A Teapot, a Woman, and maybe a Boat

One of the problems with making large-scale outdoor sculpture is that you have to store your work when it comes home from an exhibit.

Compost Tea  , Linda Hoffman & Gabrielle White, leaves and chickenwire

Compost Tea, Linda Hoffman & Gabrielle White, leaves and chickenwire

A few years ago, Gabrielle White and I made Compost Tea. This large teapot was exhibited in two shows and, since then, has been steeping under our back porch. Several weeks ago, we needed to clear this area for washing vegetables. The dilemma — should we dismantle the teapot? I’m one for moving on and getting rid of things. Gabi was reluctant. “Let’s float the teapot,” she suggested. Gabi made a test raft with four five-gallon plastic buckets and a wood pallet. When I returned home that evening I walked on it — and slid into the pond.  I later learned that Gabi had fallen in several times. The raft supported our weight — which meant it would support the teapot, but was not very stable.

However, by the next evening the buckets had filled with water and the raft was floating under the surface. Gabi and I stepped into the muck to unstrap the buckets from the pallet and empty them. We searched Craigslist for larger plastic barrels, but southern Connecticut seems to hold the monopoly on used 33-gallon plastic barrels — too far to drive.

Then I thought of the boat. We had been working on a sculpture inspired by the line, The Boat Returned Flooded with Moonlight. I have a little boat that a neighbor gave me years ago. Gabi and I had hauled it out, painted it, and then bought some chicken wire. Gabi is obsessed with the way light shines on and reflects off of chicken wire sculptures. We made a wire figure of a woman seated in the boat with a billowing skirt, a bit like you might imagine Emily Dickinson boating along the Thames. But our Emily kept falling out of the boat, and the sculpture never came together.

Meanwhile, the teapot was now behind my studio awaiting the construction of a raft. At our next session of work, Gabi had the brilliant idea of putting the lady in the teapot. We removed the teapot’s broad-brimmed hat and placed the woman inside. She was visible from the waist up, a jack-in-the-box figure with her own wide-brimmed hat.


The sculpture was intriguing. Then, encouraged to find a solution to our raft difficulties, I said, “Let’s put the teapot in the boat.” I knew we might have to forgo the woman. A boat, a teapot, and a woman was getting a little complicated. Out went Emily. We carried the boat from inside my studio to the teapot and temporarily installed the teapot in the boat with spout pointing towards the bow.

It had a certain presence. They seemed compatibly sized for each other. Then we decided to remove the teapot’s broad-brimmed hat and push Amelia down into the opening. Gabi calls the lady, Amelia, while I prefer Emily. We always enjoy our collaborative way of working even when we disagree. We now had a boat, a teapot, and a lady captain who seemed to be piloting the boat from her teapot quarterdeck. One of her slender arms was resting on the rim of the teapot and the other was gesticulating, as if photographed in mid-sentence. Who was she? Where was she going?

On Friday afternoon, Gabi and I met again to continue work. We wanted to see the sculpture afloat on the pond. 

Gabi, Mike Labonte, farm volunteer, Bruschi, farm dog, and I preparing the sculpture for a test voyage.  Photo: Farmer Kevin

Gabi, Mike Labonte, farm volunteer, Bruschi, farm dog, and I preparing the sculpture for a test voyage.  Photo: Farmer Kevin

We don’t yet know what the final piece will be. The woman needs work, the teapot is unsteady in the boat, and Bruschi isn't sure about any of it. You'll  have to come to Old Frog Pond Farm’s annual sculpture exhibit, Around the Pond and through the Woods to see for yourself what we decide. This year’s exhibit opens on Friday, September 8 and continues through Columbus Day. The opening reception is on September 10 from 1 - 4 pm. And, as long as the teapot stays afloat, storage will not be an issue!

Gabi in the canoe taking our sculpture for a tour of the pond.

Gabi in the canoe taking our sculpture for a tour of the pond.