I've been thinking a lot lately about mugs. And wondering how many I can hold in one hand. Eight is probably a good start.
Potters, it seems to me, have a love-hate relationship with mugs. On the one hand, they are the most popular item with collectors. On the other hand, Tradition!!!!, they seem to be more effort than what one can sell them for. They seem to be a loss-leader, a have-to-make, a get-them-in-the-door. Shall we say, grudgingly made.
The interesting thing about this is that when MudFire started in the gallery biz, it was rare to see a mug over $20. This was just five years ago. Now it seems that $32 is the new $18. I remember people creeping up with their mug prices over the years, and I remember resistance early on from collectors. At this point its rare to see mugs under $30, and it is not really uncommon to see them over $40. My sense is that the average collector really steps back and thinks twice at over $50, although if you are a BIG NAME STUDIO POTTER, whatever that means, you're mugs are probably over $50 at this point.
Strangely, price points seem to have moved on to be more reflective of the time investment in creating a mug vs. say a small cup or bowl. Yet the attitude of feeling like mugs are an under-rewarded form that is strangely must-have lingers on. The result is a customer base that is willing to pay a fair amount given the time and expense in creating, but a producer base that is unwilling to make the desired item. Potters are in this sense an entire industry that avoids or minimizes making the item the customer wants most.
Obviously, its hard to make sweeping statements like this and be universally correct. But surely there is a grain of truth at the very least in these comments.
Where many of my fellow potters are focused lately on making large work, or on making decorative wall work, or other such higher investment, higher price point items, I'm lately very fixated on the mug. Partly this is because my attempts this fall to make less silly, more elegant and decorative, larger pieces, does not seem to be the path to placing more work. On the other hand, I've made dozens and dozens and dozens of very silly and unique mugs, and they are impossible to keep in stock. Is this just me? Possibly, but it seems like the pattern holds across other (less silly) artists in our gallery. Mugs move.
So here's a fun question...could a potter make just mugs? Would the numbers work? Would it be fun? How would collectors react? Is there a just-mugs potter out there. I don't know anyone approaching their clientele with this strategy, but I'm curious. In the era of the $32 mug, is their a livelihood to be had with just mugs? Is it a sustainable approach?
I have this funny intuition that maybe it could work. But I don't know anyone doing it.