Potter Celebrates the Here and Now with Gifts of Mugs

Potter Celebrates the Here and Now with Gifts of Mugs


The notion of the artist as a depressed figure, grappling with the meaning of life and creating beauty out of personal pain is not a concept that defines potter Mary Ferris.  This 60-year-old artist from Pequea, Pennsylvania embodies joy.  Her current project, CoffeeTeaSixty, turns the idea of a birthday gift on its head and spreads Ferris’ delight in her life and work in a widening circle of generosity and gratitude.


Ferris’ 60th birthday was in September of 2022.  As the date approached, she assessed her life and considered what would be an appropriate way to note the milestone.  “I realized,” she says, “that I have everything I need – a great life, a great family, a great job.”  Instead of asking or doing something for herself, she decided to “flip the script” and make 60 ceramic mugs to give to 60 friends and acquaintances.


Ferris has been a maker in the arts since childhood.  She studied studio art at Millersville University, working in metals and watercolor.   After earning her degree, she worked at an artisan gallery, doing custom picture framing work, buying, merchandizing, and arranging exhibitions.  She was drawn to the works in clay.  At a friend’s suggestion, she took a ceramics class.  “I fell in love that night,” she recalls, and for twenty years juggled the dual life as a studio potter and full-time worker.  She returned to Millersville in her forties to finish the educational component of her art degree and now teaches art to Pre-K through 5th Grade students at Lancaster Country Day School.


Ferris’ brings her joy in making to her work at the day school.  The facility opened a new theatre during the height of the pandemic and was unable to use it due to social distancing.  Ferris guided her students in creating cardboard cut-out people to fill the empty seats.  The students participate in International Dot Day, based on Peter H. Reynold’s book, The Dot, which encourages bravery, creativity, and self-expression.  Ferris exposes them to a wide variety of media.


As Ferris journaled and thought about aging, she read The Meaning in the Making, by Sean Tucker.  Tucker is a photographer whose work explores the human need to “make.”  His ideas synced with many of Ferris’ own thoughts and helped her realize that her own creative work had receded to make room for her focus on the school children she so devotedly teaches.  “I realized,” she says, “that all my creativity and energy was going into the lessons for the kids.  I was stuck, as an art maker.  And I knew that I have to be a maker.”  With this realization, CoffeeTeaSixty was born.  In July, Ferris began the frenetic task of creating 60 unique mugs.  She assigned each mug a number, coded with little dots on the bottom of the mug.  “Like my friends, all the mugs are different.  Some are taller, some have a wider grip,” she explains.  She used a variety of clays – Standard 112, 153, and 266 and didn’t create specific mugs for specific people.  Her deadline was September 25th and she unloaded the last glazed batch from the kiln at 4 a.m. on September 22, before heading off for her school day. 


With the mugs complete, Ferris faced the logistical issue of how to distribute them.  “I woke up in the middle of the night,” she says, “with the idea of packing them in the trunk of our car and delivering them in person.  After tagging each mug with its number, I carefully packed the display of mugs and became a traveling gifter. My husband cheerfully drove me around for my entire birthday weekend as I texted friends and colleagues to see if we could pop by. He had the choice of the first mug, and it was the same mug I would have chosen. Other great moments happened when a dear friend of over 50 years picked up the best-fitting mug in her hand and we discovered it was #1. Another dear friend who lives in Maryland happened to be in Lancaster when I texted her. She wanted #60 as we both are celebrating this milestone.”


As Ferris gifted the mugs, she was reminded of the serendipitous circumstances of life.  By not making a specific mug for a specific person, she allowed the giving to be open ended.  “Things were really working out as they should be,” she says, not only about the giving, but about her life in general.  “This has been life-changing,” she says, “getting me back to being an artist.”  She has a few mugs left to give, which she is saving for the right moments before her 61st birthday comes around next September.

Ferris’ joy in art and making fills her mugs and pours into those who will drink from them.  They, and we, share her enthusiasm, as she says, “I'm right where I need to be. Hello new decade!”


Read Mary Ferris’ Artist Statement for CoffeeTeaSixty, given to the mug recipients:

I’m entering a new decade.  I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a maker.  I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t encouraged to be a maker.  How wonderful is that?  This project is a celebration of years of support from family and friends.  Mugs are personal.  Mugs remind us of shared moments and comforting self-care moments.  Hand thrown mugs add another perspective.  Here’s what I want you to know.  Each mug has a button to rest your thumb while you are present and in the moment.  Under the button is a small opening above the handle.  If you look through it, you see a glimpse of what’s behind you.  If you rotate the handle 180 degrees, you can get a glimpse of what’s ahead of you.  But really, as you hold your mug, with your thumb resting on the button, you are living in the now.  The here and now.  The reason you chose this mug and not the to go cup.  The reason you chose to sit down and make time for this moment.
I hope you enjoy many moments. - Mary