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The Thoughtful Mug
A Few Thoughts on an Old Standard.
As I hold this sweet little cup in my hands, sipping my tea, I realize there is something different about this mug than there is in all my other mugs, which are also handmade. This one seems to fit me; small, delicate, and colorful, it feels perfectly at home in my hands and cheers me as I take each sip.
I have a large collection of mugs made from potters I have known over the course of my life, but for some reason, this mug just sits differently in my hands. The comfort it brings as I hold it is palpable. Is this mug meant for me? Is it fate that brought this sweet handmade object into my life and my hands, that which is meant to awaken me from my daily routine? The presence of it in my life has called into question my own pottery practice, and how I approach the humble mug.
Though I have been teaching pottery classes for years, I'm primarily a sculptor. This is why it came as a great shock to me several years ago when people started wanting to buy my pottery. Even more shocking was that they wanted to buy my mugs. As a potter, by that point, I was mediocre at best at functional ware because I had spent the majority of my time on the wheel throwing closed forms and making them into sculptures.
So I attempted the humble mug. Over and over and over again. Pulling handles, trimming feet, smoothing the lips of my mugs. And people were buying them, which seemed like a small tragedy to me. But, as I have never been one to turn away money, I continued to make them and sell them in small batches.
Fast forward to today, and I am selling my mugs, which are not so mediocre anymore, in several shops in the area and in shows during the holidays. I find myself questioning my impetus to do this work, as I have never felt much of a connection to making the mugs I make, except in the decorations and surfaces I create upon them.
But this sweet mug has changed everything. The soft intimacy it has brought to my mornings, the way my thoughts and body relax around my morning tea ritual has been a revelation. It is a special mug to be sure, and it has called me to re-examine my own approach to my functional ware, specifically my mugs.
It is a great gift to create objects from which people feed themselves. These pieces are not just functional objects, they are "screams into the abyss of humanity," as one of my art teachers once boldly stated. Potters know that the best way to improve at any hand skill like pottery or painting or drawing is practice, repetition. I see now that this practice must not be mindless but mindful of the pieces we make that will fill people's hands. Every mug I own, each one I drink from has its own personality, and each one makes me feel different things as I hold them in my hands, pouring whatever liquid it happens to hold, down my gullet.
The next time you pick up a mug, take the time to appreciate how it feels and how it makes you feel as you drink. It just might change the way you approach making. It might even change the way you approach drinking.
Tip of the week
Believe it or not, here is a tip about HANDLES, brought to you by our own Jeremy Noet of Bluewater Pottery. After you attach your handles to your mug, leave it overnight to set up under plastic. This will greatly reduce the amount of cracking that occurs between the handle and the cup. I have tried this myself and since undertaking this practice, I have never had one crack between the cup and the handle. Thanks, Jeremy!
Resources for Potters
WCA grants will open on June 1st. You just have to be a member to apply, so why not join?
Field guide for ceramic artisan grant section. National and state grants are both listed on that page.
Craft Potters Association is worth a look though it is outside of the US.
Grant writing tips for clay artists in Pottery Illustrated.
Last week's blogpost was an artist spotlight with our own Will Abraham. If you missed it you can scroll below or check it out here.