5 Trans Ceramicists Share How Their Homes Inspire Their Art and Creativity

published Mar 31, 2024
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feature of 5 trans ceramicists
Credit: Photos: Azelia Mazur,Jo Cosme, Lindsey Polum, Micah Sweezie, Lucas Pincer-Flynn, Ella Arie, AJ Justice, Samson Neary; Design: Apartment Therapy

For ceramicist Daniel Clauson, clay is a perfect medium to create work that honors their transgender identity and the trans bodies they depict through ceramics.

“It’s a clay body — that’s what you call the kind of clay that you’re working with,” says Clauson. “And it is very flesh-like, but it’s boundless. You can create anything within it, and it just made the most sense to create bodies that push the limits of what we understand or normalize, and be able to talk about trans bodies and experiences through that.”

Thanks to clay’s malleability, artists like Clauson can produce one-of-a-kind pieces such as mugs, bowls, and candle holders, or even more ornate sculptures and large-scale vessels. The pottery process ultimately comes down to envisioning an item and bringing it to life through hand-building or wheel-throwing — then waiting to see how it takes shape after evolving under heat and fire. 

It’s also a practice that helps breed not only creativity, but also community, as I discovered after speaking with Clauson and four other trans ceramicists. Below, they shared details about their work, creative processes, and what brings them inspiration and joy in their own homes.

Credit: Azelia Mazur

Daniel Clauson (they/them)

The many definitions of “home” make their way into Clauson’s ceramic work, which includes sculptures featuring torsos and legs clustered together or winding around each other. The artist considers “home” in terms of physical space, but also chosen family and trans identity, focusing on questions like, “How do you feel at home within that body?” 

They’ve been “fairly nomadic” throughout their life, and settling down in one space means finally being able to collect objects that bring them comfort. Clauson says a lot of their home decor is thrifted, or gifted by friends. That includes an “absurd collection of mugs” from fellow artists like Dehmie Dehmlow, Brynne Moore, and Megan Billingham

Credit: Jo Cosme

“Community is such an essential human experience, and home is [also] such an essential human experience,” they say. “A lot of queer people don’t get the ease of having that just presented to them. They have to go out and make it and create it and cultivate those communities.”  

Other beloved interior items include a giant spider plant, plus art prints by Kemar Wynter, Tatiana Simonova, and AO Roberts. They see their home as a “little nest” in some ways, with cozy fabrics and sheer curtains adding to the energy of the space. Most mornings, though, you can find Clauson sitting at their breakfast bench, with a cup of coffee and a book in hand. 

Credit: Lindsey Polum

Micah Sweezie (they/them)

Growing up in a primarily white and cishet community, sculptor and ceramicist Micah Sweezie didn’t know a lot of folks like them. Ceramics has been a means of meeting other people with similar backgrounds and stories. “As I start posting more of my artwork that’s true to me, having other people reach out to me and be like, ‘I see you, I see this, I recognize this, I resonate with this’— oh my gosh, that’s just a wonderful experience,” says Sweezie. 

For a recent commission, Sweezie created a double set of coasters with imagery from popular rice paper brands, recognizable among many Southeast Asian communities. A queer person with Vietnamese roots reached out for the piece; Sweezie says that even though the two didn’t meet, the connection was significant to their work. “It just made me feel super comforted and also celebrated,” they say.

Credit: Micah Sweezie

At home, Sweezie has filled their space with wall art, handmade pottery objects, and Chu Đậu Ceramics — ancient Vietnamese pieces. They keep their own work around them, as well, including items they made in high school. “It’s really eye-opening to grow alongside these pieces and witness my own growth and change in opinion towards these works,” they say.  

Sweezie also refills their creative cup by spending time with their “little library collection,” which includes titles like The Red Earth: A Vietnamese Memoir of Life on a Colonial Rubber Plantation by Trần Tử Bình, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and art books such as Mountains in the Sea: The Vietnamese Miniature Landscape Art of Hòn Non Bộ. The piano brings the artist inspiration, too — whether they’re playing the instrument or singing, music contributes to their artistic process.  

