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Wanna cuppa joe that doubles as art? Check out St. Olaf's cup library

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In these modern times, we have paper cups with sleeves and plastic lids. What more could we want?

How about a handmade ceramic mug that helps turn your beverage-sipping into a tactile experience?

Students and staff at St. Olaf College now have access to a lending library of cups made to be used a week at a time – and then exchanged for another functional art vessel.

The art department at the college in Northfield has rolled out the new Ron Gallas Cup Library to help the community get a feel for how handmade ceramics can put new satisfaction into a cup of coffee or tea.

The college has started its collection with 62 cups made by 54 professional artists nationwide, some of whom donated their works. (The ones at right were purchased from the Northern Clay Center.)

Kate Fisher, the art faculty member who got the project started, says in the digital age the use of handmade objects in daily life seems to be fading.

"We find that many students have never used a handmade cup. They cannot remember the last time a cup enhanced their drinking experience and made them more aware or attentive to what and how they are consuming,” Fisher says.

These artworks were made not just to be admired but to be used, which is why they belong not in a museum but a lending library, she says.

And while you may not realize it, Fisher says Minnesota is a hotbed of clay – where the quality of the resource underfoot is matched by the quality of the local artists who use it for pottery and ceramics.

The cup library's namesake, Ron Gallas, is in his last year on the St. Olaf faculty after teaching there since 1987. He studied with Warren MacKenzie, whose work is renown in pottery circles.

Students who helped Fisher get the cup library rolling seem fired up about it. In the words of senior Emily Tani-Winegarden: "“Getting a box from an out-of-state studio filled with 10 different cups by 10 different artists is the absolute best experience ever.”

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