Veterans’ art in Palo Alto

See also “Full Plastic Jacket” my interview with Ehren Tool, June, 2014, with photos.

The Palo Alto Art Center is hosting a show on veterans’ art, featuring the ceramicist Ehren Tool. Here is their description of his work, although the residency is more interactive and requires a little more describing.

Ehren Tool creates visually compelling ceramic objects that address the experience of war. He is best known for his cups, which are wheel-thrown and feature decal-produced and embossed images and symbols of war, violence, and the veteran experience. Notably, Tool has given away most of these cups, offering more than 14,000 of them to members of various communities since 2001. His primary intention with his artwork is to promote awareness: “I decorate cups with images of war and violence. The use of these icons reveals how abstract war is for most of our culture—so abstract in fact, that somehow it’s OK to use images of war as toys.” Tool has exhibited his vessels at institutions such as the Oakland Museum of California, the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, the Berkeley Art Center, the Bellevue Arts Museum, the Euphrat Museum of Art in Cupertino, and the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University. He received his MFA from the University of California, Berkeley and his BFA from the University of Southern California.

This seems to be an indicative work by Tool:

Ehren Tool

Ehren Tool

Terry and I bought three of Ehren Tool’s mugs at the Veterans View 3 show at Bridgehead Studio Gallery on Blanding in Alameda, in 2012. Now that I think about it, the curator said that the mugs were indeed free, but it was appropriate to make a small cash donation in the exchange, which we gladly obliged.

A mystery I brought home from that show was about not Ehren Tool but Jim Hardy and his wood carving of a soldier from Palo Alto. I shot this photo of the work — the soldier wrote his hometown on his helmet. Hardy had said that he remembered the man as being from California but it was not until he created the carving years later from photographs that he noticed the telling graffito.

Hardy says that he recalled the man being from Cali but not Palo Alto until years later, looking at the photo and noticing the helmet graffito

Hardy says that he recalled the man being from Cali but not Palo Alto until years later, looking at the photo and noticing the helmet graffito

So who was this Palo Altan who served in Vietnam? Did he make it home okay?

Thank you all 3 of you — Tool, Hardy and The Unknown Palo Alto Soldier — for your service for our country.

edit to add: this is what I wrote at the time, in a post that was a subtle Les Blank tribute: Burdens of DREAMs: dude reads everything and more:

Bridgehead Gallery “Veterans Voices3″ with Ed Holmes, Xavier Viramontes, Thomas Dang and more, chapbook by Eric “Doc” Schwartz, “Chieu Hoi: I surrender”, Izzy Sher aka Emil Sher… “Christmas Calabash” upcoming show at Bridgehead curated by Eve Myasaki, which reminds that when we were driving around Alameda looking for Bridgehead and then circled back to re-read the flyer I heard “tire and mirror” (and Bridgestone) rather than “tile and mirror” (for Bridgehead); Mark P. Fisher, at RCW thru Jan. 4, 2013 — and that’s the first time I typed the next year lucky 13.

We (had seen) on Park saw a poster for an art gallery called Bridgestone on Blanding and eventually found our way there, thanks to gallery manager the photographer Chuck DiGuida, who reeled us in by phone. The show there was curated by Ed Holms, who I saw in SF Mime Troupe’s 2011 show at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto. His wife runs the nearby Rhythmix Cultural Mix Gallery…The other thing about Bridgehead is the amazing mural by Isiah Zagar and a crew of local 510 devotees; I didn’t realize until sussing via the search-injuns that of course this is the guy from Philadelphia who did the Painted Bride. 

Here is a picture of what the interactive Palo Alto work by Ehren Tool might end up looking like — my dad is a World War II Navy vet — I wonder if I can coax him into being part of this show. The residency starts in June and the show will be July thru September:

ehrenpalo alto








Detailed story by Bonnie Powell at UC Berkeley news sites — Tool, after serving in Desert Storm, got an MFA from Berkeley.

Leah Ollman, in the LA Times, last summer, says that Tool has produced more than 14,000 of his mugs.

Great interview and beautiful photos at In The Make website of artist studio visits by Klea McKenna and Nikki Grattan.

