Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Jen Crickenberger and the Alchemy of Tea

Alchemy of Tea, Cornelius Art Center, Cornelius, North Carolina, 2014, September 13 - November 14

Have you ever seen an art exhibition focused entirely on the theme of tea? In 2014, the Cornelius Art Center in Cornelius, North Carolina hosted just such a show.  The exhibition, Alchemy of Tea, featured the work of six artists who used tea as both “medium and muse.” I have reached out to artist and curator of the show, Jen Crickenberger, to learn more about Alchemy of Tea and her own relationship with tea.

LYNN: I so regret that I did not see the Alchemy of Tea show when it was in North Carolina at the Cornelius Art Center back in 2014. Photos of the show and artist statements are available online in the digital exhibition catalog. But I want to know more. How did the show, Alchemy of Tea, come to be?  Was it your idea? And who selected the artists who were included?

JEN: As the Curator for the Cornelius Arts Center, I really enjoyed coming up with concepts for exhibitions that would expose the community to unique approaches to art. I love installation and paper-based art because of my background in creating this type of work. So, I had decided to do an exhibition on these types of artists.  While I was researching artists, I came across the work of Mari Omari and fell in love! Her work is gorgeous! I appreciate the fact that it is so intricate and minimalistic at the same time. Her work really embodies the natural warmth and coloration of tea as she simply uses tea and paper to create it. Once she agreed to do the exhibit, I decided to see how far I could take the concept of the exhibit by expanding it to other tea-based artists using different mediums like sculpture and photography. I also knew that I wanted to include at least one local artist and the one I selected was Bridget Conn. I love the photographic detail she is able to achieve by transferring her photographic images onto teabags and a variety of surfaces. The narratives conveyed in each image spoke to me on a personal level and I felt her work was a good juxtaposition to Mari’s. I then found RodneyThompson’s work. I really liked the way that he created unique, abstract pieces using ordinary materials like teabags combined with the encaustic process. Jennifer Coyne-Qudeen’s work added a bit of softness and movement to the exhibition. It paired nicely with the other pieces as it suspended and flowed off of the walls. Barbara Bartlett contributed a beautiful, large-scale centerpiece for the exhibition with her suspended paper installation. Elizabeth Alexander’s beautifully sculpted teacups added a touch of social commentary on the act of tea drinking, historical representation of these types of vessels and the fragility of porcelain. I wanted to bring the teacup form into the context of the exhibition to add that recognizable layer into the visual narrative and to help the audience make that connection to the medium behind Alchemy of Tea.

The Community Tea Cup Project coincided with this exhibition while on display at the CAC and we featured local teacups submitted by artists of all ages. It was wonderful to see the local interpretations of teacups aside this exhibition and to allow the broader community to engage and participate in the exhibit.

Click to enlarge image.

LYNN: What places did the show travel to after it’s time in North Carolina?

JEN: It traveled to Texas for an exhibition at LoneStar College-Kingwood Gallery. The gallery held a traditional tea ceremony as a part of the opening reception. It was inspiring to see the exhibition travel and come to life in a new way!

LYNN: Alchemy of Tea was such a strong and visually rich exhibit. Being a tea lover, art lover, and black tea drinker, I almost swoon at the abundance of sepia tea stained art work in the show. Are you, yourself, a tea lover?  If you are, tell us a bit about your relationship with tea.

JEN: I love tea! I have always loved tea but I think I really fell in love with it while traveling through Morocco. The tea there was such an important part of the culture. It was absolutely beautiful! The loose tea had the most amazing scent and it was packed with colorful flowers, flavors and textures. It was offered in small, ornate silver pots paired with tiny gold-leaf embellished glasses. But I have always been a tea drinker. Every day when I go to teach my after school art classes, I make a nice warm cup of Earl Grey tea with a bit of honey in it to sip on during my lesson. It makes me feel relaxed and creative.

LYNN: You are a woman of many talents.  In addition to being a freelance art educator, you are a professional photographer. How does your love of tea intertwine with your work in the fields of art education and photography?

JEN: Thank you! I think the idea of using tea as a medium is engrained in me ever since I curated the Alchemy of Tea exhibition. So, it’s always a creative tool that I can use when needed. I recently did a project with my students using tea and coffee to paint symbolic imagery on large sheets of watercolor paper. They turned out so nice and my students really enjoyed working with non-traditional materials. In my personal work, I have created found-art tea bags as a part of an installation entitled, “Among Women.” The ends of the tea strings held images and blurbs of intimate conversations. It was as if the tea bags sitting in the cups represented the presence of two women and their deepest thoughts. So, I guess that I value the use of tea as a symbol and artistic medium.

LYNN: Do you have other tea-related art projects lined up for the future?

JEN: I am in the process of creating a large-scale mixed media piece that integrates the use of charcoal, tea and coffee. I was inspired by the project that I did recently with my students and decided that I’d like to continue the creative process in my own work at home.


To see the exhibition catalog for Alchemy of Tea, click HERE.

To learn more about Jen Crickenberger and her work, click HERE.

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Maira Gall