Brian R. Jones can't be sure Barack Obama actually drank out of one his handmade coffee mugs. For all Jones knows, the president handed it over to a Secret Service agent immediately after it was given to him and it ended up in a giant vault full of other discarded gifts from celebrities and foreign dignitaries. But it's equally possible he pulls it out of the cupboard every morning, fills it to the brim, then sits down and reads about what that other guy is doing in his old office.
Same with Iggy Pop. And Conan O'Brien. And somewhere around 800 other famous people.
In 2011, back when the 39-year-old potter was living in Portland, Jones approached Marc Maron, the comedian and podcaster, after a set at Helium Comedy Club. At the time, Maron's WTF podcast played mostly to a devoted cult, back when the biggest guests he could pull were mainly fellow comics.
"What really got to me was how open and raw he was," says Jones, an early devotee of the show. "He was going through a difficult part of his life, and I just happened to be going through some stuff as well."
To show his appreciation, Jones brought Maron a gift—a handcrafted coffee mug, with decals affixed of Maron's mustachioed face and his beloved cats. Maron was so impressed, he began ordering the mugs to give to his guests. And as WTF grew in popularity, so too did the magnitude of the names willing to talk to him—including a living U.S. president.
While Jones acknowledges the thrill of having his work get into the hands of some of his heroes—like Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and comedian Maria Bamford, with whom he ended up doing another project—for him, a mug is more than just a piece of schwag.
"Pots have a funny place in our culture," says Jones, who moved to Connecticut with his wife in 2017. "You can go to IKEA and get a mug for 99 cents, which to me seems ethically and morally wrong. But there's something to be said about having a connection with a handmade object, whether it's shoes or a belt or, in my case, a coffee mug."
Indeed, in a coffee culture like Portland's, what you drink out of is almost as important as what you're drinking. So we decided to ask the WW office—and some cafes around town—to show us the mugs that mean something to them.