Thursday, January 4, 2018

50+ Years of an Ugly Cup

As you may remember, I'm staying with my parents until I get my feet back under me and can get into my own space, again. The house happens to be the one in which I grew up, and as a result, it has a sort of time capsule feel to me. 

Some things have changed, like the paint in the living room and the new counter tops and electric range in the kitchen. Other things haven't, like the two 1950's (possibly 1960's) hanging lamps and the funky bar in the den area by the patio door.The other unchanging thing has been my mom's Ugly Cup.

Mom's Ugly Cup has been around ever since I can remember. When we had our first dog, she would let him lick the last few drops of her coffee out of it before it got washed and hung on its hook with all the other cups in the kitchen. It was her morning ritual, go-to cup.

I'm sure you have one, too.

The glaze color isn't particularly flashy or attention-grabbing. I never really liked it as a kid, though I'll admit it's grown on me over the years. The application of the glaze, itself, seems like it was a little thick and uneven. There are even marks left from where air bubbles in the glaze popped, but the glaze didn't flow enough to cover them. Perhaps it was a little underfired? I'm not sure.

Over the last fifty-plus years of use, it's gotten some crackling in it, especially on the one-fingered handle.

The clay, itself, is relatively groggy. It's not a particularly pretty color. The maker, a Japanese student who lived in my mom and dad's apartment building in Pomona, California when they were first married, didn't sand the foot, so it's still rough. She didn't sign it or put her mark on it, either, although my dad still remembers her name. 

I'll have to ask him again one day and see if she turns up in a search.
If you flip it over, you can see the foot isn't perfectly centered, that it's a little off. The foot ring has a ding in it, possibly from being set on a rack while it was still leather hard.
The form is loose and unfussy, the rim mostly round in spite of the informal squaring off of the walls. The cup itself is only large enough to hold a small amount of coffee.

I don't know what it is about this cup which has held my interest for all these years. Maybe it's the obvious hand-made-ness it has as it hangs next to its commercially made Momcat brethren. Perhaps it's the air bubbles in the glaze which made me think of moon craters when I was a kid. (Still does, really.) Maybe it's the modesty of the glaze color, itself, plain and unassuming amid the bright colors of the other mugs hanging nearby.

When I was younger, I used to think that everything which wasn't manufactured, was inferior, somehow. That if it wasn't uniform, wasn't "perfect," it was somehow defective.

Thus, Mom's Ugly Cup.

Now I know better. I embrace the handmade. The quirks. The unevenness. Evidence of the maker's hand on the clay or the glaze. Things which make a humble coffee cup unique.

The other thing I do know, is it makes me miss my studio. I want to get back on the wheel and play around with this form, to deconstruct it so I can better understand its appeal.

The Ugly Cup. Who knew it could produce such longing?


  1. Sweet post! You truly never know what small items over everyday life will slowly take on a character and meaning of their own. Special, and I am sure it will be treasured.

  2. I am hoping with you for your return to the studio. A thing made with hands, beautiful in the eye of the beholder or not, is embued with life and the story of the person who made it. And you have many stories left to tell!

    1. Thanks, Peggy. It's been very painful, not being in the studio and *making!* The upheaval from the divorce (which is ongoing) seems to continue to deliver blows I didn't fully recognize in the initial shock.
      But one day, I will financially recover enough to be able to rebuild my life. Here's to landing some great job! :D


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