After thousands of years of consumption, tea is not only the second most popular drink after water, but developed a wealth of rituals, like the teapot, which has become a collectible and an icon.
From its origins in China to its spread west to England, tea continues as a worldwide habit. The "Functional and Sculptural Teapot Exhibition" at JRB Art at The Elms boasts contemporary transformations of the teapot's basic lid and spout into art.
The 43 teapots from 33 invited and juried national artists were selected by Charleen Weidell, the chair of the art department and head of the metals program at the University of Central Oklahoma, and Barbara Broadwell, an assistant professor of sculpture at UCO. Teapots of metal, ceramic, clay, wood, fiber and mixed media were created by emerging and established talents, including recipients of National Endowment for the Arts grants and Fulbright scholarships, and those with pieces in collections at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
"We wanted to isolate a single object and demonstrate the variety of ways it could be expressed," Weidell said.
Teapots by artists like Sarah Perkins, David Huang, Richard Burkett, Jeff Irwin, Joe Molinaro, Nan Coffin and Gayle Singer encompass the balance of beauty with function, as well as designs that challenge the original function entirely with a sculptural object.
"You can play with the idea that it's not just functional, but an entertaining item, carrying different types of philosophy or ideas and concepts," Broadwell said. "People have taken things that were functional, but turned those ideas into a fun, sometimes funky, sometimes provocative type of teapot that is engaging, but could never hold anything or pour anything. That's where it starts going off into the arts type of area, where we're taking things that were functional, and changing their meaning and their philosophy."
Echoing the traditional teapot while reconstructing it entirely are "Disfunction" by Teresa Faris, with a silver body pocked with circular holes, and "Kinetic Tea" by Anne Wolf, with a sleek, modern design that seems to be suspended in upward movement. Others guard the original form more closely, like Anne Hallam's "Memory," with fluid, botanical shapes adorning a rigid metal teapot, and Chihiro Makio's "Pactola Teapot," which turns the top of a structured teapot into a pond surrounded by trees and a bench, with a rowboat drifting in its center.
"The teapots represented are both functional and nonfunctional and were chosen for their form, texture, narrative, and poetic qualities," Weidell said. "While some are beautiful examples of traditional forms, others utilize the basic attributes "? body, handle, spout, lid and foot "? in an unexpected way and are expertly crafted."
As a holiday bonus, the gallery is also displaying two Christmas trees decorated by artists, and has a variety of holiday gifting items such as paintings, sculptures, ornaments, books, photographs and prints.
Functional and Sculptural Teapot Exhibition displays through Dec. 26 at JRB Art at the Elms, 2810 N. Walker.