Ceramics artist to make free cups for veterans, families, others
Norwich — Ehren Tool learned quickly when he left the Marine Corps in 1994 how much the craft of ceramics arts mirrors the approach to military training.
“My ceramics instructor was talking about bone support and muscle memory,” Tool said Monday in a telephone interview from his home in Berkeley, Calif. “It sounded like a military instructor. He was an Army veteran from between Korea and Vietnam.”
Tool, who turned 52 Monday, had joined the Marines three days after graduating high school in Los Angeles in 1989 and served in the Gulf War in 1990. After combat duty, Tool landed two “soft” assignments, serving as a U.S. Embassy guard for 15 months each in Paris and Rome. He left the service in 1994 and attended classes on the GI Bill at the University of California, Berkeley, where he took a ceramics class.
Tool started making ceramic cups, decorated with a recipient’s military insignia, special colors, décor to signify specific duties. He gave them away, never charged or accepted money.
“They’re just cups,” Tool said. “They don’t mean anything, unless they mean something to somebody.”
Tool estimated he has made about 25,000 ceramic cups — mostly for veterans, service members, their family members, supporters, even peace activists — across the country. He traveled to France in 2014 for the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. The New York Times featured him in its series “On War.”
This week and next, Tool will set up daylong ceramics workshops in Norwich, first at the Veterans Rally Point at Easter Seals, 24 Stott Ave., on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and then at Three Rivers Community College, 574 New London Turnpike, on Monday and Tuesday. All workshops will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Veterans and military personnel are invited to bring their insignia or personal memorabilia items to be fashioned onto custom-made ceramic cups made on site. Or they can choose from the large collection of insignia veterans and service members have given Tool over the years.
The cups will be fired in the kilns at each location to be picked up later when ready — at no charge.
Tool's visit is sponsored by the Norwich World War I Memorial Committee. Tool will make a number of cups especially for the committee to sell as a fundraiser for the effort to restore a WWI German howitzer, a captured war prize.
City Historian Dale Plummer, chairman of the memorial committee read the New York Times story on Tool and started an email correspondence with him. Tool sent Plummer two ceramic cups. Plummer brought them to a committee meeting.
“The members said, ‘Wow! I’d buy something like that,’” Plummer recalled. “I think it will be fun and moving at the same time. And I think everyone will learn something.”
Grants from the Elsie A. Brown Fund and the Norwich Heritage Trust will pay for Tool’s travel costs, and the Rally Point and Three Rivers are providing the pottery works. Tool will stay at the Voluntown Peace Trust.
Tool hails from a family of military combat veterans, his grandfather, father and himself. None ever talk about their wartime experiences, Tool said. None of them ever sought counseling.
Tool’s own outlook on life, war and politics changed when he and his wife, Sara, a ceramics sculptor, had their son, Argil, now 17. Tool realized that everyone, even your “most despicable target,” is somebody’s child. He reflected on the dreadful and long-term costs of war on people, the environment and the land.
He mixes art readily with political philosophies, insights and anti-war sentiments, and will discuss any of them as he works.
When he went to France in 2014, he saw how the Great War’s battles had crushed and blew up pristine farmland. “What struck me was it was farmers fighting farmers as the world starved. A hundred years later, there are still unexploded ordnance in France."
He laments that while in the military, service members are united in their mission and dedication to one another. When they get out, he said, they are fractured and divided politically. Society norms are twisted.
“We don’t have $30,000 to send a kid to college, because that's socialism," he said. "But we spend $50,000 to keep a kid in prison. We don’t mind at all. For a fraction of what we spend on military, we could provide water to the world.”
Tool said he misses the once prevalent term, “the service,” for people in the military.
"One of the hardest things I found, getting out of the Marines, was finding a way to serve," Tool said. "I want to serve, I want to help, I want to share."
California ceramics artist and U.S. Marine combat veteran Ehren Tool will hold five, free daylong workshops to make personalized ceramic cups decorated with recipients' military insignia, or memorabilia and colors. Cups are free for recipients.
Veterans Rally Point, 24 Stott Ave., Norwich, on Friday, May 20, Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Three Rivers Community College, 574 New London Turnpike, Norwich, on Monday, May 23, and Tuesday, May 24, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.