How will you know when you have arrived?
When they put my corpse in the furnace.

edit to add: our little Tool gallery:

Ehran tool mug

Tool's mark

Tool’s mark


from swords to ploughshares to ceramic toothbrush holder

from swords to ploughshares to ceramic toothbrush holder


My father Paul Weiss served on an LCI FF boat, landing craft infantry flag flotilla, and has survived 68 years, 7 months and counting after the Japanese surrender. Maybe Ehren can incorporate this recent photo into one of the mugs:

Palo Alto-based WWII Navy veteran Paul Weiss

Palo Alto-based WWII Navy veteran Paul Weiss

edit to add two weeks later: had a nice chat with Ed Holmes who has a lead on how to reach Hardy but also suggested I call Tool, both to express my enthusiasm for his show and gauge his reaction to my idea of using the opportunity to work on this related idea. Also I found this article by George Packer in April 7, New Yorker on books by soldiers. I’ll never get to reading the article, likely, but I noted this lift from Hemingway, “A Farewell To Arms”:

I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity.

edit to add, a day after that: Karen Kienzle pointed out an interesting article about Ehren Tool in The Believer, from which I have lifted this excerpt, something typical of Ehren’s outreach, getting the word out about his work:

September 11,2003


Dear Mr. Riley Bechtel


I served in the Marines for five years.

One day the marines will look back on what they did, and the value of their sacrifice. If your organization and other American corporations fail to help the Iraqi people in real ways, I am afraid it will be more difficult for the Marines to see the sacrifices they made as being of value. Please accept this cup I made as a gift. It is food safe. Sincerely W.A. Ehren Tool.

(This link provides a brief excerpt but maybe you can order a back issue or find it somewhere, or ask Karen Kienzle if you see her).


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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7 Responses to Veterans’ art in Palo Alto

  1. Pingback: Full Plastic Jacket | Plastic Alto with Mark Weiss

  2. Jim Hardy says:

    Surfing the web, I came upon your article about Ehren Tool’s ceramics and an additional photo titled “A Mystery-The Unknown Palo Alto Soldier.” This photo is of one woodcarving of twelve individual soldiers that I carved back in the mid ’80s as a tribute to the memory of Mark Muehe who was killed. B_, the subject in the photo, was very seriously wounded in the same ambush that killed Mark. The carving is of their squad of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade which I accompanied on an ambush assignment in a rubber plantation in 1969 in Vietnam. Their unit was one of many that I was assigned to as an army artist/photographer during 1969 and 1970. I was drafted in 1968 and was a rifleman as was Mark and B_. Because of my art background, I was able to get my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) switched from an 11 Bravo Rifleman to an 81 Ecco 20 Army Artist. For the rest of my tour in Vietnam I rode out to different units in resupply helicopters to sketch and photograph their activities. The finished art work eventually went back to Washington DC as part of the army’s art collection.

    The web site for the 199th LIB, “BMB Tripod”, has posted more detailed information with some of my photos and sketches on “I want to go home” and the 3 following pages. Feel free to email me if you desire further information.

    • markweiss86 says:

      Oh my God. Thank you, sir. Thank you, Jim Hardy. You are making me cry. I am sorry for your friends. B_. I was using a working name “Upchurch” not sure why, found it online somewhere.

      Ed Holmes gave me some contact info for you. I did ask Ehren if he knew you, then decided to just let him focus on his own work.

      Speaking as the spouse of a former Palo Alto Arts Commissioner and myself a candidate for City Council here, I would think the City of Palo Alto would want to procure for our Public Art Collection, if such were available, an example of your 3-D work, especially if it relates, as I imply, to a Palo Altan who served or “gold-starred” (?) here, or Purple Hearted. Thank god if the person with “Palo Alto” on his helmet that you knew and immortalized came home and met again his loved ones.

      I did see a list of war dead that listed ‘Palo Alto” and an “Upchurch” but probably not someone you knew.

      God bless Mark and B_, their names and their loved ones. And you, sir.

      Any chance you are likely to be in these parts, would love to introduce you to our Mayor, Nancy Shepherd and Police Chief Dennis Burns.

      • Jim Hardy says:

        Hello Mark,

        Thanks for getting back to me. Unlike my son, I do not understand all these “flicker-twitter-facebook” accounts and feel that our privacy has already been invaded by Big Brother so much that I am hesitant to sign on to all these new web sites- although most of my friends seem to be doing it. For now, I prefer to keep it simple and more personal with old fashioned email addresses. Is your email markweiss86 or or what? I can send you some photos of my wood carvings. I did a whole series of wood carvings back in the 1970s & 1980s from Matthew Brady’s Civil War photos and from my own VN photos and sketches. The wars were different and a hundred years apart but the faces were the same if you know what I mean. I will retire next June and wonder if I will get back to my art again? I don’t know? The 199th LIB website that I mentioned pretty much fills you in on B_. I have not been in contact with him since the middle 1980s for reasons explained on the 199th website. Back then, he and his family lived in Santa Rosa.

