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Artists decorate coffee mugs for Willmar, Minn., summer art project

Willmar artist Ron Adams paints the plaster design on his beer stein mug. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

The only instructions given to the artists were "be creative." The only rules were that there were not any rules.

On March 17, I was among 20 local artists who were presented a flat 22- by 28-inch wooden mug shape by the Willmar Design Team and the Willmar Area Arts Council. They were to be decorated for a project called "Kaffe-Café-Kahwa" -- that's coffee in Norwegian, Spanish and Somali.

Since the project boasted an ethnic theme I felt from the start I needed to create something that reflected my German heritage. But German coffee? Not something that is well-known, certainly not as widespread as German beer that's for sure. Besides I do not personally drink coffee, but do drink beer, so the logical thing for me to do was to design a German beer stein for the project.

Famous for their ornate pewter tops and colorful relief patterns, I wanted to craft a mug that resembled an authentic German beer stein. So I borrowed a sculpture medium that my late wife used many times to fashion her various puppets and puppet houses for displays used at the Willmar Public Library. This method involved sculpting shapes out of modeling clay and covering them with plaster cloth. Fortunately, I still had a box of the plaster cloth but I needed to find the oil-based clay which I eventually found at a local craft store.

As the design for my stein developed, I knew two things for sure: number one was that I wanted to feature my German best friend, Jimi the dachshund, and number two my design needed to include trees, which were a common theme in my wife's work. Then I found a "king of beer" figure on a mug featured in an Internet photo of a stein and it all clicked together. My mug would exhibit a "Rich Man -- Beggar Man" subject matter. The king figure representing the rich man and my dog, Jimi, doing what he does best, posing as the beggar.

Hours, weeks and months later -- along with numerous trips to the store for more clay -- my mug was at last ready to be painted. Using a limited palette that would be found on a ceramic mug I completed my project to look as much like a German stein that a wood board cut in a mug shape possibly can.

My mug project is now prepared to be unveiled at today's Downtown Block Party. I am anxious to see what the other artists came up with for their designs, knowing full well that they will all be unique and individual. Who knows -- chances are a few of them even will incorporate a coffee theme.

Ron Adams is a photographer with the West Central Tribune.

Ron Adams

Ron Adams has worked as a photographer for the West Central Tribune since 1994 - he also shoots video for the Tribune webpage. Ron is a local artist who draws and paints realistic portraits and scenes.  He loves music of all types but especially rock and blues.

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