Credit: Samson Neary

Samson Neary (they/them)

When they’re not creating their own art, Brooklyn ceramicist Samson Neary works as a kiln tech and teaches a “Queer for Clay” class that features the work of fellow queer ceramicists — like Grayson Perry and Julian Miholics

“One of the things I really like about being in a community of queer artists is [that] I have a lot of pieces in my home that are trades with other artists,” they say. “I’ll make them a piece and they’ll make me a piece.” Currently, they have a wall dedicated to ceramic fish, some of which they made themselves, and others that are from artists like Lilian Wu. Another recent exchange includes a large handmade stuffed animal by Gabby Kash.

Credit: Samson Neary

After a day of helping others work on their pieces, Neary spends time in their home studio. “It seems kind of silly to be teaching ceramics and ceramic tech-ing all day and then come home and do more ceramics to relax,” they admit. “But working on my own stuff, especially painting the ceramics — I find [it] really relaxing.” 

One wall of the studio is covered in chalkboard paint, so the artist can sketch new ideas. A bar above their workspace also serves as a place to dry block-printed shirts. Filling out the rest of the home, Neary’s partner often thrifts old Italian pottery, including Bitossi candle holders. The couple tries to avoid turning on the overhead lights — opting instead for string lights, table lamps, and candles. 

Credit: Lucas Pincer-Flynn

Lucas Pincer-Flynn (they/them)

As a kid in Brazil, Lucas Pincer-Flynn remembers making small dogs out of sugar with their grandfather for their brother’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians-themed birthday cake — learning how to deftly shape the contours of each tiny animal. “That’s still the same way that I make a lot of my small animals,” they say. In their work, animals, people, and nature come together in dream-like scenarios.

“I like to be open to getting to know myself over and over, and not judging myself for changing my mind about my perception of myself,” they say. “And [it’s the] same [for] my art; I like to feel like my pieces have different lives. Like, their lives in my head when they come as an inspiration, and then they transition as I’m making them with my hands, and then transition again through the firing process.”

Credit: Lucas Pincer-Flynn

In their bedroom, they keep a colorful wooden fish on the wall; it’s made from the wood of a cashew tree, they explain, which they remember climbing in their godmother’s home. Other reminders of Brazil include a basket woven by their grandfather, and corn husk dolls Pincer-Flynn made by hand that nod to traditional folk art. 

They also treasure items made by people they know, including a mug by Liz Navarro with a snail and a bright yellow sun, and a mini ceramic decorative egg by Christina Margarita Erives. Other works by artists like Murjoni Merriweather, Angelique Scott, and Jorge Jimenez fill their home, too. “All of our dinnerware — like plates or mugs — they’re either made by us or made by friends or artists that we support,” they say. “Which actually helps me do the dishes because it makes me sad if I just see a vessel that my friend made or my partner made and it’s just there.” 

Credit: Ella Arie

AJ Justice (they/them)

AJ Justice often depicts snakes, beetles, and other seemingly scary creatures in their work, recasting them as simply figments of our natural world. “I see myself more as a storyteller, and ceramics just seems to be the most conducive way for me to do the things that I’m imagining,” they say. When teaching others the process of making clay objects, they emphasize being OK with making mistakes. “As long as you allow yourself to do that, the clay will also forgive you,” adds Justice.

As a Taurus, the artist feels a kinship to the earth and a dedication to creating intentional objects. One of the first pieces they made was a double-handled bowl that’s now used as a vessel for burning written intentions. 

Credit: AJ Justice

“I light a candle, and then I fill out a four-inch piece of paper from this little notebook with intentions and affirmations,” they say. “I’ll go down the paper and read them out loud one by one. And it’s really important to say the intention or the affirmation with my whole heart, my whole breath — to say it like I mean it, and rip the paper out, and then burn it and drop it in the bowl.” 

For inspiration, they often turn to books like Working the Roots: Over 400 Years of Traditional African American Healing by Michele Elizabeth Lee, and The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. “I’ll look through [it] and see if any of those anecdotal stories inspire me, or allow me to build stories,” they say, referring to interviews with Black farmers from the South and West Coast in Lee’s book. Recently, the artist also made card holders as part of their practice of pulling tarot cards at home, especially from the Woodland Wardens deck.