I use polymer clay and play dough to sculpt paintings which reflect on gender, motherhood, environmentalism, and trauma.

Clay squishes and cracks as I work it into paintings of daily life. The cracks that I fill are reminiscent of the Japanese art of Kintsugi. These scars speak to healing what’s broken while embracing imperfections. My thighs squish like wobbly clay. My living room overflows like the clay pushing just outside its precise borders. The tactility of clay is therapy as I mush it in my hands, healing my past. I work with precision, using a blade and a sewing pin to position tiny bits of clay, yet the clay rebels, as do my students, as does my daughter, as do I. Allowing that rebellion, embracing it rather than fighting it, feels uneasy against the pressure to hold it all together, but grace brings ease.

Walking as in a dérive with a small child as my companion offers abundant moments captured as reference photos. Color sticks in my memory. The saturation is slightly exaggerated, while the precision of light and shadow highlights the everyday, the scenes we rush past, the colors and compositions we take for granted. My work encourages play, slowing down, closely looking, and taking time to squeeze clay in your hands and notice the particular grays of the sidewalk and road, the play of light on water, or how the shape of that building relates to the sky. My imagery is taken from my life, where a girl plays the lead. She is my daughter and she is me as I rewrite history.

Much of my work has focused on water. During grad school a decade ago, I collected rain water to freeze and melt, expressing emotions over the loss of glaciers and concern over this dwindling blue gold. Now, water’s meaning expands, as I watch my daughter go under the water, kick down, and come back up, gasping and laughing. I feel waves of joy seeing her in these moments of fun, peace, and calm, but waves of anger and grief over my own childhood. Water has memory (or so Olaf tells us)… and we’re made up of 60% water. So what does the body remember?

The materials I use are intentional and meaningful. Play-Doh began as a wallpaper cleaner, a domestic tool for every housewife to remove chimney soot from the walls. As homes evolved, Play-Doh evolved into a play-thing for children. Polymer clay is a craft material, developed for sculpting dolls and miniatures and now often used for jewelry outside of the “fine art” world. By elevating these “low-brow” child’s materials into a conceptual reference for the work of mothers, I’m advocating for the importance and visibility of mothers and children, and the act of mothering. I see a connection between the way women, especially mothers, are treated by a society and the way the planet, Mother Earth, is treated. 

For statements about each series, visit the series page.