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Behind the Scenes

Norwell art gallery to host unusual tea party

Pink teapot and cups were created in honor of a neighbor who lost her battle with breast cancer.

Pink teapot and cups were created in honor of a neighbor who lost her battle with breast cancer.

Two Hingham artists who work mainly, though not exclusively, in ceramics — the art of making objects such as earthenware, porcelain, or tile from fired clay — are joining forces in a show at a gallery in Norwell.

Titled “Tea for Two,” the show consists of unusual teapots made by Jeanne Wiley and tea cups and sugar bowls made by Ann Conte. 

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“I’ve seen a lot of their work at the South Shore Arts Center,” said Lisa Flynn, art director for the James Library Art Gallery. The two are members of the Cohasset art center where artists prepare and show their work.

The pieces being shown at the Norwell gallery will especially appeal to teapot collectors, Flynn said, especially those who love the characteristic shape of the vessel but have an eye for something new.

She said the two artists previously collaborated on a piece called the “Woven Car” for a show in Philadelphia that drew wide attention.

Beginning with an old MG sports car chassis that was rotting away in a neighbor’s garage, the artists wrapped its surface from headlights to tail lights in seat belt material and detailed it with ceramics. Ceramic flowers grew from the no-longer mobile, but beautifully woven car.

Wiley and Conte said last week they met while using the Cohasset center’s studios when they began talking about and critiquing one another’s work.

“We need someone to bicker with,” Wiley said jokingly. “I realized we could do that without having a nervous breakdown. And my work was better,” she added, benefiting from another artist’s eye.

“She doesn’t mean ‘better than mine,’ ” Conte said, collegially, during a conference call.

Conte, a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art who teaches at the center, does painting, collage, and printmaking in addition to ceramic sculpture.

“I’m not as concerned with the medium as I am with expressing my ideas,” she said. “My work is sometime funny, sometime ironic, even dark, and always emotional, because that’s the way life is. Collage and found objects are used with traditional techniques to provoke the viewer into seeing [them] with a whole new sensibility. My objective is to take the ordinary and turn it into something mysterious and beautiful.”

“We’re both doing mixed media,” said Wiley, who studied sculpture at Bennington College. “I do lapidary, metallic, ceramic, and mixed media.”

“My body of work as a ceramics artist reflects my ongoing exploration at the border between what’s considered art and what’s considered purely functional, and my attempt to marry the two in new and unexpected ways,” she says in an artist statement.

Both artists work with unusual materials and mix utilitarian simplicity — a teapot is a vessel that pours tea — and sculptural aesthetics — a teapot is a beautiful object.

“Tea for Two” will feature a classically designed pink teapot and cups with elaborate and gracefully curved handles on both pot and cups that will be sold to benefit breast cancer research. All the proceeds for the piece, titled “The Ingrid” after a neighbor who lost her battle with breast cancer, will go to The Ellie Fund, a Massachusetts nonprofit that fights breast cancer and eases its impact by providing transportation and other help to patients.

In contrast, a “wall” piece called “Dinner in Chinatown” goes completely outside the box. It’s a mixed-media collage consisting of a Chinese restaurant service fired with glaze decal of a photograph taken by Wiley at a Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia.

Another piece, titled “La Tea-fa Tea Service,” exhibits sgraffito technique — an effect produced by scratching through a surface of plaster or glazing to reveal a different color underneath — serves as the image on publicity postcards for the show. The teapot features a tree branch in the handle — one of the signature touches in Wiley’s pots is the use of found objects such as branches to make the handles.

Conte’s pieces for “Tea for Two” include teacups with carved surfaces and “little cats hanging off of them,” she said. She’s also making sugar bowls and tea canisters.

The artists are working on a teapot that looks like a military tank and devising a way to attach soldiers by copper plating to the tea set.

Another piece is a doughnut-shaped teapot. It was inspired by a photo in National Geographic of women carrying water home inside the inner tubes of tires.

The artists’ tea things will also be available for sale at the James gallery’s Holiday Marketplace, an annual holiday event with moderately priced gifts made by artists, to be held Dec. 1 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.  

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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