Consider the Tea Cup

Sweet Dennis was gathered to the ancestors on Monday, Feb. 25, on an unseasonably mild day. He was buried in a corner of my neighbor’s garden where, in Summer, there will be a rose bush in bloom. Here are some of my remembrances of him during the 11 seasons that we were lucky to have him in our lives:

Yes, there is a kitty in this photo.

The old rabbit hutch in our backyard was Dennis’s first favorite place.

Summer was when Dennis was his most scenic:


Dennis with Taffy, his mortal frenemy.

And this is how Dennis coped with the heat waves of Summer ’17 and ’18:

We will miss his sweet face and bright smile.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for all your dear wishes for Dennis and the people he leaves behind. It will take a long while before I stop looking out for him at every breakfast, or looking twice at Taffy trying to figure out if it’s him or that other handsome darling ginger cat from next door.

In times of sorrow, thank goodness for books and tea. A friend sent me a link to a video of Amy Sedaris’s book collection, for obvious reasons:

Screen shot.

You might recall that I have a very small collection of color-coded book covers, mostly just for “decoration” in the two  small built-in bookshelves I have in our living room , but Amy Sedaris goes over the top with hers. When it’s done on a big scale like this, it’s very fetching, don’t you think?

Amy Sedaris says that when she wants to find a book, she has to look it up on line to see what color the jacket is so she’ll know where to find it on her bookshelf. That sounds easier than the system that I currently have in place, which is ad hoc hit-or-miss, Where Did I Put That Book I Just Had In My Hands?

In Used Book Store news, we got this the other day:

This was a new way for someone to do a drive-by used book donation — they dumped it by the library’s book return.  It was a plastic carrier bag full of paperback books in Arabic and, no judgment here, there is no way that we could sell Arabic-language books at our little charity used book store, so I asked the librarian if they needed this load for their foreign language collection — and the librarian said Yes. That’s the first time the library has taken unwanted books off my hands. So, yay for the Arabic language readers in Roslyn, Long Island!

We also got this in another donation last week:

We do not normally accept dictionaries because they do not sell, but this month a collage artist let me know that she would take any and all dictionaries that we get (the older the better). This Funk & Wagnall’s was from 1973 — not exactly “old” because that’s the year that I graduated from high school — but I put a $3 price tag on it and the artist loved it.

The collage artist is not interested in children’s dictionaries, so I knew that I would have to scrap this one that came in last week, too, because nobody buys children’s dictionaries:

But first, I checked out the end papers because that’s what I do before I get rid of books these days, and wow — this dictionary had lovely vermillion-colored end papers, plus a dazzling little something extra:

I love that tiny four-leaf clover. Then I flipped to the back cover and got this:

The clover flowers are still knotted, still in tact as a sweet little necklace and now I don’t know what to do. I can’t rip out the end papers, I can’t throw out some child’s gathered miracles…so the book is sitting in Top Cat’s den, on top of a pile of other rescued books that are not worth selling at the used book store, but also aren’t deserving of being thrown out.

That pile of books includes a battered 1922 copy of The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morely. If it were a 1919 copy, it might be worth $300, but it’s just a 1922 edition and Christopher Morley, a Long Island writer whose house used to be about half a block from mine (until 2010, when it was torn down and a really nice mansion was put in its place) is unreadable. I find his prose to be extremely annoying, and this 1922 book isn’t worth a dollar, but still. . . it’s survived this long, I hate to toss it. So Top Cat’s den is the new Limbo for old books and Top Cat is thrilled.

If you remember from last week, I had made a tree for the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland:

I introduced you all to this original sketch from Sir Tenniel, which mashed up the Cat with a certain Tea Party:

So, in celebration of March being the Tea Time Month. . .

. . . I am going to make a paper tea cup to go with my paper Cheshire Cat tree!

And the crowd goes wild!

Page 39, When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

While the tea cup seems as if it is one of those designs that seems so natural and so very handily form-fitting-function that is must have appeared plena canite, the tea cup as we know it is actually a culturally-specific adaptation to 19th-century Western tea drinking.

