The Day – Ceramist to make free cups for veterans, families, others

Norwich – Ehren Tool learned early on when he left the Marine Corps in 1994 how much ceramic art reflects the approach to military training.

“My ceramics instructor was talking about bone support and muscle memory,” Tool said Monday in a phone interview from his home in Berkeley, Calif. “He looked like a military instructor. He was an army veteran between Korea and Vietnam.

Tool, who turned 52 on Monday, joined the Marines three days after graduating from high school in Los Angeles in 1989 and served in the Gulf War in 1990. After the fight, Tool landed two assignments” soft”, serving as a guard at the American Embassy for 15 months each in Paris and Rome. He left the service in 1994 and took courses on the GI Bill at the University of California, Berkeley, where he took a course in ceramics.

Tool began making ceramic mugs, decorated with the recipient’s military insignia, special colors, decor to signify specific tasks. He gave them away, never charged or accepted any money.

“It’s just mugs,” Tool said. “They mean nothing, unless they mean something to someone.”

Tool estimated that it had made around 25,000 ceramic mugs – mostly for veterans, service members, family members, supporters and even peace activists – across the country. He visited France in 2014 for the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The New York Times featured him in its “On War” series.

This week and next, Tool will be holding one-day ceramic workshops in Norwich, first at Veterans Rally Point at Easter Seals, 24 Stott Ave., on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, then at Three Rivers Community College, 574 New London Turnpike, Monday and Tuesday. All workshops will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Veterans and military personnel are welcome to bring their personal insignia or keepsakes to fashion onto custom-made ceramic mugs made on site. Or they can choose from the extensive collection of badges that veterans and service members have donated to Tool over the years.

Cups will be baked in the ovens at each location to be picked up later when ready – at no cost.

Tool’s tour is sponsored by the Norwich World War I Memorial Committee. Tool will be making a number of mugs especially for the committee to sell as a fundraiser for the effort to restore a captured German World War I howitzer.

City historian Dale Plummer, chairman of the memorial committee, read the New York Times article on Tool and began an email correspondence with him. Tool sent Plummer two ceramic cups. Plummer brought them to a committee meeting.

“The members said, ‘Wow! I would buy something like that,” Plummer recalled. “I think it will be fun and emotional at the same time. And I think everyone will learn something.

Grants from the Elsie A. Brown Fund and the Norwich Heritage Trust will cover Tool’s travel costs, while Rally Point and Three Rivers will provide the pottery work. Tool will remain at the Voluntown Peace Trust.

Tool comes from a family of military veterans, his grandfather, his father and himself. No one ever talks about their wartime experiences, Tool said. None of them ever asked for advice.

Tool’s own outlook on life, war and politics changed when he and his wife, Sara, a ceramic sculptor, had their son, Clay, now 17. Tool realized that everyone, even your “most despicable target”, is someone’s child. He reflected on the terrible, long-term costs of war on people, the environment and the land.

He willingly mixes art with political philosophies, anti-war ideas and sentiments, and will discuss each of these in the course of his work.

When he traveled to France in 2014, he saw how Great War battles had crushed and blown up virgin farmland. “What struck me was that farmers were fighting against farmers while the world was starving. One 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 come out, he says, they are fractured and divided politically. Society’s norms are twisted.

“We don’t have $30,000 to send a child to college, because that’s socialism,” he said. “But we spend $50,000 to keep a child in prison. We don’t mind at all. For a fraction of what we spend on the military, we could provide water to the world.

Tool said he lacks the once-common term, “the service,” for the military.

“One of the hardest things I found coming out of the Marines was finding a way to serve,” Tool said. “I want to serve, I want to help, I want to share.”

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