July 2017

by DeeGee Lester, Director of Education The Parthenon

Across centuries and cultures, the international symbols of hospitality, comfort, care, and service have surrounded the sharing of a cup of tea.

VSA Tennessee’s inaugural class of Teapot Diplomats with keynote speaker Charlie Kellett; Photography by Keep3

Teapot Diplomats grew out of Charlie Kellett’s experience with the Peace Corps in Morocco where hospitality, conversation, and understanding were an intrinsic part of the serving of tea by hosts. With his devotion to “serving” rather than being served, Kellett established a habit of carrying his own teapot into homes to serve others. As he journeyed, he would often photograph individuals who personified kindness and compassion posing with his teapot. Those images soon filled a little book he called Teapot Diplomacy.

In 2015, VSA Tennessee, the state organization on arts and disability, was completing work on their 40 Days Project—an International Quilt which was shown at the U.S. Department of State before traveling as part of its Art in Embassies Program.

“By that time Charlie, who was working for the State Department, ended up taking my photo with the quilt and his teapot,” says Lori Kissinger, Executive Director for VSA Tennessee.

“Some of our participants in the quilt project told us they wanted to continue to do projects in which they could use their talents to help others and have an international impact,” Kissinger explains. “With a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission, pilot workshops and training in arts community service were launched. However, we didn’t have a name. I always liked the idea of Teapot Diplomats and asked Charlie if we could use that name for our program.”

A group of motivated individuals attended workshops and agreed to take home materials to complete projects on their own. The goal was to see who could use their own initiative, both inside and outside the workshop setting, to make ten items during the year.

Keynote speaker Charlie Kellett and The Clay Lady Danielle McDaniel

On Saturday, June 10, at The Clay Lady’s Studios on Lebanon Pike, ten participants who completed the project were initiated as VSA Tennessee’s inaugural class of Teapot Diplomats, including: Adam A.J. Boyd, Bethany Dillon, Austin King, Hope McKee, Collin Ranson, Alyssa Ray, Jennifer Scallorn, Wanda Sowell, Torie Summers, and Morgan Vice.

The event showcased items created by these talented artists and sold on-site with funds divided (one-third each) among participants, VSA Tennessee, and the UN Zero Hunger program. Keynote speaker for the event was Charlie Kellett, who talked about his time in the Peace Corps and what led to the creation of Teapot Diplomats, as well as offering special insights into initiatives for the disabled on the international level.

“VSA Tennessee, along with Charlie Kellett, have once again provided the disabled community a way to display their creative abilities through the arts with the Teapot Diplomat program, and I look forward to seeing the effect that it will have not only on the participants, but also on the community,” says VSA Tennessee intern Kori Cupp.

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