Countless Torpedo Factory artists bring their canine companions to work, but if you sense something stirring in the Scope Gallery when Tracie Griffith Tso is around, don’t assume you’re about to meet a dog. Behind all that luxuriant fluff, Cleopatra is proud to be a rabbit.
“We’ve had Cleo for two years,” Tso says. “Cleo is a New Jersey wooly, a breed that’s half Angora. I saw her picture on the Fairfax County animal shelter website. My first reaction was, ‘What is that?’ My second was, ‘It is so cute—I must have that.'”
Cleopatra typically lives in Tso’s home studio, where she curls up possessively alongside the pedal of the pottery wheel, but she visits the Torpedo Factory whenever Tso plans to works here for several days in a row.
“She sits behind the desk or under my chair with her bed and litter box and enjoys listening to people talk,” Tso says. “She’s confused by people treating her like a dog or a cat; she simply likes to observe and to be pet on her head. More than half of observers mistake her for a cat or dog when they first see her—but the kids always know she is a bunny.”
|Bunny Bamboo tea set,
underglaze brushpainting on white stoneware
Tso began painting rabbits on pottery solely for her own enjoyment, but she soon realized that many people identify with them and enjoy their expressiveness. “My rabbits are getting fuzzier, with longer hair, since Cleo came along,” she says, pointing out that the creatures that romp on her stoneware combine the traditions of Chinese brush painting with her own lifelong interests.
“My mother was a biology teacher, so I always had many types of animals growing up,” Tso says, “gerbils, chinchillas, snakes, salamanders, rabbits, guinea pigs, finches, turtles, fish, hermit crabs, a tarantula, and of course, cats and a dog. I remember checking out library books of exotic pets, studying wildlife flashcards, and drawing horses and cats.”
Tso sees endless potential in the expressive body language of animals, and she finds that depicting them on stoneware encourages a “silent dialogue” that offers intriguing revelations.
“I’ve realized my work centers around strong themes of love or hunger: birds gazing at each other, rabbits cuddling, frogs looking at a bug, pandas eating,” she says. “These are the things that make the world go ’round.”