Ehren Tool is in residence at Palo Alto Art Center, creating a body of ceramic work that pertains to his service to our country, as an MP, in the Gulf War. He has created more than 14,000 cups that reference his experience. He gives them away. In Palo Alto, over the next month or so, he is adding another 1,200 cups to the project. I visited with Ehren for about an hour yesterday, watching him work and interact with his fans and the merely curious. Palo Altans have the opportunity to further participate in this project by providing content, most commonly photographs, that Ehren will work into the pieces, as decals or relief.
I’m hoping to revisit Ehren with my dad, Paul Weiss, who served in the Navy during World War II. Here is how he is faring, 69 years, nine months and counting after the Japanese surrender:
Ehren was only midway through telling me his life story when facility director Rebecca Barbee informed us it was closing time, 86-ing me from my jaw-session with the former MP (military police).
A woman named Karen who said she is a former PAUSD counselor, originally from near Burlington, Vermont chatted Ehren up about his technique but also revealed her complicated feelings about her father’s work in the defense industry. The conversation between Ehren, Karen and myself is part and parcel of the project and somehow ends up in the final project, the work itself. Even final project is a relative term: Ehren points out that ceramics like his will last 10,000 years. His intention with his work eventually might become separate from what observers infer about the meaning or purpose or use of the object or objects. (For instance, Terry and I using one as a tooth-brush holder; or, he said people come by and say things like “My boy just loves war toys!”).
I thought these were bullets or bombs, but Ehren said they were shot glasses (for drinking strong spirits, or maybe Orange soda and espresso). Ehren said it can be dangerous, relatively speaking, to host a party in which people drink from shot glasses that cannot be put down, like with the more conventional design.
By the end of Ehren’s Palo Alto chapter, I imagine there will be a wall of his finished works, and to some extent the people who pass by and say hi, or just peer in, will be somehow represented on that wall, which is a civil service, albeit less engaging than those like my father who served in the military, or the people who contribute viable and visible content that makes its way into or on to the observable texture and character of the cups.
Fill that cup, Palo Alto! Fill that wall! Hup to it!! Hup!! Hup!!
See also “Veterans art in Palo Alto” from April, 2014, my first take on Ehren.
edit to add: