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Tea for the tree

Garden Home artist finds whimsical holiday angle for used tea bags


by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Artist Toni Curry displays a mini Christmas tree holding her tea bag ornaments at Medley Tea House in Multnomah Village.Toni Curry grew up in a Jewish family, but by the time she was 30, a Christmas tree was a beloved part of her holiday-season ritual.

"My kids grew up in an interfaith home," she says. "We celebrate Christmas, the solstice, the idea of celebrating the seasons."

By creating Christmas tree ornaments from used tea bags, the Garden Home resident further embraces the whimsical side of her adopted holiday while also celebrating her favorite leisure-time sipping beverage. A founder of the Raleigh Hills Business Association, Curry transformed an ordinary object that would otherwise be considered trash or compost to create a series of five colorfully festive tea bag designs.

"I think of this as a nod to celebrate nature and the solstice," she says. "As an avid recycler, I combined my love of tea with the creation of this series of re-purposed tea bag ornaments."

A total of 40 of her limited-edition ornaments are on sale through Tuesday, Dec. 24, at Medley Tea House in Multnomah Village, 7881 S.W. Capitol Highway.by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Artist Toni Curry holds one of her tea bag Christmas tree ornaments at Medley Tea House in Multnomah Village.

Packaged in an elegant gift box for $15 each, Curry's creations are actual dried tea bags with a protective glaze added to them. The colors and designs were added using a combination of acrylic spray paint, paint pens and gold leaf-type markers.

“An artist sees life with possibilities," she says. "Anything can become a canvas.”

Specific designs include a green Ilex Aquifolium (holly) celebrating the traditional Christmas holly tree, the Red Mahonia Aquifolium honoring the Oregon grape, Solstice in Earth Tones representing tribal culture and bark painting, Cup of Joy in Blue celebrating the joy of a pot of tea and Delft pottery from the Netherlands, and Blackboard Message in honor of tea and friendship. The latter design includes an excerpt from a traditional American Christmas Poem: "Sit and have a cup of tea. I'll think of you, and you think of me."

"Each tea bag has kind of a theme," she says. "It took awhile to figure out which designs to do. The blank tea bag reminded me of indigenous bark paintings from tribal cultures. I picked red and green for Christmas. Holly is such a Christmas symbol. And I love words, so I went for the Latin botanical names and Oregon grape to (symbolize) Oregon pride. There's the Christmas poem. The Cup of Joy is a nod to (white and blue) teapots in China. It celebrates the joy of potted tea.

"Each one had a very specific theme I was trying to get across," she adds.

Curry felt Medley Tea House, owned by Kathleen Zorn, who invites local artist and crafters to display their works in china cabinets at her business, would be the ideal venue for her holiday decorations, several of which she's mounted on small Christmas trees in the shop.

“Medley Tea house is the perfect venue for me to showcase this new project," Curry says. “It’s like having tea in a living room of a cozy house. Tea bag art in a local tea house, how perfect is that?"

Zorn, who opened Medley a year and a half ago, says she enjoys adding holiday items to her cabinets, which are normally stocked with ceramics such as tea pots and decorative goods.

"They're usually inexpensive and kitschy," Zorn said. "I choose the ones I think are unique and different."

Curry's tea bags meet Zorn's standards.

"I think they're great," she says, noting she wasn't sure what Curry had in mind for the small, undecorated Christmas trees at first. "I didn't quite understand what she was doing until she came back and put the tea bags on (them).

"It takes the burden off me to make the place festive," Zorn adds. "I just have an artist come in and decorate with their things. For me, it's instant decorations. Customers are very responsive."

An Ohio native, Curry moved with her husband, Wayne, to Oregon in 1992. When not creating art, the mother of three grown children serves as principal creative consultant of TLC Promotions, which provides branding, design and writing services along with unique promotional products.

If her fanciful tea bags prove popular, she'd like to make their creation an annual event.

"I've shipped a few to people I know on the East Coast and Midwest," she says. "It's something I put together I thought was pretty good. It tells a story and gives people a window into a different world."by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Here is one of artist Toni Curry's ornamental tea bags.