Snapshot of Progress

Hello Cuplomats!

Today we are going behind the scenes to give you an update from the production line! We hope you will be happy to hear that all the cups are made and work on the saucers has begun (Image 1).

image 1


The saucers are rolling out!

image 2


We have finished loading the final cups and the first batch of saucers into the bisque.

Image 3


We have been testing for glazes and are working on design and production of decals for the cups and saucers. Things are rolling on! Make sure to stay tuned for more updates as delivery grows nearer.

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

Kiln Loading

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Loading up the kiln for a bisque fire.

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Slip Casting in Progress

Slip Casting is underway. A big Thanks goes out to Kimberlee Joy Roth for helping us out with our slip issues and sharing her recipe. Now that those issues have been resolved, casting is smoothly on its way.

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Pouring slip into the mold.

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Slip setting up in the mold before pouring the slip out.

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The slip has set

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The molds are ready to open. Next step adding handles.

Cups drying getting ready for our first bisque.

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Gotta love math! It works. The white cup is the original 3D print to test scale and form. The black cup is the scaled up print to allow for clay shrinkage. The off white one is the slip cast cup fired to cone 10. It shrank and matches our original white 3D print!

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You really got to love math when they multiple this fast!

Friday, May 8th, 2015

Cuplomacy Cup Production

Hello Cuplomats,

We are making fast work of experimental production to find the best ways to produce the final cups for delivery to Washington D.C.  Today I am including images of production I have been working on for both the Republican and Democrat cups and some explanation of the images and my process.  We hope you enjoy some insight into our creative world.

– Helen Otterson, Ceramist and Cuplomacy Design and Production

Democratic Cup:

Sanding prints

The 3D prints were delivered. While the prints are high quality, they require a little sanding to smooth out the ridges.

DEM 02

Casting begins! I decided to start the cast at the base, so I turned the cup upside down, covered it in clay, allowing only the base to show, and poured the first part of the mold.

DEM 03.0

The first piece has set. I flipped the cup upright and remove the clay, revealing the cup.

DEM 11 

 DEM 12

DEM 13

Multi part mold in process.

DEM 16

The finished mold with the 3D printed cup.

DEM finished

Here are the stages of design. The white cup was our first print to verify size and form. The black cup is the finalized form scaled up 12% to allow for shrinkage of the clay. Due to the twist in the cup the mold ended up being an 8 part mold.

Republican Cup:

REP 88

Beginning the cast for the Republican cup, starting at the base.

REP 89

 The sides are clayed up leaving a 1/3 of the side revealed for pouring the first side of the cup.

REP 91

Post pour and clean up of the first side of the mold.

REP 93

Getting ready to pour the second side of the mold

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REP 95

Ready to pour the last side.

REP 102

The finished mold with the 3D print.

REP finished 1

The white cup is the scaled prototype. The black cup (next to the final mold) is the prototype scale up 12% to allow for the clay shrinkage.  This mold proved to be much easier due to the clean vertical lines of the cup, no undercuts to worry about.


Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

3D Printing Master Cups and Handles



Today we started printing the final master cups for molding. We are working with  Dr. Bashir khoda, Assistant Professor in the Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering Dept. and his team of PhD students. They have a couple different 3D printing machines but we decided to use their Dimension because we felt it would give us the best result for the master prints.

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Before printing all the cups and handles we did a single test print which can be seen below. We think it will take some sanding and refinement during the molding process but it should give us a good result.

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We also needed to work through some file translation problems but with the combined effort of Dr. Bashir, his team, and myself we were able to make sure our digital files were print ready. Now to let the 3D printer do its work.


