Artist Profile: Laurie Pollpeter Eskenazi

“My influences have always been personal,” says ceramic artist Laurie Pollpeter Eskenazi. “Since I was young, women’s traditional handcrafted work has intrigued me. My grandmother’s house was filled with doilies, needlework and hand tatted lace, and each piece came with a memory attached. In her era, women made ‘crazy’ quilts from small scraps of fabric snipped from wedding dresses to work shirts, with each scrap calling forth a story. Her home was like that—packed with history. Remembrance plays a big role in my work—it’s a way to pay tribute to earlier times.”

Eskenazi’s artistic path was set when, as a freshman in high school, she signed up for a clay class and it was love at first touch. She’s been doing it ever since. While earning a BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she explored many mediums and heightened her understanding of design, but the pliant, tactile qualities of clay always drew her back.

An unbroken thread through the ages connects generations of women who channeled their creativity into fabric pieces used in daily life, she explains. Many of these designs and patterns arose out of longing for cultural connections left behind as families immigrated to shape new lives in unfamiliar places. Drawing inspiration from her travels and her vast collection of vintage garments, linens, lace, buttons and embroidery, Eskenazi’s ceramics extend those traditions into new territory through cascades of color and her innovative use of materials.

“I work very spontaneously, grabbing what’s at hand,” she says. “Nothing ever stays as thrown. Shapes change. I carve into them, roll or press in designs to create blocks of pattern and texture, and continuously add coils, buttons and detail as the form evolves.”

Customers comment on their strong emotional response to her art: “When I tell them my inspiration comes from my grandmother’s house, they often say ‘That’s it! It’s like a big warm hug!’ ”

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