JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
It would have been a confusing scene for anyone driving past the Durango Arts Center on Friday evening.
With a crowd gathered around a rusty and flaming 55-gallon drum on the corner of East Second Avenue and Eight Street, you may have expected to hear the sounds of doo-wop singers. But no, the people were all there just for a cup of tea.
Local potter Ed Bolster’s public demonstration of raku firing was part of the kickoff party for the latest exhibit at DAC, “Three Cups: White, Green, Black – Vessels for Tea.” It features chawan (ceremonial tea bowls) and yunomi-inspired tea cups from about 80 artists from as far away as the U.K.
“This is unbelievable,” said Lisa Pedolsky, a local potter who has her own work in the show but still was awed by the collection of talent. “Many of us only get to see work like this two-dimensionally in books, and it’s fantastic to see these kinds of pieces in the flesh.”
Curating “Three Cups” was quite a task for exhibits director Mary Puller, but because she is well-connected, she brought in the right people to help. Potters Scott and Kay Roberts and Adam Field recruited potters worldwide for the show. The original idea was to include 40 artists, but as word spread so did interest. The organizers ended up inviting twice that many.
“Durango’s getting international recognition for this, and a lot of that had to do with these people taking the show seriously,” Scott Roberts said.
There are two parts to “Three Cups.” There are the cups, and then there is the tea. Almost every item in the gallery was designed and created to be used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. Durangoans are fortunate to have an expert in that field, too – Michael Thunder of the White Dragon Tea Room. He was invited to put the pieces into cultural perspective.
“It’s in the Japanese tradition of change and practicality that these pieces are so attuned to their function that they become art,” Thunder said. “And in that same tradition, it truly took a village to do this.”
“Practical” is an apt description of this art exhibition, because each piece is designed to be used, not just admired. The pieces are grouped by artist in the Barbara Conrad Gallery. The setup would resemble a Bed Bath & Beyond were it not for a few added touches to enliven the walls. Puller, through her connections at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego, acquired several kimonos and other Eastern garments on loan, to hang on the walls. The garments are an interesting and visually pleasing addition to the displays of ceramics.
During the show’s run in the coming days and weeks, there will be several pottery and tea ceremony demonstrations. The organizers hope that by watching the artists at work – and even participating – visitors will get a sense of the personal and emotional aspects of the processes.
“There’s a lot of energy in this room,” Roberts said. “These all started as lumps of clay. We see the end result, but maybe not everyone thinks about the real start of it, and that’s something that deserves to be shared.”