There were cups enough for a mad hatter's fantasy at the Ninth Annual Creative Clay Cup Exhibition last week at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

There was a scale-model stereo radio cup with a removable lid, a brightly painted balloon cup replete with hanging gondola, a cup that carried its own ceramic straw; and one risque' pink, sculptural cup that one observer described as "a lady's cup--a 'C' cup, I'd say."

Cups are among the first objects pottery students learn to shape. Elaborating on that shape in a competition is "a release from some of the structure, and a chance to try out a very different means of expression," a judge said.

The only requirement for the contest was that the entries hold water and be shaped so someone could drink from them. An elaborate saxophone cup qualified because the bowl of its horn is a receptacle for water, and so did a bowl-shaped Noah's Ark filled with animals. But the competition attracted more unusual shapes, such as the lucky dice cup, (throw a snake eye and you can drink out of the top of the die), the black inkwell cup equipped with its own pen, and the haunting coffee mug gripped by a plaster skeleton's hand.

Awards went to Annie Oakley's work of stick figures climbing a ladder, each of them holding a balloon cup; Lee Gregory's "Boston Tea Cup," which features a ceramic tea bag stamped with the Union Jack, floating in a cup filled with tea; John McIntyre's wide-mouthed frog cup; and Beth Grove's round hanging cup supported by woven strands of fiber.

Gregory, a sophomore at Walter Johnson, said he enrolled in the clay course by accident, when the typing class he wanted was filled. He has since come to enjoy the class, he said, and came up with the Boston Tea Cup after rejecting a three-men-in-a-bathtub motif. The clay class is a pleasure because he can produce something and then show it off, he said.

Judges for this year's contest included Emil Hrebenach, secondary art coordinator for the county; Kevin Hluch of the Montgomery College Ceramics Department, and Lee Eagle of Eagle Ceramics, which sells potters' equipment.

The exhibit, open to all public school art students in the county, was organized by the head of Walter Johnson's art department, Bonnie Collier. She said that each year exhibit entries have gotten more "bizarre."

But she said she never rejects entries, "unless they're obscene of course, and so far we haven't had to reject anything like that. This is a chance to challenge the imagination and free spirit, not to sell anything or discourage anyone from experimenting.