Finding simple beauty in nature

Tea room shows Japanese vases by local artist

Mike Brieger forged his own vases for his ikebana art on display at White Dragon Tea Room & Gallery. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Mike Brieger

Mike Brieger forged his own vases for his ikebana art on display at White Dragon Tea Room & Gallery.

The Japanese art of ikebana is one of finding beauty through the simplicity and purity of nature. Mike Brieger’s collection of ikebana vases at the White Dragon Tea Room in Durango poses the question: What is beauty?

Brieger’s steel vases are much like half-formed imaginings of what a vase should be. Unruly, and at times bizarre, they are beautiful because of their superficial imperfections.

Brieger’s show, which opened Saturday, features ikebana flower arrangements by his wife, Lenore, and, naturally, an array of first-rate teas from the Tea Room owner Michael Thunder. All but two of Brieger’s vases sold within the first two hours of being displayed.

“I’ve met maybe four or five artists in my lifetime that are deeply authentic, real and extremely talented. And (Brieger’s) one of them,” Thunder said.

Brieger’s vases are an extension of his work as a painter. Almost like the traditional artwork of an imaginary culture, his work is humorously dark. With little, spindly legs as support, his vases are short, tall, fat and skinny. The Durango artist’s favorite creations were the flask-shaped vases, which he intends to continue producing in bronze.

Brieger, whose past experience with blacksmithing has led him to produce home décor – hand railings, gates, fireplace screens – had never worked with vases before.

“I wanted to do something kind of different with each one,” Brieger said. “It’s interesting to do them differently.”

The White Dragon Tea Room, which opened last year for the Spring Gallery Walk, has presented numerous shows featuring traditional Japanese tea ware and pottery. Thunder has had Brieger in mind for a show since the very beginning – little to Brieger’s knowledge.

“Mike is such a universal artist that ... if you give him something, he can do it – such as these vases, they’re incredible,” Thunder said.

Several months ago, Thunder asked Brieger to create a collection of ikebana vases. Though he had little knowledge of the Japanese art, Brieger approached the project with an open mind.

“Brieger’s stuff is about beauty. And beauty is what allows us to restore ourselves,” Thunder said. “It’s been a real thrill to work with him and Lenore.”

Lenore Brieger, who also does flower arrangements in her Durango hair salon, Lemon Head, used apricot blossoms from her yard to create stunningly simple arrangements. A spiritual experience in many regards, ikebana is practiced in complete silence.

“The flowers tell you where they want to be,” she said.

Unlike our common perception that vases must overflow with colorful flowers, ikebana flower arrangements are known for their minimalistic use of flowers, stems and leaves that are always aligned in the shape of an irregular triangle.

“These vases are great for that (simplicity) because the opening is really small,” Lenore Brieger said.

Durango ceramics artist Lisa Pedolsky will present her work at White Dragon during the Spring Gallery Walk in May.

Margaret Hedderman is a freelance writer based in Durango. Reach her at