We have had our little obsession with teacups. Many of us have used, "Not my cup of tea." Originally meant for an unpleasant pain in the arse 🙂 person but applied generally to all things less desirable. Or "a tempest in a teacup", the lesser used and perhaps later concocted version of "a tempest in a teapot". Or George Orwell's rant on a nice cup of tea. But a "cup of tea" was to describe someone you like or think is good.
In this regard, my mother was a special cup of tea.
Many of you know my mother left us last June. She was a remarkable woman who shaped my point of view and my life direction. But if you are a regular reader or have listened to one of my speeches, you know this!
Anyhow, my mother was a prolific artist and created complex oil paintings in minutes or took weeks and months to perfect a painting. She was both a conceptual artist (think Picasso) and an experimental artist (think Cezanne). Cezanne's work may have been her most important muse.
Like many artists she had her secrets. Her techniques. Her way of painting that were hers. The real meaning of her pieces were left to the viewer's imagination. As they say, "Art is in the eye of the beholder." Perspective is everything. No two people see anything the same.
My mother was a prankster with a wicked sense of humor. Some say I got my sense of humor from her, many others have hired a search party for my funny bone. Here is my mother’s last enigmatic prank–That will never be solved.
Years ago, she created a set of paintings of teacups, 15 in all. Somehow they were assembled into a single print—the exact origins are unknown. And where the original of this print went is also a mystery. There are no known copies of this painting, only this low quality photo shown above. With a twinkle in her eye, she told us that each unique teacup depicted her four children and her ten siblings and herself. That adds up to 15. She would never reveal the identities of the teacups! It is hard to see, but there are unique differences in the teacups. One is cracked, one covered, one upside down, one on its side…..Your interpretations start to go wild.
This was all years ago and we had all forgotten these enigmatic teacups.
After Mom passed I went to the print shop where she made reproductions, so called giclees, of her work. It was an emotional meeting. Like all people that knew and/or worked with my mother, the print shop owner had bonded with her. After we cried together and exchanged stories, he revealed, in his moment of weakness, that he had taken an unauthorized photo of the teacups. My sister Katie and I were aghast. No one in our family ever saw this version. We asked for a copy and ultimately received this higher resolution image:
You can see right away this is different from the original, the order is changed and now there are 16! The new teacup is the one broken into pieces (bottom row).
Who is the 16th teacup?!!
We will never know the exact symbolism or identities of the teacups or solve the mystery of the new broken one. But that is the beauty of art and of life as lived and painted by my mother—all to be interpreted. I know she is smiling and perhaps giggling a bit from on high.
My sister Tomi found this poem just after we made this discovery: A cup is more valuable chipped. He was broken. I am broken. And when we can see that we are all chipped and broken, we begin to value our life as an expression of the teaching that we are truly perfect and complete, just as we are. —Pat Enkyo O’hara
Each teacup is special and beautiful.
We know that any fixed, perfect and pristine image we have of ourselves or others is an imaginary teacup.
My mother knew we would see ourselves in every teacup. For we are all of the teacups. Our cupboards house each one of these cups. For we are many things, have been many things and will be many things. Our histories and our destinies are complex and unknowable. We contain the infinite seeds of our family trees and experiences. All of us will never fully express our potential and our possibilities.
So our humanity, our compassion, and our future depends on exploring and embracing our own and each other's teacups.
Here's to our beautiful and mysterious cups of tea in 2017.
Thanks Mom. And thanks for reading. John