Sparta Teapot Museum and Piedmont Craftsmen

From the Winston-Salem Journal

By Sherry Youngquist
Published: October 22, 2008
A year after a collector pulled out of a deal to exclusively display his eclectic teapot collection, organizers of the teapot museum in Sparta are changing the name to include crafts and are reaching out with demonstrations and lectures in the hopes of distinguishing it from other museums.

The Sparta Teapot Museum of Craft and Design will be an educational experience, organizers say, and though considerably scaled back from what was originally planned, it will still aim to bring development to this small town near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“We’re reaching beyond the walls of the museum,” said Cynthia Grant, the museum’s director. “We’re building opportunities for people to have fun and to learn. There is context now.” Until the permanent museum can be built, the museum will celebrate the crafts heritage of the region by opening about three exhibits a year inside its 1,500-square-foot preview gallery at 18 S. Main St.

Currently, the gallery is featuring “45 Years of Inspired Design — A Celebration of Piedmont Craftsmen’s 45th Anniversary.” The show will run through Dec. 20 and includes work in clay, basketry, fiber arts, glass, wood, painting, photography, printmaking and metals.

The collaboration includes some teapots in order to tie the two entities together, said Jane Doub, the president and chief executive of Piedmont Craftsmen Inc. Doub says that the museum is on the right track by reaching outside its walls. “Bringing in speakers and demonstrators will make people more aware of what is inside that door they have to step through to get to the museum,” she said.

Initially, organizers in Sparta envisioned building a 30,000-square-foot museum at a cost of $14 million that would display only teapots. Even though by 2006 the museum had raised $4.2 million through donations, grants and money earmarked by Congress and the General Assembly, museum officials have scaled back the project.

More than a year ago, they realized that they were unable to raise enough from private donors. About $300,000 had already been spent for planning and site development for the originally planned building. The move jeopardized a commitment to permanently display California millionaire Sonny Kamm’s more than 7,000 teapots — an eclectic collection considered to be the largest of its kind in the world.

The museum’s board of directors is still trying to sell 4 acres of the downtown site. They plan to use the remaining 1.5 acres for a 16,000-square-foot museum at a cost of about $6 million. Construction has been pushed back.

A large portion of Kamm’s collection remains in Sparta. And Kamm continues to contribute to the museum’s shows. Museum officials are hopeful that showing the teapots as well as crafts will attract more people. Already, about 1,000 people have seen the Piedmont Craftsmen show. And adding public programming in the gallery should bring even more people, Grant said. “It’s the whole next layer of a museum’s work, creating programming to interpret and provide activities and fun things to do,” Grant said.

The preview gallery will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through December. This coming weekend, the gallery will be open 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. On Saturday, fiber artist Sharron Parker will be demonstrating an ancient textile technique of felt-making. She will be working with unspun wool, museum organizers say. She will comb, layer and press on the wool by hand in hot water. The demonstration is set for 2 to 4:30 p.m.
A reception honoring Parker will be held until 5 p.m.

Sherry Youngquist can be reached in Mount Airy at 336-918-6119 or at