A Burning Question: Hot Out of the Kiln for March, 2014



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!!!”




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7 thoughts on “A Burning Question: Hot Out of the Kiln for March, 2014

  1. The name tea cans is already in use by Frank James Fisher. He is easily found with your favorite search engine. He has similar subject material in the gas/oil can genre, but your beer can venture is all yours as far as I know. I do love them so.


    1. Thanks John, for connecting it all up! I am familiar with Fisher’s exciting and fabulous work, but not to extent that I recalled his tea-can designation. It seems more generic than proprietary and I hope I can share it to a friendly extent.
      It seems I call my similar work by 2-3 names, now, whatever slips out!
      And if someone else made beercans, that is what I would expect them to call them too!
      Thanks for your comment and love!

  2. I have not been making teapots either… and am now starting to add them to my line.
    I can see how people would refer to your pieces as teapots. I like the term “Teapot Cans,” as that is inclusive – and also memorable.
    Loving your work Liz!

    1. Thank You Patricia! I love that you understand about teapots. Sometimes my stubbornness leads me to Vote No early and often, and then I come around on my own terms. And yes, I think I have settled on Teapot Cans (or TeaCans for short, because it sounds like “toucans”) Can’t wait to glimpse a teapot or two of yours. MUST get down your way, too.

  3. Hey Sharon, that is too funny about Mairen. A kindred soul!

    And Louise, I love your observations and words. They’re going on the list! I DO think my work treads a funny gray area and I think most folks do not actually use them for much more than flowers, but there it is: they ARE usable in that the lids come off, the spouts pour and they are food safe. AND they are sculptures. Sort of Pushme-Pullyou-esque…

  4. It’s funny, I haven’t thought of them as teapots either–I guess because I’ve been focused on them as sculptures. And you’ve been vocal about the faux wire parts not being functional. But if they can and do function as teapots, that can only add to their charm in my opinion. What about… “Teacan”? “Trompe l’oeil teapot”? That’s all I got (:

  5. When Mairen was little we said she was contrary mary. She, like you, replied,” I not be contrary mary.”

    I like Teapot myself, but will go along with anything you come up with.

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