A highlight of my recent road trip to Seattle was a visit to the Portland Museum of Contemporary Craft. My friend Sari and I happened on the Museum as we were exploring art galleries in the Pearl District. Ehren Tool, a veteran of the First Gulf War was the artist in residence. Ehren is a potter. He used bags of porcelain clay to build a bunker with a potter’s wheel inside. Ehren’s bunker was occupied for the duration of his residence by, in addition to himself, students, Portland-area potters, and veterans or survivors of war. They used this clay to throw cups on the potter’s wheel.
At the time of my visit, Ehren Tool was the sole occupant of the “bunker.” Scattered about the room which was bordered on two sides by huge windows on the street, were hundreds of mugs - cups without handles. I was amazed at the number! The window sills were several feet deep and filled with mugs. Each one was decorated differently. There were perhaps 6 of us looking at the mugs with 7 or 8 others outside looking through the window. One woman was holding a mug examining it carefully. She commented to her friend, “I really like this one!” Ehren, standing in his bunker said to her, “If you like it, you can have it.”
She looked at him with confusion saying, “They’re for sale?” He said, “No. If you want it you can have it.” She asked, “How much are they.” Ehren smiled at her and repeated, “If you want it, you can have it. They’re not for sale. I’m giving them away.”
OK, now I’m interested! What’s going on here? He’s making these incredible mugs and giving them away? What a novel idea! I had to talk to this guy. I introduced myself as an artist from Southern California and a veteran. Ehren Tool is a big guy. He must be 6 ft 4 in and is a bear of a man – built like a linebacker with a quiet, gentle voice and a very dry sense of humor. He’s making the mugs to give away.in an act of generosity and accord.
As we were talking, he overheard someone comment about the images on a mug. The individual’s tone of voice sounded as if she didn’t’ like what she saw but I didn’t hear her exact comment. Ehren said gently & quietly. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to offend you. It’s just my point of view.” It took me and the lady by surprise and SHE apologized for her comment!
As we talked, Ehren used laser-cut wood blocks to press various images into the side of the wet, unfired porcelain cups. He had hundreds of small laser-cut molds to choose from. Some were images, some were quotes or words. All were related to war: gas masks, M-16 rifles, WWII style bombs, soldiers in uniform, cavalry horses with rider. There were quotes from George W. Bush, Nero and other political figures from history: all related to war. Taken alone they were innocent. Combined with other images, they were sometimes disturbing.
Over the course of Ehren’s residency at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, he will have given away over 10,000 mugs. He told us he that ceramic is one art form that will last for thousands of years and he hopes that just one of his cups will still be around 10,000 years from now. That is a daunting thought!
I asked him if I could have a mug. He laughed and told me, “You need to spend some time with your cup. Fill it with whiskey and drink it slowly so you can get to know it. I want it to grow on you.”
I used it for my martini that evening. I’m spending time with Ehren’s cup. Memories are made of this.
I don’t have any mugs to give away nor do I anticipate my art will survive 10,000 years. It is for sale, however. You can see all of my artwork available for purchase on my website at www.JerryLHanson.com If you want more information on any of my artwork or to make a purchase, you can contact me by replying to this blog, e-mail me at JerryL@JerryLHanson.com or telephone my studio at 760.992.3157. And, as always, I thank you for listening!
Jerry L. Hanson