The Artful Teapot. (Learning from Exhibitions)

By Johnson, Mark M. | Arts & Activities, February 2003 | Go to article overview

The Artful Teapot. (Learning from Exhibitions)


Johnson, Mark M., Arts & Activities


The form of the teapot as a vessel has been remarkably consistent since its introduction to the West in the late 17th century. However, with its few required parts--a body, spout, handle and lid--artists have enjoyed putting the parts together in an infinite assortment of variations. Among the components open to the artist's invention and imagination are the material, shape, size, function and decoration. Multiplied together, there are innumerable possibilities.

The Artful Teapot: Twentieth Century Expressions from the Kamm Collection, through its catalogue and exhibition, examines the teapot as a vehicle for artistic expression over the last 100 years. The 250 objects on display include teapots by renowned painters Roy Lichtenstein and David Hockney, sculptors Arman and Michael Lucero, ceramists Betty Woodman and Adrian Saxe, as well as works by more than 100 other artists. While ceramics, stoneware and porcelain are the most frequently used materials, artists have also crafted vessels from wood, metal, glass, plastic, crystal, fiber, beading and recycled materials.

Gloria and Sonny Kamm are passionate collectors of paintings, large-scale glass works, ceramic sculpture and, of course, teapots. They began to focus on teapots when they realized how many artists were enthralled with the form.

Their collection contains more than 6,000 teapots created since the early 1700s, from all over the world, and in every imaginable material and design. Many were acquired directly from artists while others were commissioned by the Kamms, often from artists who work in another medium or who had never attempted to create a teapot.

In addition to teapots and tea sets, the collection includes paintings and drawings, books and toys related to the subject of tea, and an assortment of tea paraphernalia. The Kamms even have a teapot playhouse, big enough for all their grandchildren!

While the history of tea can be traced back at least 4,000 years, it was not common in the West until the East India Company began importing tea from China as a precious commodity in the 17th century. They also brought Chinese teapots that served as the prototypes for teapot production in Europe.

Early 18th-century tea services were produced at major porcelain factories and by silversmiths in the current fashionable styles--first Rococo, then Neoclassical, and eventually evolving into Art Nouveau and Art Deco. For centuries, teapot artisans have been inspired by mainstream designs and sometimes have been on the cutting edge of inventing new forms and embellishments. …

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