If you were to walk into the Random Tea Room and Curiosity Shop on a given day, you might l3eave without even noticing an art exhibit on display, a testament to how well Susan Benarcik’s show, "Natural Curiosities," blends into the atmosphere of the tiny shop.
Filled with knickknacks, mismatched chairs and china, coupled with probably the best chai tea in a 50–mile radius, The Random Tea Room is the kind of place that would incite fainting spells in any Jane Austen lover. With an emphasis on environmental consciousness, New York City–based Benarcik creates delicate sculptural pieces from both recycled and newly manufactured sustainable materials. The results — insect–like creatures and flowers that wouldn’t look out of place in the world of Tim Burton’s animation — hang from the shop walls. In neutral earthy tones, they don’t call attention to themselves, but instead complement the shop’s decor.
The Random Tea Room is called a curiosity shop for a reason, and curiosity will grant you access to even more of Benarcik’s work. Many of her pieces are scattered and hidden around the shop and take some exploration to discover. But an inquiring mind will be rewarded with an intricate collection of paper collages tucked into a folder and waiting for you to pick them up and examine them. Far from being dismissible as glorified stationery, Benarcik’s careful combinations of old–fashioned maps, floral patterns and illustrations are every bit as beautifully unassuming as her sculptures.
It’s that lack of presumption that’s most striking about Benarcik’s work. She’s not out there to shock you or to force you into intellectual discussions about her “art.” Sure, she’s working under her umbrella theme of eco–awareness but, most importantly, her work is pretty. And in an artistic world that’s so focused on concept, sometimes to the point that actual craft is sacrificed, the unapologetic beauty of "Natural Curiosities" is quite a relief.
Benarcik’s work will be on display through November 18, but regardless, the Tea Room is a great place to go if you’re stressed and don’t mind the trek up to Northern Liberties for an escape. Order a cup of tea, play with the pet bulldog or get a massage. (Yes, there is a massage room attached to the shop.) And keep an eye open for all of the art surrounding you. You may be surprised by what you find.
Natural Curiosities Now–11/18 The Random Tea Room and Curiosity Shop 713 N. 4th St. Tues–Sun, 10 am–10 pm (267) 639–2442
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