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Favorite Things: Britta Urness and her brass watering can


Britta Urness, 38, is a familiar face in the Lansing art world. She is a former academic adviser in the art department at Michigan State University and, in November, started on a new career path as a studio educator at the Broad Museum MSU Art Lab. Beyond that, her own artwork will be on display in a show called “Sorry, I’m Not Leaving,” opens at 6 p.m. Friday (Jan. 17) at the Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center, 119. S. Washington Square, Lansing.

My favorite thing is a '70s Ethan Allen brass watering can. Being brass, it tarnishes easily, but I recently shined it up by using ketchup, and it worked great. Very satisfying.

After my Great-grandma Emma passed away, it was something special I chose from her house. While other family members were attached to her paintings, candy dishes or quilts, I gravitated towards this practical brass beauty.

During the summers as a kid, I spent a lot of time at her house, having afternoon tea with her, learning to sew and reading pre-teen paperback books sprawled out on the floor. She had me do household chores for her and my favorite thing was watering her plants. Using this can always felt delicate and proper, as if I were pretending to act grown-up with a house of my own. That, and watering the plants was much easier than peeling potatoes.

At an interactive art exhibit once, I was asked to draw what I’d grab from my house in a fire onto a postcard. I immediately thought of my brass watering can and took pleasure in drawing its shape. There’s something about the graceful curve of the spout and the fact that it’s sturdy and brass. Today, I used it to water a good collection of small plants that I keep in a set of McCoy pottery planters.

While you can easily buy a cheap plastic watering can at a dollar store, I take pride in having a special tool for the job. It’s not the only thing I have of my grandma’s, and it’s certainly not the most valuable thing I own, but after my cats, I’d scramble to rescue this funny can due to the gentle memories and rituals I associate with it.

(This interview was edited and condensed by Rich Tupica. If you have a suggestion for Favorite Things, please email rich@


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