The handle to the tea cup is the most recent aperture to have evolved in the five thousand year-old history of tea. It’s a very hi-tech addition to the classic design that originated in China about 2,500 years before Jesus (who preferred wine over tea) was making with the loaves and fishes.

I made the tea cup’s bowl and saucer in one afternoon, and it was so mundane that I didn’t even bother to photograph the process (sorry). But then it came time to add the handle to the tea bowl and I knew I was in for it BIG TIME. I pondered the engineering and came up with an audacious plan.

This is the tea cup that I used as my model:

Wedgwood, style “Derwent” scalloped, 1964 – 68, now discontinued.

I am left handed so I never use a tea cup in this orientation (as shown above), but when I had to draw it I could only do it in its right-handed mode. I drew the handle, then I flipped it and traced its reverse image there on the paper beneath the cup so I wold have two exact copies of the handle I wanted to make:

Let’s call this handle shape, the “Q”.

I am going to try to re-make the handle as a form (in other words, I am not going to wrap it, as I would the trunk of a tree; or roll it and bend it as I would a tree branch). That strip of paper with the notches cut out of it, called the strap, is what I am going to glue between the two mirror-image “Q”s. I have to be very precise when I fold up the notched edges, so I use a small ruler like so:

This is the strap ready to be glued into place:

I lay down a line of elmer’s glue and let it set for a minute or two, to be less runny and more “tacky”:

Then I lay down the strap onto the glue, using the fat end of my scalpel to tap it in place (because my big fat fingers won’t fit in this teeny space):

I let the glue dry, and then I trimmed the “Q”(mostly) and now I’m ready for the other “Q” to be glued on top:

So now I have a hollow handle, and to my great relief, if fits against the Alice in Wonderland tea bowl I made earlier:

Then I take text from my $1 copy of Alice in Wonderland and glue it onto one of the”Q”s, and I insert an inner strap to make the handle not hollow:

That’s the tea bowl and saucer in the background.

Of course I’m using the name of the chapter as decoration on the outer strap:

I pay attention to detail.

And this is the wonder of engineering that is the paper handle for my paper tea cup:

It fits!

The bowl was almost perfectly circular until the glue dried, then it got wonky.

Because of how I want to use this tea cup and saucer, I am not adding the foot that is in the Wedgwood prototype but some day, I would like to make a footed paper tea cup, yes I would.

I am very proud of this tea cup. You can actually pick it up by its handle — it works, and it’s sturdy.

I can’t show you, yet, how I’m going to use this tea cup with the Cheshire Cat tree, because I am photographing all my book art pieces for posterity and I can only do that in my dining room when it’s overcast ousted. It’s been sunny the past few days — cold, with random snow flurries that don’t stick around, but sunny — but I can show you some of the book art that I’ve succeeded getting pictures of so far:

Top Cat got me some large sheets of beautiful dark black suede-like paper, and I made little set with several sheets of this paper taped into the recesses of the window seat that is built into the north wall of our dining room.

Here’s Farmer McGregor’s vegetable garden and the Wind in the Willows scene that you read about back in January:

When I was in Florida two weeks ago I raided some thrift shops and found The Velveteen Rabbit, and Thumper to add to Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny. The White Hare came with Alice:

I used Inga Moore’s illustrations for Mole, Rat, Frog, and Badger from Wind in the Willows:

Dear Reader Francesca sent me a wonderful copy of WITW with the the wonderful illustrations by Ernest Shepard, but I could not make them work for this project, in which all the characters have to be playing golf. The nest time you’re looking through a children’s picture book, see if you can find characters that are striking poses into which you can insert a golf club.

It’s not easy.

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones. It’s Michael Cohen Testimony Before the House Oversight Committee Day + 2, a great day to be alive in America (for the first time since Nov. 9, 2011).









27 Comments, RSS

    • Vivian

      We got together with our neighbors to remember Dennis and laugh at the way he ran two households. Taffy might have been the leader of the pack, but Dennis was very much our crown prince.

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about Dennis. Losing a pet is so hard. 🙁

    You did a BEAUTIFUL job on that teacup! And I love the pressed leaves and flowers in the dictionary. One of my favorite aspects of working in a library is finding the detritus that people tuck into books. Usually it’s not worth returning but sometimes I have the photos and artwork next to my desk for everyone to enjoy.

