The gallery that turns Newtown into brew-town
By Adeline Teoh
It’s a Sydney institution that brings together artisans and tea-lovers — switch the kettle on, the Sydney Teapot Show is back after a hiatus.
There’s a curious phenomenon that happens, almost uniformly, to visitors to the Sydney Teapot Show. One moment you’ll be admiring an exquisite ceramic sculpture and the next it’ll dawn on you that it’s a teapot… so how the hell does it pour?
Elisabeth Johnson — curator at Newtown’s Kerrie Lowe Gallery which hosts the annual exhibition, bar 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic — says that’s a moot point: here the teapot is an art object first and tableware second. “But, we do have one [award] section, which is the best pouring teapot,” she concedes.
The Sydney Teapot Show began more than 30 years ago as part of the Inner City Clayworkers Gallery in Glebe. When that shut down, it was offered to the Kerrie Lowe Gallery. “They didn't want it to just disappear — it's a Sydney institution,” says Johnson. It fit well with the gallery’s mission to exhibit and promote work by Australian potters, becoming an important show for them. “People do come and travel from other states for it. We always have it during [Sydney] Craft Week too.”
It’s also bigger than the Clayworkers’ version because the Newtown gallery has more space than its Glebe counterpart did. Up to 300 teapots are on display in any given year, a “huge undertaking” to curate and a significant drawcard for collectors. “We do get teapot fanatics,” Johnson mentions.
So, what can you expect? Everything from classic teapot shapes in fabulous glazes to weird and wacky animal forms. One award section, sponsored by heritage management organisation Comber Consultants, highlights the best archaeologically themed teapot. Another, supported by Keane Ceramics, recognises botanically themed ones. But, you can leave those categories to the expert judges — anyone who visits is entitled to vote for their favourite across the whole exhibition as part of the People’s Choice Award.
As for Johnson, she generally has a penchant for wood-fired ceramics, “but I love the decorative things that people do for the teapot show,” she says. “Potters continue to find new ways of expressing things. It's fascinating, really.”
Her own tea habits are fairly traditional — she drinks black tea from fine white china — though she does mention an interest in teapots that started with her grandmother’s. “When I was very small, my grandmother had a very fine terracotta teapot, a small teapot and a set. So, I started off loving that from about four years old.”
Today, she sees it as part of an evolution from the swinging billy to an artform, one that brings people together to share a cuppa. “Teapots have always been important in Australia and it's fun to see people experimenting with the whole concept.”
The Sydney Teapot Show runs from 17 September to 16 October 2022. Visit the Kerrie Lowe Gallery (kerrielowe.com) at 49–51 King Street, Newtown.