Asheville Art Talk: The Democratic Cup

CUPS FOR CONVERSATION: From left, potters Laurie Caffery Harris, Evan Cornish-Keefe, Shannon Tovey, Tyler Anderson and Nick Moen hold some of the Democratic Cup designs. Photo courtesy of Nick Moen

Local ceramic maker Nick Moen has teamed up with a number of fellow potters and illustrators from across the U.S. in a project that aims to unite a divided country, one cup of coffee or tea (or whatever other beverage you and your constituents prefer ) at a time.

The Democratic Cup, which Moen cofounded with potter Ayumi Horie, consists of 22 mugs handmade at Moen’s Asheville studio, The Bright Angle. These mugs come in various shapes, with octagonal, circular and square rims. Some have traditional handles. Others offer double-braided handles. A few have no handles at all.

The project launched in September, while the election cycle was in full swing. “We wanted to use the mugs as a vessel to start empathetic conversations and to promote progressive issues,” says Moen. It also doubled as a fundraiser. Those who purchase a mug can cast a vote on social issues that are important to them. Proceeds from the sales will go toward nonprofits that tackle the winning issue.

Each cup includes an individual illustration. The “Vote for the things that can’t” cup creates a call for greater environmental concern. In it, a bird flies in a cloud of exhaust, while a bear chugs a beer and a factory emits pollutants into the ozone. The “Poppy hand gun” cup offers two images: one of a hand holding poppy flowers, another of a gun with the same poppies placed in its muzzle. The “What did I do?” cup shows the faces of Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant and Alton Sterling.

Since Donald Trump’s victory, the mugs have taken on a new meaning. The election results had Moen reconsider what many politicians, journalist and other experts seemed to ignore: the art of listening. “That’s probably the most apparent thing that happened based on the election results. People weren’t being heard,” he says. “Rather than preaching or projecting values and being angry, it’s more important to listen to what people’s stories are, so we can empathize with each other and figure out how and where we have similarities.”

COME TOGETHER: The Democratic Mug intends to bring social issues to the forefront of conversations, with the intention of creating conversation across party lines.
COME TOGETHER: The Democratic Cup intends to bring social issues to the forefront of conversation, with the intention of creating a better understanding through active listening. Photo courtesy of Nick Moen

While the mug’s illustrations are devoid of profanity and stereotyping, many support progressive matters. Moen knows this can create an initial barrier for those who have more conservative social views. He says that moving forward, the project is considering additional works that reflect a larger audience. The reasoning, he says, is simple. He wants to better understand all sides.

“Once you have a constructive conversation that’s empathetic and thoughtful, and you’re responding rather than reacting, I think that’s when you can kind of cross value lines and figure out where common ground is.

“We’re all American,” Moen continues. “We all have our values. At the end of the day, I think it’s important to figure out why people believe what they do. These mugs and the act of sitting down and sharing a beverage together and listening to each other … can help remove some of the hatred and misunderstanding that’s being projected from both sides.”

For more information on the project, visit

About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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5 thoughts on “Asheville Art Talk: The Democratic Cup

  1. Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

    Local cartoonist David Cohen made a cartoon in the late 80s, early 90s (can’t remember exactly) that said, “TV, the plugin drug. Turn it off, get a life”. Perhaps these potters could leverage that idea with cups that say things like, “Intolerance, the group-think drug. Turn it off, get a life”, or “Tolerance. Get a life and learn to live and let live.”

    • boatrocker

      Cohen is also a wonderful drummer, and keeps time like a champ. TV as the plug in drug goes back to Reagan era comedy, for the record.
      Just say no, etc.

      Non local cartoonist Matt Groening predicted Trump’s run for POTUS on an obscure animated TV series called The Simpsons 16 years ago.

      Come Jan 21st, for those of us with access to TV and cartoons for not being in WWII styled interment camps as GOP staffers are suggesting , I for one look forward to the the wealth of political styled comedy shows, cartoons and the like, but consumed in very small doses as mass media and a cowering press is the reason those cups were created in the first place.

      What we call ‘reality TV shows’ were mainly the result of the 90’s writers’ strike where desperate TV execs in suits decided to create show without scripts containing 2 dimensional flat vapid characters based on MTV’s 1992 offering ‘The Real World’.

      Fast forward 20 years later where Americans go to Duck Dynasty to learn about politics, morality and values.

      One can tell a lot about a person from visiting their home and checking out their coffee cups.
      I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t consume coffee- they must be robots.

  2. It’s odd that records show that neither of these political potters (Nick Moen, Ayumi Horie) have voted, but they’re eager to trumpet the pathetic and lost causes of the disintegrating Democrat Party.

    I’ll have a cup of tea with President Trump on it.

  3. Deplorable Infidel

    oh, they prolly live totally ‘off grid’ and prefer not to be identified … lol…

    it does appear the ‘crackkks have pretty much imploded from within, not what they had hoped for but they did it to themselves…criminals can last but so long.

  4. Big Al

    Democratic Cups sound perfect for soliciting handouts on street corners. “Brother, can ye spare a dime…”

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