Ehren Tool, veteran of the first Gulf War and a potter, was "installed" at Portland's Museum of Contemporary Craft in June. A museum member, I'd heard earlier about his work, looked forward to his "durational performance."
Exchanging with Ehren was all I could hope for-- an old political activist encountering a young one. He was the first Marine I'd ever met, had to adjust my stereotyped expectation of what he'd be like. Ehren surprised me with with an open, gentle manner. I am challenged by his attitude, different from mine, not anti-war rather focused on raising general awareness of war.
Three years ago, Allison Smith, posted a long, thoughtful interview with Ehren. He spoke of what drives him:
"It's this freaky thing. To me, it's like there's a siren going off in the background all the time. There are so many veterans and refugees who've seen war firsthand, but then they don't talk about it when they get back to the States. So what regular people know about war tends to come from toys and pornography and video games. I give away the cups because, it's like, 'Drink out of the cup with skulls on it.
Drink out of the cup with bombs on it.' We don't have money for schools, we don't have money to make the corrections system a corrections system instead of a penal system, for any of that. But we do have money for million-dollar Tomahawk missiles and $13,000 cluster bombs.
And every single one of us is part of that system whether we act like we know it or not."
Ehren threw his cups at his wheel in a windowed, first floor temporary studio in a corner of the Museum. Passersby could watch him from the street. Our three visits were uplifting for Ron and me, a powerful reminder that there can be hope in a time of darkness.
One of his porcelain cups sits on our windowsill. I hope you will enlarge the closeups to see the images; they are instructive, not pretty. Better, closer ones are HERE . But this one is mine, a reminder of how "lifelong learning" is more than sitting in classrooms.
Without my usual note-taking of our conversatons, my memory of Efren has a kind of purity. It is hard to describe my feelings about this chance to be with this young man, a soldier in the war I'd energetically protested. He had lived the life reflected in the images on the cups--now close to 10,000 of them are out in the world. The NO WAR patches Sally Mericle and I rubber stamped in 1991 Baltimore, while Ehren was a young marine in combat, only numbered one thousand. Something other than the difference in scale has been on my mind since my time with him.
His ability to put values and craft together in a sustained way are a lesson for me. He continues to throw more and more cups, to look for venues that will bring others to join him in cup-making--war veterans, communities of caring Americans. With all his intensity around his craft and message, he is a very gentle man with a delightful sense of humor. When Ron and I spent time with him on the final day of the installation, we learned that where he is now is miles away from the 18 year old who joined the Marines, wanted to be a policeman. After his military service Ehren went to college, then art school. He was very even in reflecting on gallery visitors who glanced at his work and withdraw from its directness-- or did not respond at all. I'd like to be as balanced about responses to my own creative efforts.
Talking about him has made July 4th a more meaningful day for me and, I hope, for you.