Don Burger has become the Maker of the Mugs in Jonesborough


_K0A8799By Collin Brooks

These aren’t your multi-million dollar folks, but it is the perfect Hollywood script, and you’ll find it nestled at a main entry corner of Tennessee’s oldest Town.

The Corner Cup has only been open for about two years in downtown Jonesborough — the storytelling capital of the world — but it has already accumulated its own cast of characters. While the crew isn’t there all the time, their unique mugs hang neatly behind the counter, waiting for their owners.

Many of those mugs were handmade by Jonesborough potter Don Burger, who for story purposes, will be known as the Maker of the Mugs. That wasn’t a title that he sought to have, but the Maker of the Mugs merely performed his service and then was requested by others.

It started after he was approached because of the mug that he was holding, a piece of hardened clay that had the curves and the stature of one you might see from the pages of Dr. Seuss.

Check out the first installment in the series: Corner Cup enjoys stories hanging with mug wall

“There is something about a mug,” he said. “I made a mug because I couldn’t find one that represented what I like. I saw other people with personalized mugs, they might say, ‘I heart this or that,’ but they are personal and I couldn’t find that.”

Specifically, he was looking for a mug that had his favorite instrument, the Mountain Dulcimer — an Appalachian instrument — on it.

Burger took the clay and made an “awkward” looking coffee mug and carved a Mountain Dulcimer on it. “It held coffee and I was proud to have my own personal mug,” he said through a smile.

That was the first time he’d touched clay, and he thought that he could be inspired by the things that he made, whether it be a coffee mug, wall art or any other piece of moldable material.

At the coffee shop, he rotates his mugs on the wall, even having people purchase them out of his hands. But a mug that he has a hand in making is always hanging from the shelf.

“I’ve lost count of how many mugs I have sold, just walking around and someone will ask me about it and then purchase it,” he said, noting that people will sometimes even offer to wash the mug. “That transaction, the little story that goes with it, is the important part to me.

“As an artist, when they make the request, I’m not sure that I can do that, but I am willing to try. Through that process, of wanting to make that happen for them, I tend to learn something about myself and develop more skills.”

If he can’t quite imagine the masterpiece in his mind, he will call on the assistance of his wife, Deb, to help him come up with an idea.

“She’ll take a pencil and paper and sketch something out and it will just click,” he said. “I can take it from there and put it into three dimensions.”

The couple doesn’t only share a love for the arts, they also both think highly of the coffee shop.

“My wife and I are very coffee shop oriented, because of the good coffee, but also because most coffee shops have a community living room aspect,” Burger said. “What (everyone) has in common is that they come for a good cup of coffee or a cup of tea and to share the space together.”

He also said that he enjoys the welcoming atmosphere of the Corner Cup and the unguarded conversations that can come out of a stop.

“It’s a fairly universal coffeeshop characteristic,” Burger said. “Some people will call it the town’s living room. And when we didn’t have one in Jonesborough for a long time, there wasn’t a place to enjoy.”

His crafts are another thing that he enjoys, and he says it’s deep rooted in the region’s history.

“For thousands of years, people have been making urban-ware pots to store things, to eat out of, to cook out of and all you need is dirt and water and some imagination and patience,” said Burger, who also noted that by making his own utensils, he is staying true to the roots of this area. This part of the country has a longer tradition of making what one needs, rather than purchasing it.”


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