Renetto-Mario Etsitty's Teapots and Vessels

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Space is at a premium inside the historic Garfield district home of Renetto-Mario Etsitty. Racks of dishes and stacks of chairs dominate his living room along with numerous long tables and shelves filled with knickknacks, a library of books, and plenty of DVDs. 

While most of this stuff is used during late-night banquets the gourmet chef and artist puts on for the downtown crowd every First Friday, there's also a huge variety of artwork in Etsitty's living room, including a tall wooden cabinet that's filled with his collection of antique and vintage teapots. 

He says his obsession started during his teenage years after watching the 1986 flick The Karate Kid Part II -- particularly the scene where Ralph Macchio's engaged in a romantic Japanese tea ceremony with actress Tamlyn Tomita.

Etsitty was hooked.

"I was really taken by that scene and how romantic and beautiful that the act of serving tea could be," he says.

The Navajo-born chef later began having tea parties with friends outside his shabby residence in Tempe while attending classes at Arizona State University. He says he poured steaming-hot cups of jasmine and chamomile teas for his nearest and dearest while serving dainty sandwiches.

Etsitty purchased his first pot, an old Bodum Assam stainless steel model from France, at the ARC Thrift Store in Tempe. A decade later, his collection collection includes old-timey copper kettles, elegant blue and white porcelain pots from China, homey-looking earthenware vessels, and Japanese-made Tetsubin Nobilities. His favorite: an antique and ornate iron teapot from the 1930s with flowers cast onto its sides.

He's also is partial to a couple ceramic pots he's made himself, including one that prominently featuring an image of a dragonfly molded into the exterior. The winged insect is of major importance to the Navajo, as it represents purity and freedom. 

Etsitty uses some of his own pots to brew up some oolong or green tea almost every day, as he prefers it to coffee.

"Tea is a more elegant beverage that not enough people enjoy," he says. 

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