FARGO—Latte art’s more than foamed milk at 20 Below Coffee Co.

It’s the vessel, too.

Fargo ceramic artist Brooke Stewart crafted more than 100 latte, cappuccino, espresso and coffee cups for the new locally owned coffee house at 14 Roberts St. here.

At first, it was just a few mugs. But then 20 Below co-founders Mike Moran and Ty Ford decided to use Stewart’s ceramics exclusively.

“I told them, ‘You could order these from China for $3 a piece. You can go anywhere and buy them.’ But they chose me and now my artwork gets to be a part of someone else’s conversation,” she says.

Stewart, who is also an art teacher at Park Christian School in Moorhead, creates her cups at the Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Center for Creativity four days a week. She’s still working to fulfill 20 Below’s order and plans to sell mugs eventually.

“There are times that I could do it with my eyes closed,” she says. “And actually, through this process of making mugs, I’ve become a better ceramic artist.”

Ceramic artist Brooke Stewart created more than 100 coffee mugs of varying sizes for local coffee shop 20 Below. Anna G. Larson / The Forum

What’s so special about a handmade mug?

It takes the industrialization out of the picture. Ceramics get to enter peoples’ lives in a useful way.

There’s a personal connection like “Wow, someone did this.” I hope other people go there as artists or people with dreams and see that this girl is just a ceramic artist and she became part of a coffee shop and she did something with it.

I’m not a starving artist.

I get to have a relationship with the art and then it moves into this other space. I could help inspire other peoples’ dreams. That’s what 20 Below did for me.

 

What are the challenges of throwing on the wheel?

When I went to Minnesota State University Moorhead for my art education degree (she attended North Dakota State University for her bachelor of fine arts in ceramics), I remember telling my teacher, “I have a degree in ceramics, but my things are still heavy.”

She told me it takes 10 years to become really good and then another 10 to become a master potter. So I’m halfway there since I’ve been doing it eight years but I always want to be improving.

Are people nervous to use art for everyday tasks like eating and drinking?

Oh yeah, 20 Below’s told me that they’ve broken a few mugs and felt really bad. Even my roommates are scared to use them, though. But you buy nice jeans and wear them every day.

If something happens to a mug, you can get another one. I think part of this is educating people to use it. Yes, you can use it and you should use it.

A barista at 20 Below pours a latte into one of Brooke Stewart's mugs. Chantell Lauren Photography / Special to The Forum
A barista at 20 Below pours a latte into one of Brooke Stewart’s mugs. Chantell Lauren Photography / Special to The Forum

What’s your artistic philosophy?

I’ve always talked about connection and communication. When I make artwork, I’m processing my day and I feel this release of my creativity and sometimes I think about specific people, like I want to make them a flower pot. I’m very relational. I want things to be a part of their life. If it can be a part of your life, I want it to be. I’ll do trades, whatever it takes.

How would you describe the look of your pottery?

Playful and delicate.

What’s your process when you’re making the mugs and saucers?

I normally would sketch things but I think it’s fun not being in a ceramic art class now. I just found what worked and what I did and didn’t like. It’s been an evolution.

They (20 Below) gave me three cups of what they would have ordered and I sat those in front of me because I knew they were about the size they wanted. Then I weighed out the clay. Latte cups use 1 pound of clay, espresso use half a pound. My throwing skills have improved throughout this process, so that’s changing, too.