Ariel Hansen Strong
The Birth of Mama's Mugs
Updated: Feb 15
In June of 2021, at 9 months pregnant, a bundle of joy arrived… my very own ceramic wheel!
It is perhaps unconventional to begin a venture so late in pregnancy, but after months of feeling glued to the couch with nausea and fatigue, and knowing I had a profound identity shift coming my way, I had an urge reinvigorate and solidify the artist within me. I wanted to build a sturdy creative foundation that I could retreat to when my world morphed into something unrecognizable. I also hoped that by spending my time building upon a passion, I would show my son the worth of following your unique path and investing in your vision. So, in week 36 of pregnancy, the lovingly nicknamed “Mama’s Mugs” was born – otherwise known as Cloudship Ceramics, the ceramics wing of Cloudship Creative.
I have a BFA in sculpture and frequently worked in clay during undergrad, though I never learned how to throw. That is, not until 2016, when I spent my first summer teaching at Interlochen Arts Camp, and befriended ceramics instructor Jill Lagerstam. A high school art teacher year-round, Jill had the patience to deal with me! And was very generous with her knowledge. In the years since that fateful summer, I’ve absorbed as much as possible from other ceramicist friends and educators, and let's be real, Tik Tok too.
I find clay to be both an energizing and a meditative medium – a “meditation” that can keep me up and engaged until 3am, and likely holding my breath half that time. I know I'm nowhere near alone in this feeling. What is it about clay? Perhaps it's the relationship - each type of clay has its own personality, and there’s a give and take with every move. A small slip of the hand can ruin a vessel, as can a single long stray hair. So therein offers a lesson in presence, patience, and letting go. Which, frankly, I could use a good many lessons in. There's a false sense of speed in process that comes with wheel throwing too – which certainly feels good in the moment. And then of course, there's the potentially daily experiencing of what you've made with your own two hands.
My wheel arrived 4 weeks before my due date. The goal had been to make sixty (sixty?!) mugs before going into labor. I had to move the goalpost after my first day on the wheel, when I threw down seven mugs and then promptly threw up. Again, more lessons in presence, patience, and letting go… though I took that last one too far, clearly.
Most importantly, the entire process has been a life changing lesson in grit and perseverance. I made 14 mugs before giving birth to my beautiful son, and wasn’t able to get back on the wheel until he was three months old. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop. I’ve hit the 60 mugs mark nearly a couple times over (stopped counting). I am expanding into other wares, and always have new ideas up my clay-covered sleeve. Mothering has changed everything about me – exhausted me, played 52 pick-up with my priorities, forced me into an A+ for resilience and time management (I'd grant myself solid Cs in those areas before). It also continues to rip my heart open every day, in the most brilliant and beautiful way. Though I occasionally resent a few, I do love all the gifts parenting has bestowed upon me. And I love that throughout the dizzying growth of the past year and a half, clay has been a constant companion.
This video features the very first works in the journey of “Mama’s Mugs," and – wow – I can see how my skill has vastly matured in the 19 months since it was made (sorry if that's some toddler parent math for ya). I definitely can’t blame all the wonkiness on the baby bump, as I know I tried to then.... But despite the “wonk,” (and chunky handles! Oh my gosh that handle) – these first mugs are extra beautiful to me. Truly. They will forever represent this pivotal and singular moment in my life. A time when I was nesting not just in my home and relationship, but in my dreams of the future, and in myself. I feel as though the clay embodied my body and paralleled its distorted, yet blooming, sense of center.
Thanks to A Strong Photo (and husband extraordinaire) for the creation of this video. Music by the incomparable Nick Dorian.