Cat Sheridan brings a ceramic cup show to Columbus

When Cat Sheridan thinks of her fellow ceramic artists, she thinks of Dolly Parton. Not the glitz, not the glamor. It’s the way people talk about Dolly.

“She's a superstar, but if you meet her, she's so down to earth. It’s the same way with ceramic artists. They can be phenomenal names in the ceramics community and still be a regular person,” Sheridan said. “There’s a humbleness that comes from ceramics. You have to be willing to have a little bit of risk. When you are learning ceramics, there is a lot of failure.”

That humility came through when curators Sheridan and Lisa Belsky began asking ceramic artists all over North America to be a part of “Lip Body Foot: A Cup Shaped Thing,” which runs through Oct. 26 at Blockfort Downtown. “There are some really phenomenal artists in this show. … And I think what's really lovely is that the majority of the folks that we reached out to, they don't know us,” Sheridan said. “But in the ceramics community there is a willingness to participate and to say ‘yes’ that you wouldn't necessarily get in other mediums.”

In the end, 39 artists from the United States and Canada sent in mugs, tea cups, whiskey cups and more for “Lip Body Foot,” Sheridan’s first “cup show.” “Cup shows are a thing. … There are cup shows around the country that do phenomenal business and help the industry of ceramic artists. And it's a natural entry point to collecting,” she said. “The Midwest turns out really phenomenal ceramic artists but hasn't quite embraced collecting ceramic artists as well as they could. It's not a widespread, understood thing that you can do as a collection of art.”

Working in old buildings with bats and broken doors and no heat is also a great way to develop humility. Read the results of this humility in our daily newsletter

Walking into Blockfort’s gallery space and seeing the variety of colors, shapes, glazes and personalities on display in the mugs, it’s undeniable that these ceramic pieces are works of art. They’re also all available for purchase (at the gallery and online); many of them, in fact, have already been snatched up, and in their places are photos of mugs that are now in someone’s home.

Picking the right cup to purchase can be a surprisingly personal decision. “It's very intimate. You're placing your mouth on the lip and you hold the body of it, and the feet sometimes, so that's where [‘Lip Body Foot’] came from,” said Sheridan, who sipped from a mug she made as we spoke at Blockfort. “You see yourself in the cups that you choose. It's a style that matches you. And most people have a ritual with it, like coffee in the morning.”

Unlike most art exhibitions, visitors to Blockfort are encouraged to hold the cups in their hands. “You have to pick it up. These are meant to be held. Feel down [the sides] with both hands, with one hand — however it feels right. Put your thumb in the little indentation,” she said. “There are some really subtle things that you start to discover.”

Browsing the remaining cups on the ledges, Sheridan points out the various styles and methods used to make the cups (“The firing method that they use causes that orange-y ring to happen”; “This is a super intense slip-casting method”). Some have a glossy glaze while others retain a rough, textured finish. Some cups have more detail on the inside than the outside. Most are functional, though some are so ornamental that holding and sipping would prove uncomfortable.

For certain artists, it’s their first cup show, while others, such as Cincinnati artist Terence Hammonds, display their work in museums. Sheridan hopes to incorporate even more ceramic artists in future cup shows, relying on their shared sense of humility and an understanding that nothing clay can stay.

“There's this comfort with ephemerality. You have a better comprehension of things that are not forever. Inevitably you're going to break something. … Those things happen, and it always sucks,” she said. “Folks that have had plenty of trials in their life can become humbled in a good way, because then they see the good. That's what I think happens with ceramic artists. There's just this comprehension that there's no finality. There's always use, and potential for loss, and the beauty is in between.”