Larry Elliott has honed his artistic vision into a distinctive style, creating a unique industrial-rustic twist on the classic teapot.
By Shelly Johnson
At first glance, many of his objects look like steel or even a piece of machinery, either deliberately or accidently molded into a teapot shape. They appear rusty, bedraggled and worn. Then you do a double-take. Michigan artist Larry Elliott’s impeccably constructed ceramic teapots are fragile, even if they convey the opposite image. That unique exterior is a result of trial and error and experience in Elliott’s development of his glazes. He is, in his own words, an “optimistic, positive person by nature,” but his ceramic art often takes on a more aggressive, rough, sometimes depressing form — nothing like his personality.
Elliott grew up in rural Michigan, received an industrial management degree from Central Michigan University and spent his career in the automotive and real estate industry, all the while doing his art as a hobby. Over the years, he’s honed his artistic vision into a distinctive style, creating a unique industrial-rustic twist on the classic teapot. His creations are winning contests and capturing the attention of art lovers throughout the country.
For the past 20 years, he practiced his craft in his small home studio or at places like the Paint Creek Center for the Arts, Oakland Community College and the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, where he currently does most of his work. As a retiree, he spends time between his home in Rochester and his newly built cottage in Port Austin with his wife, Sarah, and son, David. He’s an avid runner and biker and has done many half-marathons and Century bike rides.
Why teapots? “I started doing general ceramics, but quickly found that I liked the complexity of making teapots,” Elliott said. “You have the challenge of incorporating a body, spout, lid and handle, while trying to make them unique.” Almost all his work begins with a sketch. “I have many notebooks full of drawings,” he said. “Then I pick one and refine the design into the piece. I never have a lack of ideas. I like industrial, rusty, mechanical objects and that theme flows through to my designs.”
He said he enjoys the challenge of making all the elements work together. “In the ceramic world, teapots are considered one of the more difficult objects to make. You can put water in and pour it back out of the spout. From a practical standpoint, probably 25 percent are good for making tea. The rest are sculptural.” Besides teapots, he also makes vessels, sculpture and bowls. “All the pieces are 100 percent ceramic,” he said, “even though they are metal-looking.”
Part of the attraction, he said, is the contrast between hard and soft or old and new. He wants to convey that beauty and symmetry can be present in the most distressed-looking objects. Depending on the size (some teapots are up to 18 inches tall) and complexity, it takes from 20 to 40 hours for him to complete each piece. His ceramic techniques include wood, soda, gas and electric firing, and most of his finishes are rusted and metallic glazes.
Elliott recently took top prize in the 10th International Texas Teapot Competition in Houston, earning a $1,000 award and a place in the Clay Arts Museum and Education group’s permanent collection. Currently, you can see his art at the Detroit Artist Market, 4719 Woodward Ave., in Detroit.
See more of Elliott’s work at elliottartist.com.