Arts

‘Mostly I just make cups’: Artist highlights impact of war

By Susan Anglin

Ehren Tool's cups depict images of war

Berkeley ceramicist Ehren Tool is less concerned with our position on war, than with making sure that all non-veterans are made very aware of its consequences.

Tool’s vehicle for achieving this end are the thousands upon thousands of clay cups he has thrown, decorated and fired over more than a decade.

Tool has experienced war first-hand. He served as a Marine during Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991, leaving the Corps in 1994.


His art practice today is fueled by a compulsion to represent and share observations and experiences of armed conflict, both his own and those of other combatants.

Tool’s cups are decorated with decals, press molds and images of war: some violent and shocking, some wistful and some ironic. He assembles them either whole or in broken shards into installations. They may represent cluster bombs, platoons of soldiers or casualties, as this dramatic video installation which was shown at the Oakland Museum of California demonstrates.

Tool at work on one of his cups

On Monday evening at Berkeley’s Hillside Club, Tool, a charming and unassuming man, discussed his art and continued his custom of giving away his cups to the public.

Tool also sends his cups to government officials and politicians, urging them to higher standards when contemplating waging war. He has reminded our Presidents, beginning with Bill Clinton, that, although their stated goals may be beautiful, the outcome is often, as Tool puts it, “rough”.

Tool modestly confesses that “cups don’t feel like a potent tool to prevent war”, but his modesty on that count is misplaced. His work is a compelling example of what an individual can achieve through devotion and perseverance. His personal statement is thought-provoking and moving. It manages to honor those who have served in the military while engaging in a conversation about the absurdity of the concept.


Ehren Tool will be collaborating locally with Combat Paper on September 21-23 at UC Berkeley’s Wurster Hall.

Artist Susan Anglin has lived in Berkeley for four years.