I no longer bring Animal Mugs to shows; the demand isn't high enough. I do have stock in storage at home, however. Contact me if you're interested.
I ran out of stories in 1989... ("Left leg!" Denise calls from across the room. "Pull the left leg, it's shorter.")
In a sense, though, it was true.
I was an evening and weekend potter in 1985, when I quit my day job and came out to Oregon for graduate school. Suddenly, I was in a Master of Fine Arts/Ceramics program, and pottery just didn't seem to be enough. Everyone around me was talking about Implicit Meaning and Personal Content, and keeping journals of Dream Imagery with which to Imbue their Work with Significance. It was a time of grand concepts and capital letters, and I didn't have a clue where I fit in. I'm a heavy (and late) sleeper, never remember my dreams, unless they involve forgetting about a big exam, or giving a class presentation sans trousers.
I do know how to tell stories, though. I come from a family of storytellers, even used to tell some of Grandma Gosar's tales on children's radio in Wisconsin. So I started retelling my childhood memories in sculpture form.
These "story tiles" were three-dimensional book pages, with words impressed into the clay, and figures built out from it. Because I grew up on a dairy farm, the figures included cows and cattle dogs and barn cats, not to mention pigs and chickens, big gardens, and my five brothers and sisters. It was a rich vein of ideas, and it carried me through three years of grad school, my thesis project (a room-size story tile, complete with life-size ceramic cow) and for several years thereafter. But by the winter of 1989 I felt like I'd pretty much used up all my stories.
I was teaching pottery at the University of Oregon Craft Center by then, and doing a lot of throwing, functional ware that I was beginning to try to sell. And one night while my conscious mind was switched off, the cows wandered off of the story tiles, and onto a batch of mugs I was working on.
They worked surprisingly well as handles, sturdy, well balanced and solidly attached. Dogs and cats quickly followed, and even pigs made a brief appearance before burrowing back into the mud.
I started doing sheep handles when fellow Craft Center instructor opened a weaving supply shop, and kept making them long after it closed. And one year at Christmas, my friends Loras and Kathy commissioned a set of mugs for family for Christmas presents. Loras is from Iowa, and wanted a dozen cow mugs for his parents, brothers, and sisters. Kathy is an only child, so only needed two mugs to send to her parents, in Alaska. "Cows aren't too big up there," she told me. "Do you think you could do a moose?"
Christmooses! What a concept! How could I resist?
So you see, ideas come from anywhere. And you never run out of stories.
Each Animal-handled mug holds a generous 15-18 ounces off coffee, tea, milk, water or soda ("pop" back home in the midwest).