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If Exotic Pots Are Your Cup of Tea . . .

April 15, 1999|LYNELL GEORGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You'll find one that pays due respect to Dr. Seuss, or one recalling author Paul Bowles' Sahara-dwelling nomads. There's even one fit for the Mad Hatter and his high-strung crimson Queen.

At the Parham Gallery, home of the "fine and exotic" teapot, the rush of acquisition is just as delightful as the discovery. Hidden just off an alley in a quiet West Los Angeles residential neighborhood within the flight pattern of the Santa Monica Airport, John Parham throws open the door on his collection--his garage door, that is. In a space large enough for a modest four-door sedan, Parham, an ink broker by day, has worked exhaustively to hunt down and elegantly display a wild and whimsical range of fine art teapots.

"There are 3,000 to 5,000 potters and great ceramists in L.A.," Parham says, "and every one of them has at least two teapots in them. I know it."

Commissioning some, advertising in international ceramic trade publications to acquire others, Parham's casual, longtime hobby has morphed into a prodigious, exquisitely eclectic collection that after three years now numbers well into the hundreds.

"I decided to do this versus going to Melrose," says the dapper Parham, gesturing toward the pristine white walls, studded with no-holds-barred extrapolations on the handle and spout theme. "That way as I got started I wouldn't have the high overhead."

But the unorthodox space, open since July, only augments the charm. And every six to eight weeks Parham puts up a show ranging in theme--from the erotic to the whimsical to an upcoming show that will give a nod to artists Calder and Picasso. His largest crowd tipped toward 100 and spilled out of the gallery and into the alley.

The allure?

Parham pauses.

"Teapots are special," he says. "People can relate to them. They are everyday things, but they as well can be all these crazy things."

Parham is looking to continue casting a broad net for artists and to secure more funding, possibly an underwriter. The plan ultimately is to move into larger, more traditional quarters at Santa Monica's Bergamont Station.

"If we had an earthquake, I'd be out of business," he says, brow furrowed. "Right now it's bad enough when the garbage man comes around and everything starts to rattle."

* Parham Gallery: Fine and Exotic Teapots, 2847 S. Armacost Ave., West Los Angeles; open 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays or by appointment. (310) 473-5603.

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* Times staff writer Lynell George can be reached by e-mail at Lynell.George@latimes.com.

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