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The Importance of the Tea Cup in My Art

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense.

Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't.

And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be.

And what it wouldn't be, it would.

You see?

- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Tea Time, oil and egg tempera on cradle panel, 2024

I consider myself an artist who paints in narrative. Most simply, narrative art tells a story. In addition, I often use personal symbols in my art to help tell that story. Symbolist artists, in art history, sought to represent internal experiences, emotions, and absolute truths using symbols and metaphorical images. Their art was a reaction against naturalism and realism. In essence, they were more interested in conveying the underlying meaning of the subject rather than its outward appearance. I too, seek to represent my internal experiences and use metaphorical images but I am not a symbolist because I also love painting the object itself. Sometimes as realistically as possible. So, I am definitely not a symbolist. I sometime think that if I put parts of narrative, symbolist, and representational art in a blender and zipped it up, the resulting mixture would be pretty close to how I would describe my art.

As the viewer of one of my paintings, you don't know what story I intended to tell nor do you understand the importance of the symbols I used, unless I tell you. Though knowing the meaning behind all the elements in a painting is really unimportant. You may not know why I put lemons in my painting, for example, but they may mean something to you, like your grandma had a lemon tree, and therefore, give you a personal connection to the painting. Which is awesome! It's always exciting for me to hear what my paintings' bring up for viewers.

Even though it's not important for you to know the whys behind any particular piece of art for you to enjoy it, if you are a follower of my art, you may have wondered why you always see certain things popping up in my paintings, over and over. Today, I'm going to tell you about one of those things - the tea cup. I recently finished a piece where the tea cup was front and center called, Tea Time, I'm working on a still life that has a very special tea cup to me in it, and I'm starting a new piece with several tea cups. The tea cup is a major symbol in my personal narrative that is deeply rooted in my childhood.

So, grab a cuppa and settle in for a little story...

Tea with Lemon, oils (WIP), Tea Time, and my tea cup

When I was very young, my parents lived on the edge of the City of Buffalo, NY, in a neighborhood where each house sat on a very long and narrow lot. Two houses down from us lived an elderly Italian couple. The older gentleman turned his entire backyard into a spectacular garden. Every inch of the entire length and breath of his backyard was filled with every type of vegetable you can think of! A huge arbor, with a bench on either side, marked the entrance to his garden path and its arch was covered with thick grape vines. It was truly a magical place.

This elderly couple also had grandchildren who would visit and spend weekends with them. Their granddaughter was my age. Her name was Rachel. Though I don't remember exactly when I met Rachel, I do remember my sister was a toddler, so I must have met her around the age of five or six. Every time Rachel came to visit her grandparents, we would play with each other. For a couple of days several times a month, from sun up to sun down, we were inseparable, and more likely than not, we played at her grandparent's house.

There wasn't much to play with at Rachel's grandparents' house but we did have a little green tea set and two porcelain faced dolls. Every weekend we would take our dolls and the little green tea set, go sit under the grape arbor, and play tea party for hours. We would pour ourselves "tea" and stuff ourselves silly with the delicious grapes hanging down and whatever else grandpa would give us to sample from his garden. The vision of those tea parties with Rachel, in her grandfather's beautiful garden, are embedded on my minds eye. It is the origin story of our friendship. One that has lasted for fifty years!

Unfortunately at some point, the dolls, as fragile as they were, were packed away and we were no longer allowed to play with them. Then one of the adults discovered how valuable the little green tea set was and that was packed away too. It was sad but as kids, we moved on quickly and were more than happy to make up new stories, sitting under the arbor, stuffing our faces with grapes.

Before I got married, Rachel's mother hosted a party for me - a tea party! And what was front and center in the middle of the room? The porcelain faced dolls and the little green tea set. She had dug them out of storage for the party. I don't think any of us had seen them since they were packed away all those years ago. It didn't take long for Rachel and I to fall into play, in our fancy grown up dresses, with our porcelain faced dolls and our little green tea set. Even as adults, we couldn't help ourselves from loving on those old dolls and sipping tea from the little green tea cups. As a gift, Rachel's mother gave me some beautiful china tea cups. Many of them have been lost or broken over the years but I still have one. That one tea cup holds all of my childhood memories with Rachel in that beautiful garden in the middle of Buffalo, NY.

The little green tea set and the porcelain faced dolls

I also have a tea connection with my paternal grandmother who was grandma with a capital G! She was love personified and she just adored my sister and I. My memories of her are all all warm and fuzzy. Weekends at her house were filled with sugar cereal that my mom wouldn't let us eat at home, tv dinners eaten on tv trays in front of the tv while watching Laurence Welk and Hee Haw, and the smell of tea. Present at every meal was a pot of tea. My grandmother always made her tea in her ultramarine blue tea pot with the gold pinstripes. A ritual I watched her perform hundreds of time. Just thinking about it makes me smile.

I still have her tea pot. It sits in a place of honor next to my tea cup from Rachel's mom. I now have my own blue tea pot and my own tea making ritual. Every time I make a pot of tea, I'm taken back to my grandmother's hugs and can feel her unconditional love. For me, the tea pot will always be infused with warm fuzzy feelings and the memories I have of my grandma.

My grandmother's tea pot and her copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Barbie was the one toy we had at my grandmother's house. In between rearranging the furniture in Barbie's penthouse, we played a lot card games and dominos with my grandma, all while listening to records on an old suite case record player. And when I was bored with all of it, there were some books to look at. I remember three distinctly - The Secret Garden, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice's Adventure in Wonderland. The books were very old, already warn with love from my grandmother's own girlhood. The Sawhorse, Ozma of Oz, The Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, and of course, Alice, were all childhood friends I visited at Grandma's house. John Tenniel's Wonderland illustrations are forever engrained in my mind's eye. I loved them so much that I still work with them in my art. And to this day, with all of the books I have read, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland still captures my imagination. The story, the illustrations, and my grandmother's lovingly warn book, are all additional links to tea and love.

Over the years, my husband has given me beautiful tea pots and now my children seek out the perfect tea vessels to give me as gifts. I have many and I love them all. I also recently gave my oldest daughter her first tea cup. Imbued with the wish that it always be filled with all the love and beauty life has to offer her. A tradition I hope will continue through generations to come.

The tea cup, the tea pot, the ritual of making tea, and tea parties - real or imagined, are threads that run through the span of my life. They are a part of my personal symbology that represents, at its most basic element - love. To me, the tea cup represents all of those beautiful memories of my childhood - the stories, people, and the emotions. Tea, in all of it's manifestations, helps me to explore all of that complexity of life though my art.

Does the tea cup or tea parties mean anything to you? Do they evoke a memory? Make you think of someone? Can you feel the love when you see them in my art? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you just see a pretty painting. Either way, I've accomplished what I set out to do - paint a story, with love, and then share that painting with you. Which I hope gives you something, wether you "understand" it or not.

As always, creatively yours ~ Linda

P.S. Thank you to Rachel (the keeper of all the things) for going into the "archive" to find the old photographs used in this post. 😘

Linda & Rachel - 1981 - 13 years old



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Love this story. Rachel and I went sightseeing the other day and went past the old neighborhood. Buffalo will forever be my happy place. Xo


Lin, this is beautifully written and as "the" Rachel in your post, so many memories came flooding back. My grandpa's garden and the start of our lifelong friendship. Also, years ago, my mom gave me the jade tea set... lets get together and have a tea party. Love you sis, xoxo, Rae

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