The Mug Shelf

There’s a couple of somewhat universal truths that surround people who let tiki and exotic cocktails into their lives. One, is a strong appreciation for escapism and novelty, either in the form of exotic music and art, or through fun and intoxicating drinks served in elaborate mugs. Most often both… The other, not surprising, is that they have probably become keen at collecting all of the aforementioned miscellany.

It’s part of the fun. Maybe even, part of the ritual.

So it goes. It starts with a harmless old mug found at a thrift store. Or maybe you pick one up from a tiki bar while on vacation. You know, just a token of a good time had. Then a friend says, “Oh, my uncle gave me one of those, here you should have it…”  Next thing you know you’re spotting these little ceramic time capsules all over. And they’ve got curious markings on the bottom, eluding to some long lost south seas bar or restaurant. So you do some research. You’re hooked.

Of course, the story is different for everyone. For me, it started pretty much as this blog did. I wanted to showcase my burgeoning tiki drink skills in eye catching mugs. I soon burned through the few novelty ones I had already on hand. So I started picking them up on my tiki bar travels as mementos, and at antique malls. Others have found their way into my collection completely inexplicably. In short time I had outgrown the hutch I had been storing them in, with no signs of slowing. Each of these mugs is a little work of art. A lot of them were mass produced during a bygone era but there’s a small cult of ceramicists today that are producing hand made, small batch, tiki mug designs that are fully deserving of proper display.

So at last I concluded, as a lot of mug collectors do, that these tiny sculptures deserved a worthy display. Like many of you too, I’m a handy person. In fact, I have a degree in furniture design, and have been producing custom furniture for over a decade. Most of that was very meticulously crafted heirloom stuff, so inviting myself to create a piece solely as a creative outlet, was a real treat.


It has been really hard to stay quiet about this. I’m so psyched with how this turned out! Like all aspects of tiki culture, the creation of something like this, is not a task to be taken on whim. As most of you probably know by now, the concept of “Tiki” itself, and the ancient art associated with it is steeped in a great deal of historical and cultural context which has been greatly exploited over time. “But it’s just a mug shelf…” You say, “Seriously, what’s the big deal?” Well, you’re not exactly wrong. But there is still a lot of seemingly innocuous symbology that is still very relevant to Polynesian and other cultures. And with tasteless “appropriation” being a hot topic these days, it’s important to make sure the fun of it, can coexist with cultural understanding.


tapa-clothCarvings are very common in tiki related art, and of course, tikis themselves. Historically carving and sculpting were some of the ways tribal people created art, so it stands to reason that this would be a key aspect in creating tiki related art. I did some research on commonly known tapa cloths such as the one shown here and drew inspiration from the geometric patterns to reference some light carving I envisioned for the sides of the shelf.


Overall, I imagined this piece as being created by myself, perhaps, while stranded on a deserted island, with maybe a slight emphasis on craft. So naturally, like the crew of the S.S. Minnow, what else would I use but accents of bamboo and lashing. As you can see, this shelf was quickly filled with my humble but growing mug collection and related accoutrements.

I currently rent a duplex, so for the time being a full blown home tiki bar is out of the question, but I’m totally satisfied with my little bit of escapism. And now I have that much more room for my also ever-expanding rum collection. Now if only I could do something about those white walls…

Please, if you have pictures or stories to tell about your tiki related craft projects, I would love to hear about them!