Dotted Teapot with Thrush by Lucy Dierks 5″x 5.5″ x 4″


“My pieces express my delight with nature,” says Dierks, “and, like nature, I want them to reflect a harmony of form, surface, and purpose.” The artist strives to make small intimate pieces whose design and texture invite you to hold them. “The contradictory aspects of birds intrigues me,” she says. “I find the exquisite detail of their claws and the patterning of their feathers very satisfying. I perch them on my pieces to encourage contemplation and conversation.”

Small Teapot #3 by Cary Joseph
Thrown and stretched stoneware, unglazed, fired to 2400F for 3 days.
7″ x 6″ x 5″


Cary Joseph creates wood-fired stoneware that has been thrown, textured and stretched, “where the fire and ash are allowed to act on every pot in a unique manner.”  The stretching opens the pores in the clay, creating a natural stone like surface that becomes infused with the ash from the fire. “I fire only two or three times a year,” says Joseph, “and because wood firing is a communal event (the firings last from two to five days), it is a true collaboration with the loaders and stokers; and most importantly, the kiln itself.”

“Wind Me Up Teapot # 1” sterling silver teapot by Marne Ryan.
5” x 5” x 5”


“I love playing with fire,” says Ryan, “suspending the rules of what can’t be done with metal and integrating the elegance of form and function within the barely controlled chaos of my life.” Each of Ryan’s pieces is constructed from fused, multipatterened layers of sterling silver.

“The key to Life….Play” by Barbara Sebastian
Wheel-thrown and assembled.
12″ x 8″ W x 10″


Sebastian creates wheel-thrown, high-fired teapots, jars, and other functional ware. “Inspired by an experience with a raven and a persimmon in Kyoto, I continue to explore other inspiring moments to capture my work.”  Sounds like some follow-up questions are in order here.

“Dogs and Beetles Teapot” by Mariko Swisher
Terra cotta teapot/ lid finely glazed with Japanese brushes.
8.50″ x 7″ x 2″


Insects and animals, in part from the Sendai, Japan coast where Swisher grew up, inspire the earthen vessels she creates. The artist finely decorates the pieces with Japanese calligraphy brushes, sgraffito tools and then fires them.\

“Dancing Teapots” by Stephan Cox
Glass is blown, then hand carved to create fluid movement
18” x 14” x 14”


Stephan Cox produces work contemporary in nature, ranging from small detailed pieces to larger vases with less action and more color.  All of Cox’s work is recognizable for its movement and untraditional forms.  His designs are carved using sandblasting, diamond tooling and other cold working techniques. Each piece is an original work of art.

The artists featured on this page, and their artistic  teapots, will be part of the 25th annual Washington Craft Show, November 16 – 18 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington DC.  For hours and other details, visit the show’s website at


The Golden Anniversary of Studio Art Glass

Harvey K. Littleton; Ruby Conical Intersection with Amber Sphere, 1984.
10.75 x 7.6 x 3.75 in. Image courtesy of Corning Museum of Glass.

The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the studio art glass movement in America, and the Washington Craft Show (Nov. 16-18) celebrates with a series of events designed to pay homage to the founder of the movement, Harvey K. Littleton (born June 14, 1922).

Littleton’s daughter, Maurine, will bring to the show a special exhibit, which will include work by her father and other notable glass artists.

Professor and author Joan Falconer Byrd will also be on hand to sign copies of her recently released book, Harvey K. Littleton: A Life in Glass: Founder of America’s Studio Glass Movement (Rizzoli).

The show will also give visitors a look at the evolution of the studio glass movement, with a lecture by noted contemporary glass artist Josh Simpson and daily screenings of “A Not so Still Life: The Ginny Ruffner Story.”

Harvey K. Littleton. Image courtesy of Corning Museum of Glass.

TOLEDO MUSEUM OF ART STUDIO GLASS WORKSHOP 1962. Image courtesy of Corning Museum of Glass.

The American Studio Glass Movement can trace its origins to a pair of glass workshops held at the Toledo Museum of Art in 1962. The workshops were led by Harvey K. Littleton, who introduced, along with scientist Dominick Labino, a small furnace built for glass-making that allowed artists to work alone, and that made it possible to shift production from a sizeable factory setting with numerous assistants to a studio setting.

With the introduction of that small furnace, a movement was born – one that has captivated the hearts and minds of collectors and art lovers the world over.

Dominick Labino. Image courtesy of Corning Museum of Glass.

Following the success of those initial workshops, Littleton would go on to establish a glass program at the University of Wisconsin. He was followed by Marvin Lipofsky, who introduced a glass program at the California College of the Arts.

The movement continued to grow with the establishment of a glass program at the Rhode Island School of Design, led by artist Dale Chihuly.

