Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)



Making this teapot was a completely different thing for me to do than what I generally do. The reason is that it is based on an actual bird — the loon — and I was trying to incorporate as much of the loon’s characteristics as possible.

At one point I had thought about colouring the silver with a black patina, to reflect that real colour of the bird, but opted out of that idea when I realized that I would then have had to paint the wings and legs, which I didn’t want to do because it would hide the natural grain of the wood. (A quick note on this wood: It was salvage from one of the old hotels on the American air-base here from the 1950s. This hotel was where some of the military personal stayed on the stop-overs to cross the Atlantic. At one point in time Elvis Presley walked over this piece of wood when he stayed in that hotel as he started his conscription, which he served in Germany. So this makes the wood well over 60-years-old. Just a snippet of information!)

That being said, I decided that the wood would be best left with its natural grain, and that the silver would be etched. For this I chose not to go with the feather pattern seen on the backs of loons, but went instead with a design based on the syllabic spelling of loon in Inuktitut. This is the design that can be seen on the back of the silver body — with one side being the mirror image of the other.

Now came the time for how to position the loon as a teapot. In the first drawings what was missing were the feet, which was something that had been mentioned at the start of this project, so off I went to the Internet to see what I could find out about loons’ feet. The first site I went to was very interesting — with many photographs of loons in different positions… in flight, floating on the water, etc. And the ones that caught my attention were of the loons floating on the water with one leg sticking up, out of the water, seemingly as if it is coming out of its backside. I thought this to be an interesting design idea where the piece wasn’t to be too abstract anyway. From there I was set to go with the wooden maquette I then made.

With the final design, I have the left leg of the loon sticking out in the front and the right leg, which can act as a handle, sticking out from the back. I had a gull’s foot to use as an example on how a water birds foot might look like, and this helped in getting the shape and placement of the toenails. The wings were simplified so as to not take away from the piece as a whole and were out-stretched to give the impression of a crazy moment. The head became the lid handle — I had looked at the feather pattern on loons and decided to have the point of the separation (of lid to teapot body) at the point where the black head segues to the black/white body. In doing this, I was also able to incorporate elements of design that resolved the join and broke up the straight line created by the lid.

The title — this was a hard one. As I was working on the piece I was thinking of a title, and how I could add the word ‘tea’ into the title somewhere (as I usually do with the pots). I looked in the dictionary and the only definitions were for the bird ‘loon’, with another for a loon as being stupid or worthless, or loony for demented or crazy, and lastly, loonies, a lunatic. So there was nothing there, which meant the making up of a word.

A few friends were over one night and I brought this up in the conversation, the title, and then a friend of mine, Donald, came up with this word — “loon — isa — tea” and told me to come up with a definition. Being an artist and I make up stories and images all the time, why can’t I come up with the meaning of a word, not in the dictionary. So my definition goes like this:

loon — isa — tea: adj. one who acts or appears to be loonie; where arms and legs are flinging about (In this case wings and legs!), as if in a panic or loony way.

There was a point there where people said the same thing about Mr. Presley!

—Michael Massie

Michael Massie

Michael Massie


Inuit, Métis

Happy Valley - Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

(1962- )

Massie’s work is a reflection of his mixed Inuit, Métis and Scottish heritage. In it, he investigates both traditional and contemporary themes. He has achieved renown for his innovative teapots that combine themes and symbols from his native Inuit culture with European traditions. Massie has been twice short-listed for the coveted Prix Saidye Bronfman and has an extensive international reputation. His work has been shown in North America and Europe, including the National Gallery of Canada. He was elected a member of Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2011.