– Peter Atwood

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Project Evolution

Michael J. Strand

The project is very simple (or so I thought)  Make two sets of cups and saucers, one representing the Republican Party, the other representing the Democratic Party.  Simply swap the saucers and create an unmatched set: A cup from one party and a saucer from the opposing party. Deliver these misfit cups and saucers to each Unite States Senator with a simple request.   “Please go across the aisle, and engage with one-another over a cup of coffee, when you do so feel free to swap saucers to create a matched set as a symbol of human scaled conversation”.  

began this journey a bit over four years ago and when I look back at my state of mind at that time I can say with utmost honesty and vulnerability that I was a naïve optimist in both the potential of the project and the ease at which I could get the project done.  I am used to simply willing things to happen, and this was a challenge that has taken far more than personal will or effort.  

Four years ago I worked with student Maren Shallman on an initial engagement with Senator Kent Conrad’s office in North Dakota.  The staffers at the office were very willing to meet and gave a generous amount of time to the project, trying to find a way to move it through the US Senate office in an official way THROUGH a Senator.  Unfortunately, the project proved to either be to hot of a topic, or not really worthy of their time – I would like to think the former, but honestly, I get why delivering cups from a potter would not be a priority.  After a few months of back and forth, the project met a wall and at that time I put it on the proverbial “back burner”.  I did not put it away however, and nearly every day I thought about new ways to engage in the process.   

Two years ago, after a couple of years of contemplation, I failed to learn from my own history, and went down the path of doing the project through a U.S. Senator once again, this time through Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s office in Washington D.C. Unfazed by my first attempt, I was “sure” that by going to Washington D.C. and sitting down with staffers I would be one step closer to the realization of the project and making this happen.  My meeting in D.C. was highly positive, and from that meeting I was confident that this project would find it’s way to the U.S. Senate through a Senate office, ensuring that at least the Senators would see the object.  Again, two months of conversation led to another reluctant but certain “no go” from a Senate office, this time over concerns of Ethics violations over gifts from one senator to another.  

A bit over one year ago, I started a third strong campaign to get this project to move forward this time with a completely new strategy. The reality is that you can deliver gifts with a value of less than $50 to your own senator, and they will accept them.  So, I started the project once again, this time with a team of designers, PR folks and writers to reengage with the project and form a marketing strategy to get people involved and raise funds enough to cover the costs of the project.  The team of individuals was amazing, designers Jordan Nelson, Jeff Knight and Dirk Munson, writer Jason Jacobson and filmmakers Justin Kvalie and Preston Johnson.  The focus of the effort was on creating a kickstarter campaign, and everyone did an excellent job, the problem was that I was internally very uncomfortable in the project transforming into a marketing campaign.  Many hours and thousands of personal dollars later, I put the project on hold once again, for artistic reasons.  Intuitively, it just was not right.  The lesson in this case was that I focused too much effort on “the ask” and not enough effort on the ethics of the project.  The project today would never be at the place it is without the efforts of the individuals who participated in this phase, and while it did not come to fruition under this iteration, a great deal was learned. 

This is the life of difficult projects – it is not easy. 

This leads us to today and a realization that has completely changed the project.  I had an epiphany, a moment of clarity on why the project kept finding a wall and it was two very important reasons.  First, I was afraid.  For the first time in my life as an artist I was really, truly, FOR REAL, absolutely afraid of the project I was doing, even though I loved the idea I was afraid because in many regards I was alone.  Second, “I was in love with an idea, and it was a bad relationship”.   I was so enamored with my own “cleverness” over the hook of the project that I forgot some very important principals in my own practice.  I was so in love with the idea that I became myopic in my vision of itscapabilities to engage beyond the Senate engagement.  In fact, I was so in love with the idea, I had no idea how to actually make it happen in a way beyond “a smart ass potter from N.D. thinks we should have coffee”.   

In order to get to this place it took many conversations with people I love and trust – Professor Angela Smith at North Dakota State University, my friends Jill Foote-Hutton, Namita Wiggers and one very honest and dead on comment from Dandee Pattee who stated before the abandoned Kickstarter phase of the project “This project does not seem like you” – That quote changed the course of the project.  Additionally it took an exceptionally gifted student intern, Sarina Sandstrom to sit down and talk about the potential of the project from a public history perspective and voila – we are on to the final stages of the project.  

