Mary Cloonan recalls her college ceramics professor saying that teapots are the chicken of the clay world: one basic form, "but so many ways to mix it up."
That was evident last week at Baltimore Clayworks in Mount Washington, where Cloonan, exhibitions director and curator in residence, carefully unpacked and installed teapots of all shapes, sizes and artistic notions, from a stogie-smoking clown to two dogs sitting on a settee.
Ranging in price from $65 to $2,500, ornate teapots from around the country are on display and for sale through Feb. 23 as part of "100 Teapots VI," a juried, biannual exhibition at Clayworks, 5707 Smith Ave.
Some are functional, but Cloonan said, "Some of them are more sculptural than practical. I don't even know if the collectors use the teapots they collect."
Several days before the opening reception Saturday, Cloonan, of mid-Govans, gave a first-look at the 100 teapots, actually 99, because one artist sold her entry before the show.
Some artists paid lip service to the teapot form. From Susan Calafrancesco of Texas comes "Clown," a pot whose spout is the tip of the stogie. It sells for $800.
New York artist Mako Nishimori's "White Crab Pot" ($500) looks eerily like a crab. Ohioan Jack Rotar is offering a "Martian ware" pot on spindly legs called "Friends From Another World" ($300).
And Illinois resident Vijay Paniker is exhibiting "Pan Co. Plus Teapot II" ($900), which looks like a can of motor oil.
More traditional is northern Virginia resident Dana Lehrer Danze's "Golden Grass Teapot" ($300). The elegant, jade-green teapot has a tiny bird perched on its lid.
Also traditional, but uniquely small, is Georgia artist Tripti Yoganathan's "Chai Tea" ($85), which holds enough water for the proverbial spot of tea.
Vermonter Walter Slowinski's "Teapot With Branch Handle #1" ($300) is wood-salt fired stoneware, with a wooden tree branch as its handle.
"That's a great design," Cloonan said.
Exhibition juror Jeff Oestreich, a Minnesota potter, selected the entries from anonymously coded images on discs. In conjunction with the exhibition, Oestreich will hold a workshop, "All About Tea," Jan. 19-21, to teach participants about making teapots, teacups and caddies and to give demonstrations.
But although Cloonan, 41, didn't choose the entries for the exhibition, she looks at the teapots with a practiced eye.
The recipient of a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Syracuse University, she has been involved with the 100 Teapots exhibition since the first one in 2000, about the time she joined Clayworks. She became the exhibitions director in 2007 and also teaches pottery classes at Clayworks and Towson University.
She's especially taken with the teapot that looks like a can of motor oil. "That's a lot of work to make you think it's something else," she said. "You have to get the glazes right, so they look like metal."
This year's exhibition comes at a time of transition for Baltimore Clayworks, which has had an interim manager, Paul Derstine, since August. Derstine succeeded Benjamin Schulman, who resigned under pressure in June amid questions about his leadership and financial problems at the longtime ceramics studio.
The board of trustees is now conducting a national search for a permanent director.
The teapots exhibition is becoming well known in the pottery world.
"Every time we have it, we have more and more applications," Cloonan said.
She thinks it's a testament to the power of pottery.
"Clay lends itself so much to playing with surfaces," she said. "There are so many variables."
To learn more about the 100 Teapots exhibition and for gallery hours, go to http://www.baltimoreclayworks.org or call 410-578-1919, extension 10.