The Ugly Mug Ceramics of Morro Bay turns the unknown into opportunity | Arts | San Luis Obispo

Wander through The Ugly Mug Ceramics in downtown Morro Bay most days and you’re bound to find life/business partners Shell Vorhees and Aimee Brantley hard at work either in the back studio pumping out ceramics high-quality such as mugs, bowls and serving dishes, or in the showroom, engaging with customers.

The day I was there, however, they were collaborating on a unique project. price possession.

Vorhees and Brantley were recently asked to create the winning trophy for the Rotary Club of Morro Bay Chowder Competition, part of Morro Bay Maritime’s first day of family fun.

“We have donated to chamber events in the past, making [gift] baskets,” Vorhees said. “So they asked if we would be interested in making a trophy.”

This free event organized by the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce will be held in the triangular car park behind the Morro Bay Maritime Museum on Saturday 8th October. As well as the Chowder Contest, it includes the Rotary Club’s annual Duckie Derby, sandcastle building, a scavenger hunt, storytelling, live sea shanties and a blueberry muffin contest (with its own winning trophy created by glass artist Paula Radke).

The party starts at 10 a.m. and ends around 4 p.m.

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  • Photo courtesy of Shell Vorhees and Aimee Brantley
  • CERAMIC PASSION Shell Vorhees (left) and Aimee Brantley, owners of The Ugly Mug Ceramics in Morro Bay, both make and filling their artistic cups for all to enjoy.

Voorhees and Brantley’s shared passion for pottery brought them to where they are today, with their own ceramic studio and art gallery at 875 Main Street.

Four years ago the couple moved to Morro Bay to help out aging parents in Brantley. Prior to this, they visited frequently, and on one such visit another family member suggested they take a pottery course at Cuesta College. They agreed (although the family member did not) and felt an immediate connection to the medium.

“Aimee has been an artist her whole life, so we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s go. [the pottery course]”” Vorhees said. “And as soon as the first class started, we fell in love. We would take the class on Saturday and then come home and talk about it all week.”

This led them to conceptualize a professional approach to their new passion. They found a large workspace in an industrial park in Morro Bay where they could hone their craft. Once they moved in, they began throwing clay prolifically, creating so much work that they began planning to attend exhibitions and performances.

But then the pandemic hit, forcing them to reconsider their options.

Click to enlarge
HANDS-ON Shell Vorhees molds clay on the potter's wheel at The Ugly Mug, a ceramic workshop and art gallery.  - PHOTO COURTESY OF SHELL VORHEES &;  AIMEE BRANTLEY

  • Photo courtesy of Shell Vorhees and Aimee Brantley
  • PRACTICE Shell Vorhees molds clay on the potter’s wheel at The Ugly Mug, a ceramic workshop and art gallery.

“Our first [show] it must have been late february [2020]and within a week they were all cancelled,” Vorhees said. “We had our inventory built up and we drove by and saw [the current location] For rent. It was perfect, between the place and the farmers’ market on Saturday.”

The opportunity to open a gallery was too good to pass up, and they decided to tread carefully, which turned out to be exactly what they needed.

“It really pushed us; we knew we had to do something. Fortunately, we were kind of forced into growth,” Brantley said.

When it comes to their art, Vorhees and Brantley are also self-proclaimed opposites. This approach actually reinforces their artistic personalities, both independently and collaboratively.

“The works we do are very different, which offers a lot of variety. I mean, we don’t have anything in common, we don’t listen to the same kind of music. We don’t read the same kind of books. I don’t even watch the same kind of movies,” Brantley said. “[Pottery] was the only thing we were both really connected to.”

“Well, that and ghost hunting,” Vorhees remarked with a laugh.

Some standout techniques you’ll find among their works include multi-textured glazing, 3D treatments, and my favorite, “jawbreaker” glazing, which mimics the splashes of color seen on the exterior of relentless tailoring.

While the majority of the works presented by The Ugly Mug are made by Vorhees and Brantley, the gallery space also features creations by artists from many different media. This comprehensive approach offers a little something for every customer, from found art to sea glass jewelry, and just about everything in between.

Vorhees and Brantley are also participating in the upcoming Shop, Sip and Stroll. This Chamber of Commerce event will take place downtown on October 19 and December 11 from 5 to 8 p.m. The Ugly Mug will feature new works and will also serve appetizers paired with local wine.

Vorhees and Brantley don’t currently offer pottery lessons, but they said they’re always happy to chat about the ins and outs of their passion. So stop by to say hello, fill a ceramic mug with artistic joy, then take it home. Δ

New Times contributor Dane Edmondson is a self-proclaimed modern Renaissance man. Contact him through the editor at [email protected]

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