    • Vivian

      What a great i tea, to have a little “museum” of the things people leave behind in books. I like it. I might have to start one of those in the book store.

      Dennis was the kind of cat that even people who don’t like cats, like. We miss him very much.

  2. Oh Dennis. I’m so sorry. He was so handsome. I just love those oranges — they have the best personalities and are so sweet. Thanks for sharing so many wonderful photos. He was lucky indeed to have two families.

    Apart from the sad there is so darned much to love in this post. First of all, the teacup. Holy cow. I’ve seen the Susan Branch prototypes for her teacups made from paper and I don’t know how she makes them or how sturdy they are or all that, but the shape is pretty basic. This seems really complicated, with the curves, and then the adding of the inside and outside. I’m pretty sure I would have cheated for the base and made a mold of the original cup. I love every bit of energy and beauty you put into that. The work on the handle amazes me and your step-outs are terrific. Do I sense another series coming along with the golfing critters reach the 18th hole? I think maybe. I hope so!

    And I love the background for the photography of the castles and golfing scenes which is outstanding. The black is perfect and the lighting is too. I see another book there — It’s Only a Paper Moon or some such silly title. Maybe even with step outs for one of each? A new paper art. These just fascinate me. Your attention to detail, the whimsy, the joy of them and the time and skill to do it all. Overwhelmed.

    Been offline and had glanced at last week but hadn’t commented yet so I’ll go back and do that.

    • Vivian

      I didn’t know that Susan Branch did tea cups, and now I must see those paper prototypes.

      If I had not taken this volunteer job of managing a used book store, I never would have thought to switch from watercolor to books as my preferred medium. i can’t say that i will never watercolor again, but these books are so much fun that when/if I do a book about the secrets of bookselling I will include these castles and these critters. Whenever I am in the book store, and I’m in the bookstore a lot, I keep thinking of new ways to do something with books, other than read them.

  3. Casey

    Oh, poor little Dennis. So young. I am sure that he knew that he was loved on both sides of the fence by humans and cats alike.

    I have not considered that the tea cup had to be invented. I thought it was something that had always been around, like arrowheads and hammers. I of course love your paper tea cup. It’s fun and absurd, and as high art as that surrealist who did the fur lined tea cup.

    Time to take those castles and the bunny golfers on the road. Oh, the places they’ll go.

    Maybe Trump can learn some paper crafts in prison and build something that people actually want to look at. Ivanka can take a course on dressmaking while she’s in the slammer and Donny Jr. can get a certificate in bookkeeping to help him keep track of all the charity donations his family makes HA HA.

    • Vivian

      I think that the Spoon olds the record for being the one thing that was invented in the Stone Age, and has not changed its basic shape in the 5,000 years since then. yY for spoons!

      I saw that fur-lined tea cup at the Guggenheim many years ago, in a show about Meret Oppenhiem, who was a very underrated artist in her own time. Everyone loves that tea cup.

  4. As always your ingenuity and patience are overwhelming. I just read about a French designer who is using book spines to make actual dresses! However, there’s no illustration of the process, just a lot of models with book spines on their beautiful bodies.

    best… mae at

    • Vivian

      Wow, I found those dresses on Bored Panda. They are sumptuous, but they don’t have a story. Also, they look very uncomfortable. But it’s intriguing, and I hope that Lady Gaga will commission one to be made for her.

  5. Kirra

    So sorry to hear about Dennis! Hard to believe he won’t be in the cat photos anymore.

    Your teacup is amazing! I love your details and it is fascinating to see how you made the handle. Your photos of your book art are brilliant, they should go on a library tour so more people can see them.

    Funny bookshop story this week, the librarians taking the Arabic books and finding pressed flowers in another.

    I can’t quite keep up with American politics, busy following the craziness of Australian and British politics, but good luck!

    • Vivian

      I still can’t process that thought, that I will not see Dennis’ face ever again. he was here for three Summers, and then gone. I miss him very much.

      I know; the world has gone crazy. Someone I know suggested all this madness is happening because of climate change — we all know that we are living in doomed times and even if it’s not a conscious thought, that awareness is making us all nuts. Times like these, having good books and good cats in your life is even more important. Stay sane.

