Marine Corps veteran puts war memories on cups

May 23, 2011 6:53:43 AM PDT
A Marine Corps veteran went off to the first Gulf War in 1991 and brought inescapable memories of it back home with him. Since then, he's put those memories, good and bad, down - not on paper - but on ceramics.

Artist Ehren Tool throws cups in his home studio in Berkeley. He fashions a blob of clay into beverage cups with a message.

"For me having been in the Marine Corps and serving in the '91 Gulf War, I feel I have to talk about issues of war and violence," said Tool.

Every cup features a design that is somehow related to war, weapons, violence and the military. But, he doesn't sell them; he gives them away; more than 10,000 so far.

"My wife calls my work 'war awareness art,'" said Tool.

Tool was a military policeman with the 1st Marine Division during Operation Desert Storm.

It's where he saw the fear, violence, and chaos of war. It's also where he decided that the American public should see what it is like before they send young men and women off to war.

"I don't care so much whether you're for or against a war, but that you're ignorant of what's happening, or ignorant of your role in it," said Tool.

Tool tries to avoid labels like pro or anti-war. And he wants to get rid of any romantic notions about combat. He says it's a horrible scene of death, and bleeding and dying and maiming. But, his work is also hard to categorize. It is political, without being partisan; it's in your face, but not obnoxious. It's designs range from an old battleship steaming on the high seas, to a wounded man surrounded by colleagues, or an ad for a German submachine gun used for close quarters combat. It's reasonable to ask if this is some sort of therapy or self-help for a man traumatized by war. He says no.

"Yeah, well if it's therapy, it's not really working that well," said Tool.

And not everybody buys into his vision.

"They don't want to deal with the cup. They don't want to deal with that image and they can't accept the cup. They don't want have that in their physical space," said Tool.

Tool says he's not talking about service members who've been to war or their families. The reaction usually comes from people who want America out of the wars it's currently in Iraq and Afghanistan and want them out now.


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