The other important factor here is that I was awarded a $100,000 Bush Foundation Fellowship for two years, in essence eliminating the need for funding.  I could now focus entirely on the project as part of my learning experience as part of the two-year fellowship. 

This moment of clarity, along with funding to make it happen, has allowed the project to go back to some of my own standards of practice and create a framework for participation and creativity that allows the voice of people to be carried through the project. In order to do this, we questioned the premise as to whether this is a good idea by asking nearly 1000 people in the ND region some very simple questions.  Without knowing the results of this informal survey, we engaged with the public to learn about our perceptions of our political process and the people that make it happen.  The engagement was a fair cross section of this populace with churches, community groups, students, and average folks in the region responding to the questions.  

The results of our engagement are surprising and empowering.  It is important to consider the context of our engagement with the public. North Dakota is a strongly Republican state, where the tea party has a strong presence and conservative outlook accompanies the will to survive in a harsh climate. It is also a state that has a very cooperative history, with a state-run bank and grain elevator. North Dakotans understand and blend the need for cooperation and conservative principles. How can we survive in this unforgiving climate without both? The answer is clear, we can’t. 

The questionnaire results?   Overwhelmingly, folks identified our current political process as negative – not entirely surprising given the current political narrative in the United States.  What was surprising however, was the nearly unanimous request that our elected officials work well together across the aisle.  

Additionally we asked people to identify qualities of each party, and to identify one person they admire or respect from each party as a way to gather some reflective perspective on the people and personalities that make up our political process. 

The results of this process also created a second moment of clarity when I realized that there is NO WAY I could design and make the objects based on this feedback through my own artistic practice alone.  I am too biased in my own politics but also in my aesthetic.  The project would carry too much of my own artistic weight and thus it would negate all of this effort to engage with the public.  The answer was to look to two colleagues at North Dakota State University, Helen Otterson, a ceramic artist and Peter Atwood, a digital designer.  

Instead of creating the objects on my own, I have brought on Helen and Peter as design collaborators to work through a series of design charettes. 

This is a somewhat complex process, but involves looking at trends and duplications within the information gathered from the public and assembling words that positively associate with each party and then taking this language and creating objects that associate with this language.  Of course we have not removed all of our aesthetic bias, the objects are well designed and are impacted by our collective perspective – but I can also say with confidence that they now accurately account for the information gathered from the public. 

Additionally the questionnaire asks individuals to name a person from each side of the political aisle that they respect and admire. From this we have assembled a top 5 list from each party and we will be making digital decals of these figures to put on the bottoms of the cups and the tops of the saucers. When the mismatched sets are put together, an individual from each party will be face to face with one another when the cup rests in the saucer.  One might consider this a “kiss”, or perhaps a stare down, whatever is preferable. This will add to the humor and tension of the project when the box is opened at the Senate offices. 

At this stage we are in the final moments of design development and will be in production by March 10th

A final barrier to project success to overcomeThe recent events in Paris involving terrorist activity has heightened security measures and created a bit tenser atmosphere of protection around any political institution in the United States. So one final hurdle is to reconsider exactly how they are delivered, it may very well take place as planned as a group of people hand delivering, but I am working through the logistics as I write this.  But in finding the answer I am about to go back to where I have always done well, in engaging with the public for the solution. 

More on that soon.

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

3D Printing Prototypes

Through out this week we have been digitally modeling and 3D printing full scale prototypes of our cup designs.  As a workflow we started by suggesting very minimal design movements based on the engagement surveys done. Simple digital models were created, evaluated and improved until we felt the need to move outside the digital and into the physical. To achieve this we used a Makerbot replicator 2 as seen in the image below printing a full scale prototype of the proposed democratic cup.

3D printing prototypes

The prototyping process has been very interesting and revealing as we are able to quickly test the actual look and feel of the cups we are designing. We soon realized that although being able to visualize the cups in digital three dimensional space our sense of scale in this space was thrown off. Our original prototypes needed to be scaled up considerably. We went through about three iterations before we were satisfied with their scale and proportions.