  6. Gina

    I’ve been thinking about Dennis and his families all week. Thanks for sharing his sweet life with us. And nice tea cup!

  7. Linda June

    So sorry about Dennis. Cats are so special, each with his/her unique personality. I only had one cat and was afraid to get another one, because the first one was so wonderful. I might end up with a Steve next time around!

    I love all your creative cut out work. I’ve been forwarding some of the pictures to my art teacher, who thinks they are amazing, as do I. I love the teacup, a job well done!

    • Vivian

      As much as it hurts, I would do it all again tomorrow, if Dennis sends another kitty our way so we can love him or her and get our hearts broken all over again.

      That’s so cool that you ave an art teacher. If you ever need books to cut up, let me know. I have. literally, a ton of books that I need to throw into the landfill but I’d rather donate them to a good artful cause.

  8. Susan

    Dennis will be missed at his 2 homes and in blog land. Such a wonderful fellow. He always looked very at home and comfy in your photos. He is a much loved kitty. My thoughts are with you during this sad time.
    Your tea cup looks like china! Well done. I also very much like your tree creations. Nice anchor and focal point in the landscape.

    • Vivian

      It’s been a week and one day, and I still look for him every morning. Muscle memory. Dennis took up a lot of room in my heart.

  9. Glen Day

    I’m not a traveler, only a reader. Found your book, when travelers cease to roam, at the art supply store. Love the art, and now I have to find the other books you’ve done. And who says twelve, plus two, cats makes you a crazy cat lady! Me, I figure as long as I can feed them……welcome! I’m sorry about Dennis. I never put cats and cancer together till I had one get sick. He didn’t want to eat, tho he would indulge me by eating the cooked chicken livers I fed him by hand. Sorrow, sadness and woe. But new cats come in, and sometimes they move in! Or don’t, but will talk to you, which is also nice!

    • Vivian

      Thank you for stopping by! You are so right about our dear cats. In fact, the neighbors and I are actively waiting to see who Dennis sends to us. The next stray who wanders into my backyard will, I know, have been given to us by that sweet cat, because he knows that this is the right place to send a kitty who needs love.

  10. Deborah Hatt

    I rejoice with handsome Dennis, as his suffering is ended and his eternity in heaven is just beginning.Our beloved furry friends certainly leave a gaping whole in our hearts when it is their time to go. But memories of them reside deep within our spirits through out the long years of our life. That alone is a treasure, a God-gift.

    I LOVE the tree with the Cheshire cat smiling from its leafy boughs (I’ve always adored that particular kinda-scary kitty). And I am thrilled with your “Alice in Wonderland” teacup! You know, why not send the design to a ceramic company, and see if you can have the design manufactured for sale? Possibly sell them in your used-book shop or local gift stores … or online to your many groupies … just a thought, because your paper one is ADORABLE!

    Happy trails this week, Vivian. It is nigh-unto-impossible-to-believe-it in Michigan at the moment, but Spring is sitting at the door. So, give thanks and sing.

    • Vivian

      Thank you, Deborah; you always know just the right words to bring comfort.

      That’s a nice idea about the tea cup. I looked it up and Tenniel’s illustrations ave been public domain since 1964, and the text of Alice in Wonderland has been public domain since 1907. I think you’ve just given me a idea for my next set of tea cups — all made from books in public domain.

  11. So sorry to hear about Dennis leaving and flying to cat heaven. Sending comforting hugs!
    The leaves in the book, oh swoon. I once sold a set of encyclopedias and forgot to take out a bunch of paper cuts I had stored there. Someone found a treasure for sure.
    How I love your paper art and the teacup too. They are all so extra special!
    And the happenings in DC just make me sick to my stomach. What can I even say! I pray for a return to civility and kindness and to kick out those corrupt despicables.

    • Vivian

      Oh, no; I feel your loss of the paper art. I used to use books as my filing system also but I had to stop because I was losing track of stuff. but you’re lucky that you got to sell your encyclopedias; I took in a set go Britannica at the used book store and it took me 4 months to find someone who would take it away for free.

      Thank you for your Dennis thoughts. He was a really good cat.

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