Tea with a Twist

By Louise Irvine

Whimsical teapots in the form of animals have been entertaining us at teatime for centuries and the Ardmore artists continue to make unique designs today in South Africa. Their Big Five teapot is a highlight of our new Safari scavenger hunt. Trophies of a lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo burst energetically from the foliage of the African savanna in this exuberant teapot by Petros and Punch. See all the Ardmore teapots in the Art of Tea exhibition at WMODA.

Majolica Madness

The Chinese exported figurative teapots to Europe along with the first shipments of tea in the 17th century. Gods and astrological symbols inspired everyday objects in China and teapots were fashioned as roosters, monkeys, and dragons, a tradition that continues today with Chinese Yixing teapots. These novel designs were copied enthusiastically by English potters, and animal teapots became particularly popular during the Victorian era. The Minton pottery made Majolica teapots in the form of monkeys, birds, fish, and even humans. The image of tea spouting from a bird’s beak seems so absurd that it is hard to imagine such pieces in use. Perhaps then, as now, they were conversation pieces.

One of the rarest and most unusual Minton Majolica teapots features a vulture with a python, which was designed by Colonel Henry Hope Crealock in 1873. There is an example of this very rare design in the upcoming Majolica Mania exhibition at Bard Graduate Center in New York and one changed hands at auction for $71,875 in 2005. Unfortunately, WMODA does not have an original example but we do have a prototype of the version made for the Minton Archive Collection. It was produced as a limited edition along with several other reproduction designs between 1998 and 2001. See them in the Art of Tea exhibition at WMODA.

Ardmore Tea with a Twist

The Ardmore Ceramic Art Studio in South Africa makes unique animal teapots that are hand-modeled and hand-painted in exuberant colors by talented Zulu artists. Fée Halsted, the founder of Ardmore, is a Bachelor of Arts graduate and has studied the history of ceramics around the world. At Ardmore she has created a new style of ceramic art that blends European and African traditions. The shelves of the Ardmore studio are laden with reference books and photographs of British pottery including humorous Victorian Majolica wares and the work of the eccentric Martin brothers, famous for their bizarre bird-shaped jars. The Ardmore artists may have been inspired by 19th-century pottery, but they have added their own quirky sense of humor and taken teapot design to wildly imaginative extremes.

The Ardmore teapot collection at WMODA includes a hippo with a gaping jaw spout and an upside-down zebra kicking its legs in the air with its head as the handle. One of the sculptors, Sfiso Mvlese, became known for his risqué spout designs and was dubbed the naughty boy of Ardmore. A typical example is featured on the Ardmore 30th anniversary ewer on display at WMODA. The moon and globular shapes of the teapots offer the Ardmore painters a versatile area to show off their exceptional decorating skills and the museum is fortunate to have several designs by the senior artist, Punch Shabala. Distinctive black and white zebra stripes and leopard spots are meticulously painted to accent spouts and handles.

Tea on Safari

Recently, Fée Halsted and the Ardmore team have had fun taking their teapots on safari thanks to their new design collaboration with Melvill & Moon, South Africa’s retro safari brand. Ardmore outdoor fabric patterns can now be found on picnic cooler bags and folding canvas chairs. The Ardmore table linen collection is perfect for festive tea parties, African style. Check out their tea towels which are used in Britain for drying dishes. However, the Ardmore tea towel designs are too beautiful to be hidden away beside the kitchen sink and many people use them as tabletop accents or tray cloths. Fee’s son, Jonathan, who is a director of Ardmore design, even has an Ardmore patterned suit for his tea parties in the bush!

Ardmore teapots are very entertaining and they are guaranteed to raise smiles at your tea table. They are also very collectible and one of their newest fans is Unjeria Jackson M.D., the author of a book about teapots published by Schiffer. Her teapots are also featured in the 2021 and 2022 teapot calendars by Workman. Several Ardmore teapots are for sale in the new Big Five Safari exhibit, courtesy of the Pascoe Gallery. Profits from the sale of these teapots benefit the educational programs at WMODA. Call the museum for more details 954.376.6690.


Art of Tea Exhibition

Time for Tea

Entertaining with Ardmore