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We are now ready to begin preparing the digital files to be printed not as full scale prototypes but rather as masters for the molding process.


– Peter Atwood

Friday, February 27th, 2015

Classroom Engagement

Hello All!

Once again the Cuplomats are out on the town gathering opinions from people around the Fargo-Moorhead area. The next few weeks we will be working on visiting classrooms at North Dakota State University to encourage college students to participate in the project and share their ideas.

I set out visiting a few American Government classes in the past few days and have had some pretty fantastic support from the students there. Many of these students are interested in the project and we have even had some students show interest in helping out with Cuplomacy as a Cuplomat!

Pictured below is a photo of some students sharing their ideas on the questionnaires. Many of the students provided valuable feedback that Michael and I have reviewed and found incredibly interesting. It is great having young Americans participate in the project and many of them have shown their support for the idea of human interaction and change.



We hope to have many more classrooms participate in the future from throughout the University in a variety of classes and fields. Maybe we will be stopping in your classroom next!


-Sarina Sandstrom


Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Riverview Place Engagement

Hello All!

The Cuplomats are back to share some very exciting updates! Since the Studio Crawl engagement opportunity Michael has been having participate in the project by filling out questionnaires all around the country as he visits different programs and institutions. These thought and opinions have really added a national element to the project and broadened its reach which is wonderful!

On December 2nd I had the pleasure of visiting Riverview Place, a retirement community in Fargo, ND, and collecting the thoughts and opinions of the residents there. This was such an amazing experience and some of the thoughts I encountered were wonderfully surprising. The residents loved to share their pasts and how they feel about the current government and how it is working.

Many of the residents explained just how powerful they think this project is and what they have learned about facilitating compromise throughout their lives. I have to say their ideas were some of the most influential and compelling yet! Below is a photo of the amazing residents completing the questionnaire.


I also had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful Pastor who is loved by everyone at Riverview and around Fargo for his enthusiasm and passion. He took me under his wing and helped encourage the residents to participate and share their true feelings. This wonderful man is pictured below helping encourage participation. Michael and I are looking forward to having the Pastor be a continued part of the project as a Cuplomat himself. We are always so pleased to have people take to the project so strongly and allow us to have them join our team. Everyone is valuable to this project!


Keep checking in with the project as we continue to engage with different parts of the community in the coming weeks and share the experience with you.


Sarina Sandstrom



Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Studio Crawl Engagement

Hello All!

Welcome to the first of many updates regarding the Cuplomacy Project and the exciting engagement opportunities that we are pursuing. Our questionnaire that we share throughout these opportunties was designed specifically to encourage everyday Americans to share their opinions in a constructive way and to inspire the project to carry the voice of the people.

On October 4th and 5th the wonderful cities of Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota hosted an event called the Studio Crawl. This event offered the community an opportunity to visit and view studios and spaces around town where local artists create their work, and also provided a wonderful opportunity for our “Cuplomats” to collect valuable opinions via our questionnaire design.

Michael Strand and intern Sarina Sandstrom set up a space in the Plains Art Museum, a beautiful creative venue in the heart of downtown Fargo. Throughout the weekend members from all around the local community viewed the beautiful art in the museum and stopped by our station to share their opinions on the current political system and how it is or is not working. Pictured is a photo of Michael sharing a conversation with community members who are completing the questionnaire.


Everyone we met had unique and valuable opinions that helped transform the project and provide it with a powerful community voice. We were frequently moved by the words and thoughts people shared and reveled at the creative and compelling analogies that members of our community came up with to convey their feelings.

We even had people explain their effective ways to facilitate compromise visually by drawing intricate and interesting charts and animations. Pictured below is an example that a young community member produced while visiting with the Cuplomats. It is young people like this that inspire us to use the voice of the people to further the Cuplomacy project.


We look forward to engaging with the community in many other ways in the near future and collecting the opinions of the folks in Fargo and around the country.

More updates to come soon!


-Sarina Sandstrom



Monday, October 6th, 2014