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Molding the perfect cup
Juried clay arts show at Non-Fiction brings ceramics artists from around the country

SIP: A Ceramic Cup Show, Non-Fiction Gallery

CHANCES ARE pretty good that while one of your hands is occupied with this newspaper (or cradling a computer mouse), the other is busy holding a cup of something.

Maybe you’re sipping your morning coffee, or a well-deserved glass of wine, or Georgia’s official “winter” beverage: iced sweet tea. But take a second to look at that cup—where did it come from? Who made it? Why did you choose that particular one?

A cup is a simple object—deceptively simple, even. It can be made from wood, plastic, clay, metal, porcelain, stone, glass, paper, gourds—honestly, the definition of “cup” is limited only by your imagination.

We all have that one very talented friend who transfigures the meaning of “wine bottle” into “single-serving cup” now and then.

A cup is endlessly customizable, its utility extends from casual settings all the way into high ritualistic ceremonies. Function isn’t even a requirement—a cup can simply be a decorative object, a trophy, or a piece of memorabilia.

If you’ve never taken the time to think about this before then don’t worry, you’re not alone. I didn’t either until I met Mitzi Davis.

Mitzi Davis is the SCAD Arts Administration graduate student behind SIP: A Ceramic Cup Show, which opened at Non-Fiction Gallery on Friday, February 26. The show is a celebration of ceramic arts which focuses specifically on that one perfectly human object: the cup.

The show is Davis’ thesis project, but her interest in ceramics far pre-dates her Arts Administration studies.

While working as the Ceramic Arts Technician at SCAD after her graduation from Shorter University in 2008 (with a BFA in Ceramics, naturally), Davis got involved with a local organization called the Savannah Clay Community. The group started in 2011 with a circle of only seven Savannah artists but has since exploded to become a major cultural center for local ceramicists of all skill-levels.

“Savannah Clay Community was the foundation of everything,” Davis told me. “I wanted to show people in Savannah that clay is awesome and it’s real and people make things, wonderful things, things that you can buy, things that you can use – it’s not just about function, it’s about everything, sculptural [forms] and all of that. SIP was born out of that.”

Davis put out a national call for entries that returned over 200 submissions from artists across the country. Seventy-five artists were chosen to exhibit in the show, nearly twenty of whom are locally-based. The 152 cups on display were picked by a jury whose qualifications were uniquely suited to the task.

“I wanted jurors to consider aesthetics but I also wanted to have a wide range of people who knew about beverages,” Davis revealed. “I wanted people who would think, ‘If I used this, will it dribble on my lip?’” She ended up pulling three jurors: the owner of a local coffee shop, the Creative Marketing Director for a local brewery, and a professor emeritus from Georgia Southern University.

I imagine it must have been an unusually challenging jury process. There seems to be one of every type of ceramic cup imaginable in the SIP exhibition—a heavy grey mug adorned with a three-dimensional, fiery dragon; a delicate yellow tea cup with edges curved like a buttercup; a cozy blue tankard just begging to be curled up with alongside a good book.

If a person’s choice of favorite mug reveals something about their personality (and I’ll argue forever that it does) then there’s undoubtedly something for everyone in SIP.

Do you like Southern Gothic fiction and nature documentaries? Step right up, here’s your vulture-handle mug.

Do you love punk music and bourbon in your coffee? Hope the Sex Pistols stamped mug hasn’t been snatched up yet. Do you own every Wilco album on vinyl and roast your own locally-grown coffee beans? Say hello to your new owl-etched cup.

All of the cups on display are available for purchase, with prices ranging from $15 all the way up to $150. But don’t let the higher prices turn you off.

“The cups that are pricier – people say, ‘That’s ridiculous, I can go to Target and spend 4 bucks on a mug...’ But it becomes more,” Davis said.

“When you’re paying that much it becomes ceremonial when you’re using it. You don’t bring it out for the everyday dinner, you want to bring it out for a party or when you have a special guest; maybe you offer it to them or you guys drink out of that shared piece. It just makes things a little more special. If you have a collection, then everyone can find one that resonates with them.”

Buyers will have a chance to share that experience among themselves at SIP’s closing reception on Friday, March 4 from 6-9pm. While local jazz musician Jackson Evans plays in the background, patrons are invited to take the mugs they’ve purchased off the walls and fill them with complimentary beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

Visitors to the gallery from now until the reception will have the chance to vote on their favorite mug. The winning artist will be the recipient of a People’s Choice award at the closing, alongside the Juror’s Choice winner.

SIP blends the fine line between ceramics as fine art and functional object; creative expression and craft enterprise.

We all need to eat, drink and drown our sorrows. Why not do it from an object with meaning?