Since 1962, glass art has become a popular and exciting medium for museums, galleries, collectors, artists and students. Unique glass sculptural art is found all over the United States in museums, hotels, cruise liners, botanical gardens, parks, restaurants and many other notable public spaces.


Professor and author Joan Falconer Byrd (Harvey K. Littleton: A Life in Glass: Founder of America’s Studio Glass Movement -Rizzoli Publications), will sign copies of her book at the Washingotn Craft Show Friday, November 16 – 5pm-8pm and Saturday, November 17 – noon-2pm.


Professor Byrd will also present, along with Maurine Littleton, a lecture and visual presentation on Friday, November 17 detailing Harvey Littleton’s life and work.   Byrd teaches ceramics at the College of Fine and Performing Arts, Western Carolina University, in Cullowhee, North Carolina. A member of Littleton’s first glassblowing class at the University of Wisconsin in 1962, she is the author of numerous essays and articles on glass and ceramics.


Daily screenings of “A Not So Still Life: The Ginny Ruffner Story.” Friday & Saturday – 5pm; Sunday – 10am.

In keeping with the theme of The Golden Anniversary of Studio Art Glass in America, a documentary titled “A Not So Still Life: The Ginny Ruffner Story” will be shown daily, with screenings at 5pm on Friday and Saturday and 10am on Sunday.  Ginny Ruffner can’t be summed up in one word, but the most commonly used term is “inspiring”.   A world-renowned artist at the age of 39, she was involved in a near fatal car accident, which left her in a coma for five weeks and confined to a hospital for five months.  Doctors were convinced that she would never walk or talk again, but true to her indomitable spirit, Ruffner transformed a potentially tragic accident into a career of even more imaginative creations.


Josh Simpsom “Megaplanet.” Solid spherical glass sculpture of an imaginary Planet with filigrana cane and precious metals.
Dimensions: 12″X 12″ W X 12″ Image courtesy of the artist.

Internationally renowned and exhibited glass artist Josh Simpson, whose glass sculptures of the seas, skies and heavens are celebrated for their extraordinary beauty, will discuss his work and his artistic process Sunday, November 18 at 1pm.

Wearable Art “With a Twist”

“Shimmering Free”
Dress is constructed of large & small ring stainless chain mail and anodized gold and red aluminum chain mail.

Elaine Unzicker combines stainless & anodized aluminum chain mail, which is interlocked by hand to create unique wearable art and fashion accessories.

She will often embellish the chain mail surface with castings from nature in bronze or gold-plated brass, such as the cast brass, gold-plated catalpa pods decorating the purse in the photo below.

The fluid movement of the mesh allows Elaine to create art that caresses & conforms to the body. And it’s uniquely “you!”  A new interpretation of her work happens each time a person wears any of Elaine’s whimsical creations.  Meet Elaine and see (try on, wear, buy) her latest work at the Washington Craft Show November 16-18 at the Washington Convention Center in Washington DC.  Her work will be included in a fashion show on Saturday, November 17 at 3pm.


As a grad student, Elaine designed a complex headpiece that she first modeled in paper, later to be executed in metal. She worked feverishly and when she was finished what she saw in front of her frightened her so much she hid it away in a closet. When she got the courage to pull it out and show her professor he loved it. And that encapsulates Elaine’s process. Her designs come through her and she is often surprised at what is in front of her when she is finished. A visiting professor saw what she was working on and, seeing the complexity of the solder joints, told Elaine that it would never work.

The creative process is essential to Elaine’s being. Early in her career, frustrated by the difficulty of supporting herself through her artwork, she took a year off from creating her art. She was miserable. There was no way around it, she was destined to be an artist. Once she accepted that fact her business began growing. When she moved to Ojai, California in May of 2001, her work began to blossom. Surrounded by open space and mountains her work also began to take on new dimensions, moving from the intricacy of jewelry to larger, more expressive pieces. Her love of sculpture began to show up in her creations.

Elaine’s work will be included in a fashion show on Saturday, November 17 at the Washington Craft Show.

That piece that the visiting professor said would never work? It now stands in a place of honor in our living room, a testament to the courage of an artist who follows her passion.


Elaine described her creative process “as one of trial and error.”

I keep adding or deleting until I come upon the finished product. I approach my life in this way, changing as I need to, expanding my awareness of who I am and the work that I am here to do.

I moved to Chicago in 1986 and launched my jewelry business there in 1993. Chicago was a fabulous city to live in and a great place to do business. I now live in a small artist communitysurrounded by mountains, only 20 minutes from the ocean. Now that nature surrounds me, I expect my artwork to transform to reflect this change. Only time will tell. 

We think the mountains and the sea have been good to Elaine Unzicker.~



Interview with Brothers-Handmade:

Ojai Studio Artists interview (YouTube):

Elaine’s website:

Washington Craft Show:

Stainless steel chain mail purse with cast brass, gold-plated catalpa pods.