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In the world of pottery, mugs are the gateway vessel, a common first buy for someone exploring the heft and feel of handcrafted clay.

In Minnesota, pottery mugs have a special, extra function: holding heat from steaming beverages in cold months, warming up hands and heart at the same time.

When they're stocking St. Paul's Grand Hand Gallery, co-owners Mary Whitney and Cathy Weyerhaeuser count on mugs.

"They sell. They are the bread and butter items," Weyerhaeuser says.

Weyerhaeuser knows from experience that the mug she likes might not be someone else's cup of tea, so to speak. She and the gallery's buyers are drawn to creations that align with their tastes and styles, whether that's a Warren McKenzie earthiness or a sleek sophistication.

"We're always looking for new potters," she says. "We try to get as broad a spectrum of work as we can, and we display it in a way that it feels like a museum, with a collection of each artist's work."

And then, she lets work and buyer find one another. Some customers are surprised by the prices.

"Some people are used to finding cheap things at Target, which has incredible design for no cost. So it's trying to teach people about one-of-a-kind and handcrafted, and the art and craft of it. You can find that mug that nobody else is going to have, that's maybe perfect for your girlfriend for her birthday."

Photo: Ryan Dyer; creative Director and stylist: Barbara Schmidt,

Hanging mugs, top row: The Leach Pottery, $28,; Alex Guy*, $35,; Maggie Jaszczak*, $50,

Hanging mugs, middle row: Minsoo Yuh, $150,; Jennica Kruse*, $26,; Ryan Ball*, $50,; Sandra Daulton Shaughnessy*, $50,

Hanging mugs, lower row: Amy Von Bargen*, $36; Delores Fortuna, $44; David Swenson*, $75; all at

Far left table (from left): Olivia Tani*, $89,; Johnee Law McMahan, $25,; Paola Evangelista*, one of set of five, $130,; Matthew Krousey*, $40,

Left table (from left): Wendy Eggerman*, $30; Nancy Green, $50; Kat Wheeler, $60; Joe Singewald*, $40; Jeff Oestreich*, $110; and SC Rolf, $48; all

* Minnesota artists