Ceramic art

Texas Teapot Tournament celebrates the joy of clay

Texas Teapot Tournament celebrates the joy of clay

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Meryl Ruth, Frenchie's Tea Tote, A Ceramic Teapot, clay with hardware accents, $800 Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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Karen Cruce, left, and Janis Ross Photo by Barbara Kuntz
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Todd Burns, Untitled, clay body with handle of hand-formed copper and steel, $600 Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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Jack Rotar, Friends from Another World teapot, clay, $475 Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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Kim Millspaugh, Hedgehog, clay, $250 Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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Tiffany Moroney, Coral, clay, $450 Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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Jack Rotar, Friends from Another World cups, clay Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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Matthew Quinn, Basket Handle Teapot, clay, $325 Courtesy of Photo courtesy 18 Hands Gallery
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Sigrid Zahner, The Daily Pour, clay Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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Eileen Braun, Soft Serve Teapot, clay, $550 Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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Nick DeVries, Satin & Ash Textured Teapot, clay, $185 Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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Jose Sierra , La Kapotera, clay, $660 Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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Martin Meisel, Teapot with Plum Handle, $700 Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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Mike Head, Tea for One, clay, $100 Courtesy of 18 Hands Gallery
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18 Hands Gallery on 19th Street in the Heights Photo by Barbara Kuntz
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The joy of cooking may have just met its match. Yes, folks, and it’s the joy of clay. You’ll likely walk away whistling that happy little song, “I’m a little teapot, short and stout,” after attending the Fifth International Texas Teapot Tournament presented by 18 Hands Gallery and the Clay Arts Museum and Educational Organization (CAMEO).

 “Through the years, a pot had to have a spout, a lid and a handle,” Ross notes of the qualities ceramic art judges look for in a piece. “Now, creativity is definitely a must. Some judges won’t even consider a pot as a winner without creativity.” 

“This is is by far the best show yet," says the organization's founder Janis Ross. "Not judging by the number of entries, but by the quality of the work. It’s absolutely outstanding.”

The celebration of the ceramic arts and artists kicks off with a reception 6-9 p.m. Saturday at the gallery, 249 W. 19th St. in the Heights, and runs through Jan. 29. Opening weekend, visitors will have the opportunity to vote for the 2012 People’s Choice Award.

The tournament had been held at the Houston Potters Guild until last December, when the group disbanded. CAMEO wasn’t able to take on the mortgage, and unfortunately, was forced to sell the house. 

“So we stepped in and said, ‘Let’s have it here,’” Karen Cruce, founding member of 18 Hands Gallery, says. “And it’s been our pleasure.”

Cruce and 18 Hands Gallery’s two other owners, Betsy Evans and Katy McKinn, have entries unpacked, catalogued and displayed beautifully in the gallery’s exhibition space. The functional and sculptural teapots traveled to the Heights from England to Florida to Maine to California and, of course, across Texas.

“You really don’t know what you’ll get with a tournament, rather than an invitational," Cruce comments. “With tournaments, you just send out a call for entries with size restrictions, deadlines. All teapots had to be made within the last two years and made of 65 percent clay.

“This was the first entry we received,” she continues, holding a small, red gasoline can-shaped piece, casting its perfectly executed glaze and rivet detailing as a slightly rusting metal surface. “With this, we knew we were in for a good show.”

The 70-plus works are ready for judging before the reception, at which the winners are to be announced. An outstanding tournament participant receives a major purchase prize of $1,000, and one deserving entry is crowned with the Memorial Award, given this year in honor of Paul Soldner, the late revered ceramic artist. The winning submission earns the distinction of joining CAMEO’s permanent collection. Cindi Strauss, curator of modern and contemporary decorative arts and design at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is a juror.

“Through the years, a pot had to have a spout, a lid and a handle,” Ross notes of the qualities ceramic art judges look for in a piece. “Now, creativity is definitely a must. Some judges won’t even consider a pot as a winner without creativity.”

In additional to creativity and the three basic elements, judges also examine ceramic teapots for proportion and quality of any attachments to the pot, the feel of the handle in your hand, the thickness and uniformity of walls and, if a functional teapot, its pouring ability.

“The creation of a teapot is absolutely the top of a potter’s art,” Cruce says. “A teapot calls for every possible skill a potter should know.”

Perusing the teapots in the gallery, a small adorable hedgehog-shaped teapot catches the eye, as does an entire tea service for two, complete with pot, cups, saucers, stir sticks and tray, all of hand-sculpted clay perfectly replicating white, sun-bleached coral with artistically placed barnacles to boot.

A pot and matching cups in neon-vibrant orange, green and pink glazes sprout legs for balanced standing. And round, solid-color objects hide but include the basic elements as “inside-out” teapots. Sculptural and functional, 50-50. Thrown and hand-sculpted and a combination of the two.

Both Ross and Cruce hope guests take home a valuable experience after viewing these works of art: As clay artists, inspiration, and as the general public, a realization that today’s teapots are not your grandmother’s serveware.

“Humanity has been given the gift of clay,” says Ross. “Every culture and civilization has used clay. It’s a gift, and we should use a gift, shouldn’t we?

"We at CAMEO like to say, ‘We want all to know the joy of clay.’”

18 Hands Gallery offers monthly exhibitions and feature shows by well-known and emerging ceramic artists, as well as ceramic artists' lectures and workshops. CAMEO hosts the International Texas Teapot Tournament and Emerging Artists, the latter a show of work by Texas college and universty ceramics professors. The event is set this year for July 21 at 18 Hands Gallery.