Toast of the World

Mug project recognizes “the year of peace and trust”

Yam Burke’s Peace Mug, identical to the one on page 17 and part of a series made by potter David Voorhees, is on its way to Italy, California, and Thailand.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

While most of us may look at a coffee mug as a purely utilitarian item, potter David Voorhees sees something much greater. His “Traveling Peace Mug” project is intended to send that everyday article around the world as an emblem of the cooperative human spirit, in keeping with the United Nations’ designation of 2021 as the Year of Peace and Trust.

Voorhees created the original fluted and celadon-glazed Peace Mug as a concept piece for the Transcendence exhibit earlier this year at The Gallery at Flat Rock, to which more than two-dozen artists contributed work that addressed the UN’s theme. The mug has now been joined by five similar ones that Voorhees made and sold during the exhibit. “We each want our work to serve a greater good [rather] than just making a living,” the Zirconia-based artist says. “In my case, a humble cup gets passed around building friendship, peace, and trust, one person at a time. A modern-day Communion, of sorts.”

The mugs are expected to travel as far as New Zealand, Thailand, and Canada, and Voorhees himself plans to take one with him to the United Kingdom this spring. Each mug is accompanied by handmade journals crafted by Asheville artist Chad Alice Hagen. “Hopefully they will go from one person to someone they know, and follow that pattern,” Voorhees explains. “But time will tell if they keep moving or get ‘stuck’ at someone’s house. I guess that’s my part of the trust issue — to let it go. Some may break along the way. Each will have its own unique story.” 

Yam Burke, a volunteer for Hendersonville Rescue Mission, visited the Transcendence exhibit and bought one of the mugs. While she’s not traveling with her mug, she intends to send it off on its own journeys. “I’ve mailed it to my friend Hailey in Florence, Italy,” Burke says, “and I’m hoping it arrives safely!” 

Suzanne Camarata Ball’s mug and journal.

From there the mug will be mailed to her father in Thailand, and then will be sent to California to begin a cross-country journey home. Voorhees hopes that the mugs eventually find their way back to their original purchasers to keep, while he plans to collect and post online the journal entries that will accompany each mug as it travels.

It’s not the first time Voorhees has used his craft to bring attention to larger issues. Last year, he was among a number of local potters who contributed bowls to the Empty Bowls initiative via St. John In The Wilderness Episcopal Church in Flat Rock, intended to draw attention to poverty-related hunger and to benefit the Flat Rock Backpack Program. (The org provides weekend food supplies to qualifying schoolchildren and their families.) “Certainly the Traveling Peace Mug project was inspired by my volunteer work with Empty Bowls, as a clay artist making utilitarian items that can make an impact on the social climate of the day,” Voorhees says.

For Burke, the message the mugs carry is deeply rooted in their familiarity. “They are sparks for conversations and actions about how humanity can work together to better live in harmony,” Burke says. “We all need to drink, eat, and be merry. We all need to feel valued and affirmed. We all have capacities to endure.”

David Voorhees, Zirconia. To learn more about the Traveling Peace Mug Project, see #travelingpeacemug and #davidvoorhees on Instagram or go to the website: 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *