The Yellow Teapot

The Yellow Teapot was created during the COVID lockdown. The teapot is a Goodwill find that I finally got around to rendering in oils. The needlework piece it sits on was made by my Greek grandmother a century ago as part of her wedding trousseau. She brought it with her to the U.S. as a teenager.

Her life in Greece was not easy. Her mother was a sometimes-functional often highly dysfunctional alcoholic who was forced to marry a man she hated (she was in love with his younger brother). They ran a boarding house in Athens and had 3 children. My grandmother was the eldest, so it very often fell to her to take care of her younger siblings. She didn’t get much education- just elementary school- but she was extremely bright and read voraciously. She was taught needle crafts and spent many hours working on lace making, embroidery, and sewing clothing.

She didn’t like to talk about her childhood but my impression was that she wasn’t shown much affection and was treated badly. Instead, she told us funny stories about her life as a child in Greece. I found out about all the other stuff much later.

During Prohibition, it was decided to send her mother and the three children to emigrate to America to prevent her from drinking. I believe that some relatives found them housing in Brooklyn, New York. (Nope, it didn’t work- it wasn’t like you couldn’t get the stuff.)
My grandmother and her sister, teenagers, were sent to work in the fashion district, since both were very capable seamstresses. Their brother was sent to high school and then college. He eventually became an accountant and worked for Consolidated Edison.

My grandmother quickly excelled and promoted at the New York City design house where she worked. Eventually she was the person who could look at a designer’s sketch and make the prototype garment for production in the appropriate fabrics. This requires a high level of spatial intelligence and engineering, as well as familiarity with how fabrics can be used. The pattern makers would take her work apart and use it to make patterns for different sizes. She made a lot of money for the time- enough for a down payment on a beautiful brick house in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, and a car bought outright when she married my grandfather.

This was an arranged marriage, just like her mother’s had been. She agreed to it because she had no choice, was getting to be a spinster (at age 23!) and so she was married off.
It was pretty obvious that he adored her and she could just about stand him. There was always lots of eye-rolling on her part, and she often complained about him to my mother. He could be exasperating, I think. Still, accepting that this was her life, and all those years married and raising two children gave them some degree of companionable existence.

An aside: it feels shockingly odd to be the eldest woman in my family now. Just can’t seem to wrap my head around it.

Back to the painting.
Once all grown up and married, my grandmother took all of her beautiful work out of its chest and she used it! Some were for every day, and some came out for holiday dinners.
Many of her beautiful fabric and lace pieces survive to this day. I had a couple of them given me years ago, and my mother had the rest. When my mother died this past September, I was able to get a few more.
The survivors are all very fragile. I have had the one depicted matted and framed behind glass for years. I was hesitant to take it out to photograph it for composing the painting, but I was careful.
I now have several of its sister pieces, and may do another painting some day.

Last year, I entered this painting in an art show in Tacoma, for artists over 60. It was a small venue, and I don’t think it got much traffic, but it won 2nd place in the show, and another of the artists in the show fell in love with it and bought it. It’s probably the only painting I’ve ever regretted selling. I did have a very nice print made, though.

“The Yellow Teapot” oil on wood, 11″ x 14″

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