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Summary

Ehren Tool, visiting lecturer and studio technician at the University of California Berkeley, was totally fine when he returned from service as a Marine veteran of Desert Storm in 2001. He didn’t want to talk about it, and he especially didn’t feel the need to be around other veterans.

Over time, he said, the callow civilian translation of the unspeakable acts of war—“of my uniform and my gas mask turned into video games”—began to bug him. Like a healed-over sliver of glass, something was itching to get out.

Tool had not had an art class since high school, but he was pulled toward art, clay in particular. “Ceramics is a perfect medium to talk about war,” he said. “It’s of an appropriate scale, a very personal thing. Ceramics is hand to hand. You push your finger in, it makes the mark. You pull a trigger with your finger. The transformation of clay by fire, in human terms, is forever. You shoot somebody, it’s forever.”

Since 2001, Tool has made 14,000 cups. “The cups make a place to have a conversation,” he said, a vessel for filling, and for emptying. The cups contain images for those who have experienced war, and for those who can never really know what it is like.

On November 14, Tool will speak at Herron in the Basile Auditorium of Eskenazi Hall at 6:00 p.m.

The art Tool makes began as a catharsis of his war experiences and “overlaps with guys coming back now,” he said. “War is unlike anything else. You come back a bad man, or not bad enough, so it’s always good to talk to a fellow vet. War is a really dark space and it can be hard to leave it. If my talks help anyone else, it’s icing.”

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