It all started this past July with an inconspicuous email.  I had no idea at the time what magnitude this pottery request would have.  Someone was simply requesting 30 to 60 custom mugs.  The twist was that they wanted to know if I’d use the clay they found during their construction of a 16-mile highway project designed to bypass Portsmouth, Ohio.  I replied to the construction company who is building this highway, and received another reply back the very next day.  They asked, “How many mugs is too many?  I talked with the CEO today and he would like 100 at the least and upwards of 500 at max.”  And so began the wonderful 500 mug story.

Five days later, my husband is home alone & a knock on the door startles him.  On the other side of the door stands the CEO of Portsmouth Gateway Group, his wife, and two 5-gallon buckets.  I had tried to warn my husband with a text message earlier that day saying, “A man with two buckets of clay is coming to the house.  Please accept buckets.”  He greets the couple & realizes he has no idea why they are bringing us buckets of clay.  Naturally, my husband politely offers them a complete tour of the clay studio and they accept.  I get a call later from my husband admitting he “just gave two strangers with buckets of clay a tour of our clay studio… They were very nice people, but I have no idea who they were!”  I tried not to laugh &  proceeded to explain.  The buckets of clay were wild clay that the construction company found on site while building the highway.  When a potter acquires clay from the clay supply shop, it is normally a fairly sophisticated blend of several clays.  Wild clay, on the other hand, could be unpredictable.  So the testing of the wild clay began.

Approximately five tests later, it becomes apparent to me that the wild clay we are dealing with was going to bubble up like warts & warp & even melt a little when fired in the kiln.  I tried my usual temperatures in the kiln first; then I tried very low temperatures after that.  Nothing would work.  On a total whim, I made a last minute decision to take some watered down wild clay & “paint” it onto the side of a couple mugs before whisking them away into the kiln for their first firing.  Magically, this little experiment totally worked!  The wild clay could survive the kiln firing if it was just a thin layer painted on.  I now had a way to incorporate the company’s wild, native clay into their mugs!  The design came along & was finalized by November.  An Ohio cutout of clay would be added to the mug, the wild clay painted over the Ohio shape, & the mug would be two earth tone colors.

On November 18th, the construction company had a board meeting planned.  As the board members filed into their meeting, a Highway 823 mug was set out for each one of them.  This was the beginning of the company-wide distribution of mugs for each and every employee.  There are 500 employees.  Let there be 500 mugs!

By November, I also had decided I was in way over my head.  There was no possible way for me to single handedly make 500 mugs in a timely manner.  I reached out to one of my pottery class instructors who in turn suggested asking four local potters.  All four accepted my plea for help!  First on board was Adena Griffith who is an amazing ceramics instructor and taught me everything I know about silk screening images onto clay.  Then I reached out to a potter that I was recommended to me who I never met before, Liz Delatore.  Liz is a talented ceramics sculptor & also uses the potter’s wheel quite well.  Finally, I asked potter couple, Sandy Lang & Walter Weil & to my delight they also said yes.  Sandy & Walter have made a fulltime career of being professional potters & are vastly experienced in the world of ceramics.  After getting help from these four local potters, it became clear I needed even more help.  So I asked my husband, Nick, & his sister, Rose.  They also both agreed to help and worked on adding handles, attaching Ohio’s, and painting clay over the Ohio’s.  Then Nick & Rose also helped stamp the mugs with “made in Ohio” stamps, waxing the mugs’ bottoms, & glazing them.  I owe everyone a great big thank you!

Today was the day I was able to finally say to the construction company’s CEO “The 500th mug has entered the world!”  It’s been a long road to make the 500 mugs, but it’s been a great road.

Thank you Adena Griffith, Liz Delatore, Sandy Lang, Walter Weil, Nick Singer, Rose Singer, & Portsmouth Gateway Group.  You all made it possible!

This project took approximately five months, 750 pounds of clay, seven potters, & exactly 823 words to tell the story.