After serving in the Marine Corps during the first Gulf War, Ehren Tool was shocked to see the disconnect between his experience in Iraq and its interpretation at home. “I joined the Marine Corps for all kinds of good and noble reasons, but the gap between what I thought I was doing and what I did has been hard for me to come to terms with,” Tool says. “I saw my war as a video game, I saw my gas mask that I wore thinking the air was poison as a toy for children six and up, I saw my uniform as a prop in gay porn movies. I wanted to talk about my experiences but I didn’t necessarily have any answers.”
Tool decided to study art on the G.I. Bill and turned to ceramics to express his frustrations. Since 2001, he’s been creating cups decorated with images of the military, war and violence. As part of the Clay Studio’s 40-hour-long celebration of its 40th anniversary this weekend, Tool and fellow vet-turned-artist Jesse Albrecht will present “Occupation,” where they’ll be surrounded by a bunker made from hundreds of pounds of raw clay, which they’ll gradually use to make cups for visitors to bring home.
“In times of war and economic hardship you want to protect your community, so the temptation is to build walls and gates and fences,” Tool says. “But another way is to expand your community and make your enemy your friend. A cup is immediate; you make your mark, you push the clay and when you fire it than it can last for a million years. That makes a nice overlap with war.”
For Tool, “Occupation” is a way to engage with a variety of people about their own feelings about the military. “I don’t like the touchy-feely, art-as-therapy stuff,” he says, “but a roomful of veterans makes me feel less crazy. I think civilian culture either demonizes or idolizes the military, and they’re equally worthless. But what do I know, man? I just make cups.
40 years of clay
“Fired Up at Forty” celebrates the Clay Studio’s four decades with 40 hours of programming, from morning yoga to cocktails with silkscreen artist Candy Coated.
At the Guerilla MugAssault (Friday, 8 a.m.-noon), volunteers in Center City will seek out those carrying paper to-go cups and offer them free handmade mugs instead. During a series of Wheel Battles on Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., potters will go head to head — or wheel or wheel — to see who can throw the largest pot in 7 minutes and throw blindfolded.