A wealth of words, caught in cups

Tara Bradbury
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A love of books inspired Maiike Charron to craft a cup for evey one she owns

Maiike Charron holds her “Coraline” cup. This one’s not for sale. — Photo by Tara Bradbury/The Telegram (A1 - three cups and the books that inspired them. B1 - “Edible Plants of Newfoundland and Labrador.” Submitted photos)

How do you get artistic inspiration from a dictionary? Or an old university linguistics text? How about a book of slow-cooker recipes?

Maiike Charron knows how, and has used her own collection of books — everything from sci-fi to cookbooks — as a muse for her latest art exhibition.

Charron is presenting “A Library of Teacups” — literally bookshelves full of teacups, each with their own story — at the Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council Gallery in St. John’s from Saturday until Nov. 10. There are more than 400 cups, each one inspired by a book in Charron’s private collection.

It’s safe to say she’s a literary person.

“I love books; I always have,” she says. “I wanted to make lots and lots of one-of-a-kind items, and books and tea go together really well. I made one teacup for every book I own.”

Charron, of St. John’s, is a self-taught potter, who has also dabbled in drawing, painting and crocheting. Her interest in pottery was piqued after learning the craft council had an open clay studio, but, at the time, she was unable to afford classes. Since volunteers got free studio time, Charron signed up to be a studio supervisor in 2006. She borrowed books from the craft council’s library and asked questions of experienced potters and, two years later, began selling her own work.

She started making the library of teacups about a year ago — in some cases having to read books in her collection for the first time, or re-read ones she’d long forgotten. This included her university textbooks and every cookbook in her kitchen.

She has arranged the cups on simple wooden shelves, categorized by genre and ordered alphabetically by author of the books they represent. There are two main sections: fiction and non-fiction, the fiction side significantly larger and including everything from “Star Wars” to English storybooks written for Japanese schoolchildren.

It’s clear she’s a fan of British fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett — author of the “Discworld” series — since her teacups represent about two dozen of his books.

“The humour is a big part of it,” Charron says, explaining her love of Pratchett. “He hides a lot of references in his work to pop culture or other books or history, and it’s kind of like a little treasure hunt, going through them all to pick them out.”

In some cases it’s a character that inspired the teacup; other times it might be scenery or a colour from the book or the design of the book’s cover. In a couple cases, Charron was inspired by actual teacups or mugs described in the text.

Many of the cups are literal, and others are more abstract. All were fired in an electric kiln.

For Kenneth Hite’s “Where the Deep Ones Are,” Charron produced a neutral beige coloured cup, with octopus legs.

“It’s a parody of ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ but more Cthulhu Mythos-inspired,” Charron said of the book.

On the cup for Douglas Adams’ “Salmon of Doubt,” Charron has painted a rhinoceros, while the teacup representing Jacqueline Carey’s “Kushiel’s Dart” has a corset for a saucer. The cup made for Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” is black and grey with black buttons.

Some books screamed for specific shapes, materials or glazes: the cup representing “The Beothuk or Red Indians: The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland” by James P. Howley is smeared with red ochre, for example. Pratchett’s book “Feet of Clay” was another easy one.

“The main golem character in that novel was made from red clay,” Charron explains, touching the cup, which has two legs and feet, and a hand for a handle. “There’s a little seam line where his foot attached, because in the novel he’s had some repairs done to one leg. This one was really obvious, but there were other ones where I just had to sit and bang my head against the wall for months before I had an idea I was happy with.”

All Charron’s teacups are functional, apart from two sculptural pieces: Pratchett’s “Monstrous Regiment,” a white, unglazed teacup with rough pieces held together by wire, and Gaiman’s “Fragile Things,” a lacy piece which required a special technique. Charron crocheted the cup before dipping it in slip, watered-down clay. Once the clay was soaked up by the fibres and left to dry a bit, Charron fired it.

The teacup library project tended to be more difficult for Charron when it came to books she especially loved.

“There were more things that stood out about the book, and I had to condense it. I had to reinterpret an entire novel into a cup. I had to pick out one or two things that really stood out to me and that’s all I could use to represent it.”

Charron is selling her pieces individually, at prices that range from $15 to $125, in the case of the cup representing “Medieval Europe: A Short History” by C. Warren Hollister. Charron hand-carved an intricate medieval floral design on the cup before firing it in shiny black. One or two of the cups, like the “Coraline” piece, are not for sale.

“That was the first one I really, thoroughly enjoyed making. It was number 3,” Charron said. “That’s when I got excited about this project.”

The opening reception for both “A Library of Teacups” and artist Kelly Jane Bruton’s “Mistaken Point” will be held at the craft council gallery, 59 Duckworth St., from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday.

tbradbury@thetelegram.com Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Library of Teacups, Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council Gallery

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Europe

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