There's hardly a more special connection than one between a person and their favorite mug.
We spend a lot of time with the vessels out of which we drink. Whether holding coffee, tea or something else, mugs are personal. Gina Freuen, an exhibiting partner at Trackside Studio, knew that well when she decided to start Cup of Joy.
"I saw a similar thing happening in Bellevue at their arts and crafts festival about 11 years ago," Freuen says. "A bunch of artists made vessels for display and sale, I thought it was amazing. I figured well, why couldn't we have something like this in Spokane?"
Freuen brought the idea to Mark Moore and Chris Kelsey, owners of Trackside Studio in west downtown Spokane, and they gave her the go-ahead.
Now in its 10th year, the Cup of Joy invitational brings 45 ceramic artists from around North America together to showcase and sell their unique, handmade creations.
"Once you start drinking out of something handmade, it just feels different," Freuen says. "Within the very material of the cup itself is the touch of a human being instead of the touch of a machine."
Each year about 45 to 50 artists each contribute at least four mugs to the show. This year, the show consists of 175 handmade mugs that people can buy and use in their daily lives.
Along with national artists, Cup of Joy features a healthy dose of local talent. Potters based in the Inland Northwest include Maya Rumsey (Melissa Maya Pottery) from Coeur d'Alene and Dennis Randall Smith from Medical Lake, plus many others.
Also among the pool of this year's artists is 14-year-old Quebec ceramicist Tuilelaith-Fionnuala Onora (simply Tuile to pottery enthusiasts). Her involvement makes the 2023 edition of Cup of Joy an international affair.
"Tuile's work is just incredible," Freuen says. "She makes these mugs that look like clowns. All in rainbow colors. These go for thousands of dollars because her craftsmanship is so amazing."
The mugs Tuile created for the show are just as Freuen describes: rainbow clowns with viciously sharp teeth, shiny gold handles, and a mish-mash of colors, patterns, and textures on the outside of the vessel. The cups are whimsical, fun and evoke mass amounts of joy, living up to the show's name.
Tuile's outrageous creations are a definite draw, but other mugs seek to highlight the nature of the Pacific Northwest with ties to fly-fishing, birds and plants. Some have simple designs, beckoning to the minimalists of the world, and others are a feast for the eyes with mismatched patterns — perfect for a lover of maximalism. Most of Cup of Joy's mugs are priced between $35 and $60 each. They're also for sale online via Trackside's website.
"To me a cup is one of the most intimate art forms there is," says Trackside co-owner Kelsey, also a ceramicist.
"Most people don't realize it, but it's something that you touch with your lips, you hold it in your hands and caress it. With ceramics, we feel one of our missions is to educate Spokane about the richness of ceramic art and ceramic tradition. There's so much out there, and this cup show is a great example of all the different directions that people go in with the craft. It's just really inspiring."
Cup of Joy runs through December and into mid-January, but Freuen's preparation for it takes place year-round. She's constantly looking for new potters to join the show each year, scouring social media and regional art shows for unique vessels.
In June, she sends out invitations to her preliminary list and waits for responses. This year, Cup of Joy added eight new-to-the-show artists including Ginger Oakes, Harry Mestyanek, Ken Scott and Chris Carson, all Spokane ceramicists. Moore, Kelsey and Freuen all created and fired mugs for the show as well.
Autumn Bunton (Goblin Pottery) has been invited to Cup of Joy for several years and keeps coming back because of the show's uniqueness.
"There aren't many shows in Spokane that highlight the local ceramic talent we have," Bunton says. "Cup of Joy showcases such high quality work."
Bunton's work can be found at local artists markets as well as at From Here in River Park Square, but the four mugs she created for Cup of Joy are exclusive designs.
"Recently I've been into more sculptural pottery," she says. "So this year I made four mugs that are shaped like animals. One is a frog, there's a crab mug, another is a bat, and I even made a two-headed flying pig mug that I think is just great."
These creations perfectly toe the line between a functional mug and a piece of artwork.
"I love creating for Cup of Joy because I can just make whatever comes into my head," Bunton says. "Handmade mugs just aren't comparable to other mugs. Us potters really take the time and think about how it feels in your hand. And, of course, when you buy mugs from Cup of Joy you're supporting small artists and small businesses. Once you switch to handmade mugs, you'll never go back!"
For Trackside Studio, Cup of Joy is a highlight of the year. Kelsey says people line up each year outside the studio for First Friday in December to have their first pick from the mug selection.
"More and more people are understanding that these things are handmade, unique, one-of-a-kind objects that will never exist again," Kelsey says. "And you, too, can own one for less than the price of going out to dinner." ♦
10th Annual Cup of Joy • Through Jan. 13; open Wed-Fri from 11 am-5 pm • Free admission; mug prices vary • Trackside Studio • 115 S. Adams St. • tracksidestudio.net