Ayumi Horie believes every pot, every cup and every bowl she makes represents an opportunity to connect with someone and be a positive force for social change.

“What drives me to make functional objects is that they’re integral to people’s lives,” she said.

Horie, 48, lives in Portland’s Stroudwater neighborhood in a handsome 1830s brick house and works in a modern attached studio, complete with a disco ball that hangs from the ceiling and sparkles in the late-afternoon sunlight. She is among Maine’s most celebrated contemporary artists, best known for making mugs and bowls decorated with her quirky drawings of animals. These days, Horie is busily working to meet the holiday-related orders that she receives mostly through online sales.

Increasingly, Horie is focusing her work on improving her community, locally and globally. In her hands, a pot made with thoughtful intention can inspire friendships, conversations and deeper connections.

She specializes in creative, arts-oriented community projects, and has co-hosted and co-organized several online pottery fundraisers. Obamaware raised nearly $11,000 for former President Obama’s election in 2008, and Handmade for Japan raised more than $100,000 in 2011 for disaster relief following an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, her ancestral home.

During the last presidential election cycle, she collaborated with a colleague in North Carolina to create The Democratic Cup, a fundraising campaign for progressive causes funded by the sale of handmade cups designed by illustrators and inspired by leading progressive thinkers.

Their mission was simply to raise the level of conversation in America.

“We were dismayed about the incivility and the political rhetoric,” Horie said. “We were looking for a way to promote current events and issues we wanted to have conversations about.”

Horie has been one of the artists behind Portland Brick, a collaborative public art project that began in 2015 to replace broken sidewalk bricks with bricks made from local clay and stamped with the city’s histories, memories and wishes for the future. She is also the curator of the Instagram feed Pots in Action, a crowd-sourced ceramics project that features contributions from around the world, and in 2015 received a $50,000 fellowship from United States Artists.

She grew up in Maine, moved away for college and her career, and came back in 2012, skilled in her craft and eager to improve her community. Pottery has a long history of being apolitical, but Horie finds it to be an effective medium for her message.

“People don’t expect it, but it feels very natural,” she said.

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