High Tea

Donna Rhae Marder’s quixotic teapots

Over two years ago, HAND/EYE Online featured Donna Rhae Marder’s poetic paper dresses, which explored abstract concepts in "Something Out of Nothing". As noted in that article Marder employs a combination of her formal art education along with the techniques of decorating and quilting to create pieces that are often “an ode to unending domestic chores and the finiteness of life." In the photos that accompanied the piece, readers had a glimpse of the series of teapots she made using her paper quilting technique.

In an upcoming Mobilia Gallery exhibit, The Teapot Redefined: A Sculptural Exploration of the Teapot Form, October 2, 2012-October 31, 2012, Marder will have on display several of her new teapots that have been influenced by family, friends and common household items.

Marder admits there was no inspired tortured artist in the impetus of this series, but was encouraged and persuaded to make teapots by numerous fans of her work. Yet the form didn’t resonate. During her fourth round as an artist in residence at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001, she discovered that students were excited about deforming grids with software modeling programs. “It occurred to me that I could do the same thing physically by sewing a wire grid over fabric. Now I had a way to make a teapot. Once I had a method there seemed to be lots of forms and ideas that I was interested in exploring. Who knew?”

For Marder’s Domestic Bliss series, she used the physical modeling of wire in which she sewed a wire grid onto various fabrics. In creating the form, the grids are cut, shaped and joined to create copies of household objects. Trothplight Teapot, the first in the series, is made with white nylon tulle—a veiled reference to marriage. “The joining of the pieces of the teapot—spout and handle to body is not seamless, implying the impossibility of perfect union. And the lid, which inserts into the body of the pot is suggestive of both conjugal acts and the potential storms of married life.”

The second teapot in the series, Japanese Teapot, is fragile and reminiscent of an ancient vessel that’s been used over and over to steep tea. It could be an old teapot that the Japanese novelist and poet Mori Ōgai used to make his brew and drink it while he wrote The Wild Geese. Modeled after the first teapot that Marder purchased for her home, she saved old, used teabags for the entire body and lid, and crocheted a missing bottom from beading wire. Marder embellished the teapot by adding a tea infuser that came from the original pot, and the interior was given a coat of acrylic media.

Marder displays her sense of humor with Cozy Teapot, another vessel from the Domestic Bliss collection. Created from a plastic lace from Italy, Marder notes, “… using the fabric for this particular teapot is a pretty funny juxtaposition of the fancy and the practical. The teapot serves up the idea of a ladylike event though it can’t contain actual tea. Anyway, the piece is washable—unlike the other pieces—and seems particularly durable—though the longevity of plastic Italian lace has not been verified in a lab.”

Marder’s friends, Larry, Debbie and Susan, were the source of inspiration for the Three Teapots series. Larry the neurosurgeon is typically the recipient of gifts from grateful patients. One gift was a teapot with Asian influences. For Larry’s Teapot, Marder recreated the vessel by emphasizing its Asian heritage and used Chinese silk and wrappers from Chinese teabags.

Debbie’s Teapot was modeled after a little, round glass teapot that had been loaned to her by her friend. Marder formed the body of the pot out of a piece of translucent fabric she had in her studio. “The circular top, handle and knob are made from the back of a piece of Chinese silk that happened to be precisely the same color. It’s not always obvious, but when the piece is backlit you can see through it. I added some of my mother’s old pearls at the ends of the construction wires to emphasize the way the whole pot looks like a bubble. The end result is ebullient and upbeat just like my friend.”

The largest and most intricately engineered teapot Marder made was Susan’s Teapot, which was sewn together with Twinings teabag wrappers—Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, Darjeeling, Lady Grey and Irish Breakfast; Chinese silk and wire. “I used a curved piecing technique to suggest the floral decorations on Susan’s English teapot. It is lined with Chinese silk. I think the teapot ended up looking warm and steadying, just like Susan.”

There’s a sense of poignancy and irony included in her last two collections. The Lace Teapots series was inspired by lace tops that her late mother owned, which Marder thought were too pretty to throw away. Deconstructing the tops, she sewed in wire grids and made three delicate and quaint teapots that bring to mind a charming summer afternoon garden tea party with ladies in their chiffon finery and big hats.

Her last series, Shadow Teapots, Marder plays with a third dimension—shadows. Made with window screening, the size of the pot is altered by the location of the light source as seen in two of the teapots In the third, the shadow of a little round pot was lengthened and angled. “Viewers identify these pieces as teapots, but they have no pour hole, their lids don’t lift and of course they can’t contain anything. This makes them both iconic and ironic.”

For further information about the exhibit, please visit http://mobilia-gallery.com/exhibits/teapot-redefined-2012/index.html.

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