The Art of Tea

POMFRET, Conn.

Tea and art galleries are the perfect pair, says Jean Barton, owner of Celebrations Gallery and Shoppes in Pomfret, Conn.  She explains how the these two seemingly opposites fit together just right: “From the rituals of tea ceremonies to the creation of different blends, tea is very artistic,” she says. In fact, the entire creative lifestyle associated with tea is the same Barton’s contracted artists and art customers identify with.

That’s why Barton recently arranged a special tea exhibit that married the two. “The Art of Tea”, which ran from June through this week, featured 38 pieces by 18 local artists that portrayed the accouterments, history, ceremony and tradition of tea. From tea fields to teacups, the exhibit showcased a range of mediums including acrylic, oil and pastel paintings; furniture and pottery.

“Tea and Pie Necklace,” a bead stitched, black lace collar with Swarovski crystals and silver-plated teacup charms by Anna Mancini of Danielson, Conn., and “3D Tea Setting,” an oil on canvas painting framed with actual porcelain teacups by Katie Samuelson of Cheshire, Conn., were among the standouts. The exhibit featured more traditional—and sentimental—pieces as well. Susan Rosenstone Larrow of Killingly, Conn., painted “My Mother’s Teacups,” triptych portraits of her mother’s teacup collection. Barton was lucky enough to borrow and display the actual china that inspired the art.

The variety of offerings is a credit to artist liaison, Jackie Mahoney. In addition to her work on “The Art of Tea” exhibit, she regularly combs the state for new talent and manages business relationships with the 40 or so artists currently under contract with the gallery. Thanks to her diligence, Celebrations refreshes its displays weekly.

Mahoney is also one of the driving forces behind opening the gallery in 2006. After Barton and her husband Bill operated the 1885 Queen Anne Victorian home as a bed and breakfast for almost six years, they partnered with Mahoney to host a one-day art show on the property.

“We didn’t know if we’d find any artists interested in participating or if anyone would even attend,” says Barton. “It turns out we had over 250 people waiting in line.” The event ran annually for two more years before the pair decided to convert the bed and breakfast into a year-round art gallery and gift shop.

It wasn’t until 2011 that Celebrations branched into the tea world with the introduction of monthly themed afternoon teas in their dining room. The events, which require advanced reservations, are another way for Barton to infuse her creative personality into the business. Each tea event has a unique theme that is reflected in the tea selection, menu and décor. Last October guests celebrated “The Season of the Witch” with hot cinnamon spice tea from Harney & Sons and Vampires Beware soup made with roasted red peppers and garlic. “There’s a bit of whimsy and playfulness in each menu,” Barton says.

While running an art gallery and gift shop in addition to organizing monthly teas keeps Barton busy, she still enjoys connecting with people over a cup of tea—whether it’s at tasting at the World Tea Expo or in her own dining room. “Everything about tea is infused with creativity and it’s inspiring to see what goes into preparing it,” she says.

“The presentation of tea is so artful,” adds Mahoney. “It’s about slowing down, tasting and sipping. The art is that it brings a special awareness to yourself and the people you’re with.”

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