Clay Studio sponsors Guerrilla Mug Assault to hand out free handmade coffee mugs

Yvonne Lung (left) and Julie Shanahan of the Clay Studio organize mugs for the giveaway.
Yvonne Lung (left) and Julie Shanahan of the Clay Studio organize mugs for the giveaway.
Posted: November 08, 2012

YOU PROBABLY give little thought to the mug that holds your morning cup of joe.

For some, that vessel is a work of art unto itself.

On Thursday morning, the Clay Studio, a gallery and retail space in Old City dedicated to handmade ceramics, hopes to change the way some local coffee drinkers think about their own usual mugs.

During the studio's Guerrilla Mug Assault, volunteers will gather at six secret locations to surprise morning commuters by replacing their usual cup with a one-of-a-kind handmade mug. Five hundred mugs crafted by 50 artists, many from the Philadelphia area, will be given away.

"We want to start a conversation about the value of handmade things," said Naomi Cleary, communications manager for the Clay Studio. "You can go to Ikea and get a perfectly good mug for $1.50, but we want to see if people feel differently about drinking from a handcrafted work of art."

Recipients of the free mugs, which normally sell for approximately $45 at the studio's store, will be chosen at random. That might seem like a hefty price for an everyday household item, but Cleary believes people may decide handmade mugs are worth the price once they enjoy their quirky, unique gift.

"I have a collection of handmade mugs, and I know the names of all the makers," Cleary said. "It's nice to feel connected to other people, especially today when everything can feel anonymous. Handmade goods - things that don't come from a factory - are like a chain that links one person to another."

Participating artists are equally enthusiastic about the opportunity to raise the public's appreciation for the ceramic arts. Meredith Host, a Kansas City, Mo.-based artist whose curvy, colorful mugs will be part of the giveaway, hopes that recipients won't go back to disposable paper coffee cups.

"My mugs' patterns are inspired by throwaway culture," Host said. "The polka dots are inspired by the subtle, dimpled patterning you see if you look closely at toilet paper and paper towels. Making it permanent and visible by putting it on porcelain is my way of celebrating domestic objects."

The project is made possible by $15,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant, which was used to pay the artists for their work.

"We're hoping to host a follow-up coffee event at the Clay Studio where we invite those who got mugs during the giveaway to come talk about the experience of using their new mug," Cleary said. She predicted that even those who have used factory-made objects will fall in love with their new mugs and feel the pleasure of handmade objects.

The Clay Studio intends to raise funds to match the grant that it has received. Any mug purchased at the store or online between now and February will be considered a matching contribution. "We're asking everyone who has a passion for ceramics to support this project by buying a mug," Cleary said.

Clay Studio, 137-139 N. 2nd St., 215-925-3453,

Art Attack is a partnership with Drexel University and is supported by a grant from the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, administered by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

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