        In 1986 (?) I was interviewed on a TV program, Salute to Vietnam Veterans, by former newsman Pete Wilson who himself was a medic in Vietnam. He died during apparently minor surgery at Stanford Medical Center some years ago. Pete had flown out Mark’s parents to see me. He also had invited B_, his wife, and 2 daughters to the program and sprung them on me after Mark’s father had come out on stage to talk with us. After the show, we all went together to the Mark Hopkins Hotel for dinner where we had a more intimate and private conversation. It was very difficult and very,very emotional. I would not want to go through it again, and that is why I lost contact with B_. He said he never wanted to talk about it again, and I respected his wish. In the ambush, Mark was hit in the chest with a rocket propelled grenade and disappeared from the waist up. Obviously, his funeral back home in Bridgeview, Illinoise was a closed-casket funeral. B_ took 4 or 5 bullets in the chest and somehow survived. People with those kinds of wounds do not live long lives, and I would not be surprised to hear if B_ has passed on by now. {Editor’s note: as of September, 2014, B_ was living in Northern Californnia, according to his mother I spoke to briefly by phone — they were listed in the phone book. — Mark Weiss} He was literally falling apart reliving the ambush and said, as I mentioned in the 199th website article, that he would never talk about it again. According to his wife, It was apparently the only time he had ever spoken about it. Having been the one responsible for dredging up all these horrific memories for Mark’s parents, Art and Margret, and for B_ and his family to have been subjected to it 16 years after the event, I was too embarrassed for words. That is why I never again wanted to intrude on B-‘s life. I never contacted Art or Margaret again either. I’ve heard from Mark’s cousin that Art and Margret have both passed on. Before Art returned home, he told me he wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge again. I’ve been employed by the Golden Gate Bridge for the last 15 years as a retrofit steel inspector in the engineering department. Art and I sat at the south end of the bridge at the old fort and looked up at the trusses. He reminisced about when he came home in 1945 from World War 2 and sailing under the bridge. I told him about flying home from Vietnam in 1970 and how the pilot circled the bridge once in a clockwise and once in a counter clockwise direction so that we all could see it. Then he said “Welcome home boys!” After a pause he repeated “Make that welcome home men!” The plane erupted in cheering, hand shaking and back slapping as we all jumped out of our seats going up and down the isle hugging each other. It was a very special moment for both Art and myself. My father also served in WW2 as a naval aviator.

        This is a long reply. Sorry for rambling on so much. Don’t know if it will all fit into this box. Like I said, I don’t understand “flicker” and all this IT stuff. Let me know your regular email address if you would like some of the photos of the carvings.

        Thanks again and you have an interesting website,


  3. Angela says:

    I have spent year looking for archive information about the Salute to Vietnam special that aired in the mid 80’s. My father is B_. I came across the web page BMB Tripod. I was moved by your photos and recollection of a moment in time that had an incredible impact on my dad. I will let you know that he is well. Thank you for capturing and sharing your perspective. Your art is a beautiful tribute to the young men that served. Thank you so much.

    Angela, This is apparently directed to Jim Hardy, who served with your father. I will make sure he knows of it, gets a copy of it. Let me know that it is okay to keep it posted here, in reaction to my story of Jim Hardy and his artwork — Mark Weiss, “Plastic Alto” the blog

    • Angela says:

      Thank you for passing on the message Mark. It is clear you have a sincere appreciation for those who have served and have found the accounts related to my dad particularly touching, perhaps due to the connection to Palo Alto perhaps more than that… Thank you for your kind words above. As a country we owe a lot to those young people who served during that period of time.
      As for my public conversation, I am so lucky to have a father that had served, survived and been a strong figure in my life. I could not love him more. I will however let my mom’s response dictate whether this remains public.

  4. Romana Beltran says:

    (This post from the wife of the man depicted in Jim Hardy’s tribute to Company A was viewable for about a year, with my note below, but then taken down on November 10, 2015, the morning after B, and his father were acknowledged with a “special thanks” at Palo Alto’s Veterans event. The story of how B and Hardy met again, or how B and family found their way to the event is less significant than the actual story of B’s service and his post-war experience)

    Ms. B — I had redacted your actual name nine times from Jim Hardy’s original post, and my replies, but I guess I had missed one. And I had spoke briefly about this with both your mother-in-law and your brother-in-law, plus Angela wrote in here just yesterday as well. I will follow up with you via the Yahoo address, to see if you have any further wishes or instructions. Thank “B” for his service, and sorry if we brought on further pain with this discussion and attempt at tribute. But I do think that if he was willing, Palo Alto, the Mayor and others would want to meet you, him, your daughter, your mother-in-law and thank them in public for your family’s service to our country. Or it could be done quite privately and discreetly. This blog is pretty obscure.

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