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Blending passions, Springfield artist creates arthritis-friendly mugs for ArtsFest

Gisele Ortega

Article for the News-Leader 5/4/23

Springfield Regional Arts Council’s annual ArtsFest returns to Walnut Street this weekend. Anticipating an eager crowd of 30,000 attendees and potential customers, Springfield artist Mari Moore-Mosby has been working for six months to ensure all 400 of her pieces are ready to sell at the community event.

Moore-Mosby is a full-time physical therapist at Cox Health, a working artist, and a full-time parent to a one-year-old daughter. These aspects of life often blend together, she said, making for some uniquely tangible and useful fusions.

One of the many creations that Moore-Mosby of Mudbug Creations has designed is a lightweight, ergonomic mug designed for arthritic hands, like those of “most people past 40 years old,” she said, including her own.

“I have arthritic hands, because I throw pottery and I do PT, two very pressure-heavy activities that go into my hands.”

The design of her mugs was inspired by her own experience, but more importantly, the experience of treating her patients and wanting them to be comfortable and healthy. “You can have a cool mug, but if it doesn’t feel good in your hands, you’re not going to use it,” she says.

These mugs feature a handle with a thumb tab on top. This helps users to grip the handle without putting unnecessary stress onto the thumb and hand. This way, instead of being uncomfortably pressed onto the side of the handle, the thumb sits atop the handle for leverage, in a way that relaxes the joints.

Although arthritis can be a chronic condition, it can also refer to a temporary, treatable inflammation caused by any overuse of the joints. Even a small change in everyday habits, such as using these mugs, could help to possibly reduce the chance of symptoms, Moore-Mosby said.

“It’s been fun to incorporate the science into the art, to improve the function, to improve the design … but then also: snails, moons, and aliens.”

The subtle addition of the thumb tab to the mugs is complemented by bright colors and whimsical designs. As well as functional, they are stylish and bright, and the designs are often a reflection of Moore-Mosby’s own life and personality.

“The most fun is when you’re out and about in your daily life and come across a new idea that I know I can apply when I get back to studio that night … I’ve got a rolling list in my phone so I don’t lose it,” Moore-Mosby said.

Ideas often come from coworkers, fellow artists, and time spent with her daughter. One popular design is a stackable mug that is shaped like a vertebra of a human spine. These aren’t always available for sale due to the time-intensive work of crafting them, but some other regularly-shaped designs feature images of aliens and cats, various animals, colorful line work, seasonal designs and other fun, eccentric things. She especially enjoys doing mid-century modern line work and 1950s retro-style design.

Some of these designs, she says, she only makes a small number of, and then moves on to something else, adding another exciting element of limited-edition, handmade fun to her products.

Moore-Mosby has known what her career would be for most of her life. She explains, “Ever since I was really little, I was a dancer … but I had a lot of injuries, so I went to physical therapy and I got very interested in the body and the way the body moves.”

She attended Drury University and earned her bachelor's degree in exercise and sports science, with a minor in the arts, then attended Missouri State University to continue her education in physical therapy. As for ceramics, she started at age seventeen at Kickapoo High School.

“Just being in science left a gap in my life for that creative aspect … I really wanted to fill it, so on a whim, I took a ceramics class in high school, and it never let me go.”

About ceramics, she said, “It’s such a dynamic art form … it teaches you how to fail gracefully and move forward. Every mug you see out here … I’ve messed up or broken at least five [over 16 years].”

Moore-Mosby’s home studio in Springfield is a colorful, collaborative space that can be seen from across her large, lush backyard. Up-close, decorations and paintings flow together and cover the walls. Many painted handprints by those who helped renovate the shed decorate a corner. Three different kilns, with their own amusing names, double as studio heaters in the cold winter months.

The studio is a space for Moore-Mosby to brainstorm, create, relax, and harbor ideas, and she hopes to someday teach her daughter the art of ceramics.

“With clay you can incorporate all skill levels, and it’s accessible in a way that a lot of art isn’t,” she said.

After perfecting her process, Moore-Mosby has been selling her works consistently for about ten years.

In addition to her arthritis-friendly mugs, Moore-Mosby makes other functional designs including bowls with a built-in chopsticks holder, stackable mug sets, dishes, vases, and more. During months in which she is not completely dialed in on getting ready for local shows, she sells pieces on her online Etsy shop. With over 700 sales on Etsy and a five-star rating, demand for her art extends beyond the Ozarks.

She has sold as an ArtsFest vendor for five years, but this will be her first year doing so as a busy parent. Previously, she has been a vendor in other Springfield arts shows such as Cider Days and Art in the Park. She says that the most shows she has ever done in one year is 17, but typically goes to just a few.

“I always go back to the ones that stay fun, and ArtsFest is always fun,” she said.

Moore-Mosby and more than 100 other artists, including live painters, musicians, and countless other types, will showcase their work Saturday and Sunday on East Walnut Street & South John Q. Hammons Parkway. Tickets are $5 per person, and the event is free for children aged five and under.


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