All things Dodo

The dodo, a large, awkward, flightless bird related to pigeons and doves, went extinct in the late 1600s after European voyagers began to settle the island of Mauritius, which is located in the Indian Ocean east of Africa. Evolved in isolation in an environment without natural predators, the dodo had no means of defense against humans and the domestic animals that they brought with them. The population was wiped out within a century of discovery of Mauritius.

Now “dodo” is synonymous with human-caused extinction of a species. Phrases like “dead as a dodo” and “to go the way of the dodo” speak of the oblivion that came upon these hapless birds.

Contrasting against the tragedy of the irretrievable loss of the species is the comical appearance of the dodo: a football-shaped body, stubby wings and a dust-feather tail. The bird's long neck ended in a big head. The mask-like face was devoid of feathery covering and the creature's hooked beak was tipped by a bulbous knob.

Both comical and tragic, the dodo is a fascinating subject for artistic depiction. It was thus a masterful stroke on the part of the leading lights of the Mad Hat Tea Company (Tobin Ropes and Maureen McHugh) to invite Tacoma artists to do their own version of the dodo. The resulting show is currently on display on the walls of the tea shop. (The dodo is the tea shop's logo.)

In the past the Mad Hat has hosted other themed shows like the “Crow Show” and a “Day of the Dead” show. The dodo show, however, is particularly delightful. A wide range of artists of every stripe from Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA) students to established artists like Lisa Kinoshita, Mike Capp and Chris Sharp have contributed to the show.

Graffiti-influenced artists like Kenji Fullmer incorporate the distinctive profile of the dodo into stylized designs that are interestingly akin to the dodo rampant on the coat of arms of Mauritius.

The dodo also seems to lend itself easily to anthropomorphism and a number of artists have dressed their dodos up in hats and costumes. Mary K Johnson's “Shalamazoo” show a dodo in a skipper's hat puffing a pipe. Anique Zimmer with “Dapper Dodo” gives us a dodo dressed in a suit and sporting a monocle in a painting that resembles an old style of caricature. Alexis St John's dodo wears a flowery hat. Sam Ropes gives the dodo fine duds in “Mr. Dodo.”

While most artists show the dodo from its distinctive profile view, there are a few that zoom in on the dodo's face and present it at an angle. Capp's “Night of the Living Dodo” shows a colorful and reptilian-looking dodo viewed through a fisheye lens. Suni Cook-Baucher's “Sexy Dodo,” on the other hand, is sweet and flowery. Olga Lindbern is the only artist who gives us a full-frontal dodo. Her fuzzy blue bird confronts the viewer with its bulbous beak. The painting has the feel of a tole painting. The blue bird stands out against a rich orange background. Two vivid red fruits lay at the bird's feet.

The mask-like quality of the dodo's face is brought out in Jeremy Gregory's “Tobododo.” In his haunting, velvety style, Gregory depicts Mad Hat proprietor Tobin Ropes wearing a dodo mask that has been stitched together. He hunkers in a chair clutching a bottle of booze. A tea bag tied to a toe dangles in a cup on the floor. Nick Karaberis likewise strips the dodo down to nothing but the mask-like face, which hangs from a line above a purgatory of inky brush strokes. The piece is entitled “I'm Extinct if You Want to be Extinct.”

Other artists besides Karaberis emphasize the fact of the dodo's extinction. Linda Desantis, for example, has the legend “Feared No Man,” written on her four-part painting “Dodo Sandwich.” Chris Sharp shows an empty chair with the word “Dodo” done in blurry white off to the side. Maureen McHugh employs her loose-wristed calligraphic style to depict a skinny dodo in conjunction with a poem that touches on extinction. Mindy Barker's “Fabric” shows bright pink, geological strata with a layer of cartoon-like bones in the middle.

Tacoma's avant-garde sculptor and jewelry maker Lisa Kinoshita is more indirect in her treatment of the dodo theme with “Virgin.” Here a feminine form is fitted with a cluster of stark, white eggs that hang below. Tied from a rope near the top is a ring with a crystal dome in which a tiny dodo is embedded.

The Mad Hat Tea Company is a visually busy place even without an art show. There is all of the tea paraphernalia and related merchandise. There are also books, games and art supplies for the enjoyment of the shop's customers. Throw an art show into the mix and it becomes a feat of concentration to take everything in. There is much to see here. Stop by for a cup of tea and some serious gazing.

The Mad Hat Tea Company is located at 1130 Commerce St. with a back entrance along Broadway. For further information visit www.madhattea.com or call (253) 441-2111.

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