avatarMelissa Rock

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Art

To All the Mugs I’ve Loved Before

A tour of my aesthetic style and the mugs that match

Photo by Author.

Let’s talk about mugs.

Did you know — there are such things as studio pottery and production pottery?

Above is a shelf of mugs at the pottery shop where I work part-time. These mugs are considered studio pottery: a craftsperson made each unique item.

The mug at the front right was my favorite mug. I often have a resident favorite at the shop. I say was because my friend Allie bought the mug. Thank the stars — now I can visit the mug at Allie’s house.

This mug has a unique square handle, and I often choose pottery with this grainy-looking sand glaze. I refer to the mug as “the Frank Lloyd Wright mug.” Not exactly sure why — but the mug seems to match his aesthetic.

Speaking of aesthetics, I am often impacted by the aesthetic around me. I will choose restaurants due to this and organize my surroundings to lift my mood. Merriam-Webster tells us aesthetic is:

a particular theory or conception of beauty or art: a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight

Take these mugs for example:

Left: Mom and I having soup in a mug at Angry Trout in Grand Marais, MN; Right: Mug from the shop. Photos by Author.

These mugs are studio pottery. Each piece is a work of art: there’s not another piece exactly like it.

I am drawn to these mugs for their drippy multi-colored glaze, their irregular shape, and the best part — the stoneware peeking out from the glaze at the base.

When I try to analyze what I like about a mug, I come back to what I desire aesthetically. I resorted to Google to gain knowledge on how to describe my aesthetic style and landed upon this WikiHow Quiz. According to the quiz, my aesthetic is categorized as “Cottagecore.”

As much as I detest categorizing my style, I resonate with descriptors of Cottagecore: the rejection of hustle culture, valuing a simpler lifestyle, and the celebration of traditional skills.

Traditional skills include pottery, so we’ve come full circle.

Perhaps this “Cottagecore” aesthetic comes out when I choose a candle, preferring scents of tobacco, sandalwood, and maybe tea tree or eucalyptus. Or when I need to focus, I’ll listen to French cooking radio stations — I can’t understand French so I’m not distracted, yet the sound of the language resonates with me and tends to be upbeat. And if I’m shopping for furniture or artwork, you won’t see me at Target; rather I’ll be searching on Facebook Marketplace or in an antique shop. I’m drawn to pieces with grit and history, products of these traditional skills we discussed.

Studio pottery is my go-to for obvious reasons.

On the other hand, we have production pottery, which is pottery made in bulk, often in factories. I’m not a potter so I can’t say how I feel about production pottery in terms of pottery as an art form, but I do admire the production pottery that I own — the pieces often remind me of somewhere I’ve traveled.

I believe the mug below was made by a craftsperson, most likely outside of a factory. It’s a bit more distinctive than most production pottery, so I’m guessing a potter was contracted out to make many similar pieces for this shop in Little Switzerland, North Carolina (population 46) using a large kiln.

Mug I bought in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. Photo by Author.

Then we have this Waffle House mug. I have another mug like this from Panama City Beach. There’s something about the shape — I like it.

You can probably tell that I’m from a place that doesn’t have a Waffle House because I liked this mug enough to take a photo. There’s something retro about it that draws me in.

Waffle House mug in Nashville, TN. Photo by Author.

The next mug helps to center me a bit. I tend to have a tough time “letting shit go,” so this mug was most likely made for me.

Inside the mug is cashew coffee — instead of creamer I blend honey, salt, and cashews with my coffee. The frothy liquid is superb.

Photo by Author.

The next mugs are production pottery, too. But they’re different because it’s like buying a print from an artist — the mug is their canvas.

I’m unsure about the mug below on the left side — this is a friend’s mug. The mug on the right is made by an artist in Oregon that I purchase from often, Little Truths Studio.

Photos by Author.

And then we have this piece of production pottery above. It’s from one of my favorite restaurants in Minneapolis — Nighthawks. It’s a smaller mug: my coffee doesn’t get cold in it. However, I’m pretty sure that’s wine in the mug.

And last but not least, this one is a screenshot. This is a photograph of a mug that I’ve admired from afar.

Sort of funny, maybe?

Screenshot by Author.

I drink a lot of tea and coffee. Mugs matter.

When people pick out a mug at the shop where I work, they take note of its weight and how it feels in their hands. Maybe they want a large mug because they drink a boatload of coffee — or they might choose a smaller mug for espresso, or because they find their coffee gets cold too quickly in a larger mug.

The mug handle is also critical when choosing a mug. Surprisingly, the “Frank Lloyd Wright mug” with the square handle is rather comfortable to hold. Some potters will put a dimple in the side of a cup for your thumb rather than make a handle (handles are a lot of work to add!). There are also mugs with a fold in them for four fingers or a small handle placed toward the top of the mug for just two fingers.

As customers come into the shop, telling me they want to pick out a mug for themselves or a loved one, I’ve grown fascinated with the process of choosing. We all have such an individual aesthetic style and matching that for yourself, let alone someone else, is an art form in itself — and maybe an act of love, too.

Ceramics
Pottery
DIY
Mugs
Photography
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