Barbara Toole

Creator of custom-made, clay dishware

by: Gabriella Burnham

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

There is something magical about a good coffee mug. It is a developed camaraderie, really, knowing your favorite cup is there every morning, with the same idiosyncrasies and traits with which you have grown accustomed.

Barbara Toole understands such a bond: you, your mug, and a steaming cup of Joe. In fact, she has made a career out of it.

“When I make mugs, it’s always the usability that I have in mind. I’m good at knowing what’s comfortable for people... There’s got to be an even balance. The handle has to feel good, and the lip has to feel comfortable. When people come into my studio and find a good mug, everyone says, ‘This is a good mug, you should make all of them like this.’ But the truth is, everyone likes a different mug,” said Toole as she sat in her pottery studio, firmly grasping her own clay mug with two hands.

“A mug is just amazing,” she continued, seemingly entranced by the cup of tea between her hands. “It’s one of the most difficult things to make, and the most time-consuming. And yet, it’s the least expensive to buy.”

This is one reason why Toole’s flair for creating custom-made, clay dishware spans much farther than that of the standard coffee mug. She also hand-throws clay bowls, plates, pots and complete sets of dishes, each of which is imbued with its own individual, whimsical personality.

Her work is displayed on-island at Nantucket Looms, the Nantucket Artists’ Association and Leslie Linsley Nantucket, as well as the Fast Forward and Espresso to Go coffeeshops.