Lisa Clague, Bakersville, North Carolina

Clague at work in her studio.

Clague at work in her studio.

I don’t believe I had an initial or conscious reason to pursue ceramic sculpture as a profession; it just evolved through trying different mediums. My father was a metal sculptor and my mother is a potter. I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t want to compete with them, so I began in illustration. Eventually I realized I needed to express myself through more expressive materials. I transferred to the Cleveland Institute of Art and tried painting, textiles, jewelry, and finally took my first clay class during my third year. Functional work was popular when I started out in clay. My work quickly transformed from pots to sculpture and in the late ’80s I began mixing metal and clay, apparently unable to avoid my parents’ influence.


Convoluted Dream (detail), 88 in. (224 cm) in height, clay, metal, horns, 2002.

I continued on to graduate school and studied with Viola Frey in California. I took her advice to take several years after school to work solely on my work without the influence of instructors and the pressure of showing or selling. Viola hired me as the studio technician at California College of Arts and Crafts so I could support myself. I’d go to work early to return to my studio by afternoon to concentrate on my work. After three years, I felt I had developed the work into my own. Created from my inner world of dreams, I finally felt my masked hybrid creatures were ready to go out into the world. Consequently, by word of mouth, I began showing at the Udinotti Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, and had my first New York show at the John Elder Gallery. At this point, I quit my day job and was able to experience living my life as a sculptor.

I market my work primarily through galleries. The work is bought usually by investors or serious collectors. Because my work deals with personal inner journeys, the edginess narrows the type of buyer who appreciates the work enough to live with it. I’ve witnessed many heated discussions between couples about having a piece of mine in their home. Although I wouldn’t change my work, I can see how softening the edges could help my sales.
I teach workshops across the country and out of my studio, as well as a few semesters here and there at Appalachian State University. This has helped to fill in financially as well as give me the opportunity to travel more. Recently, I feel we are spoon feeding “ceramic technique” and personal style through how-to books and workshops. Painters and sculptors do not reveal themselves in this way. I feel there’s a need for more solitude and trusting one’s own inner spirit and intuition to develop work. Therefore, I plan on teaching less. Reaching midlife, I’m excited about the possibility of future changes in my own work, which will result in an exciting period ahead.


This article appeared in the January 2010 issue of Ceramics Monthly.
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Inner World, 42 in. (107 cm) in height, clay, metal, 2006.

Inner World, 42 in. (107 cm) in height, clay, metal, 2006.

What I enjoy most about being a sculptor is experimenting with the possibility of materials. In the late ’80s and early ’90s I realized there were no rules. This revelation gave me freedom to play. Experimenting with materials still excites me, to open the kiln to see if something worked out-if not, figuring out what to do to make it work. Beginning with a vision and finding the solution is the thrilling part. I’m inspired by my dreams, delightful fancies or feverish horrors. Nature, ancient art, antique toys, old dolls that are beyond repair, all feed my imagination.
One piece of advice I’d give to young artists is to be safe with your materials. I know I worked with materials in ways that I later found out to be hazardous. Take precautions to wear a respirator, gloves, etc. After working in clay for 30 some years, it’s all in your body somewhere. Keep a clean studio, free of dust. Lift heavy things correctly. After all these years, I finally realize how nice it is to have an assistant when you can!

To quote one of my favorite artists, William Daley: “Being an artist is finding out who you are and why you’re special and then learning how to really use your imagination or vision, how to give it some kind of form. You develop a visual language that’s personal. You learn to make materials behave in ways that communicate your spirit and you learn to solve problems and take chances. You have to learn how to present things with clarity and passion and verve and you must do these things all at once. That is the confounding part.”

Where to See More

John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis, California

Udinotti Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona

Blue Spiral 1, Asheville, North Carolina



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