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Visual Arts

Exploring the Messy, Magical World of Ceramics

A former high school teacher, Kelly Clemons shares her journey to becoming a full-time artist.
By Diana Oates |
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Elizabeth Lavin

We are in the Warehouse District in Irving, peeking into the studio of installation artist Kelly Clemons. Clemons is covered from head to toe in a white slurry and trying to get as much work done as possible before picking up her 7-year-old daughter, Ellah, from school. Patty Griffin of NPR is on the radio, and her faithful dog, George, is lying at her feet.

This may seem routine for a sculptor who had worked in clay  for decades, but with just four years of porcelain artistry under her apron, Clemons admits the road to becoming a full-time artist has been a winding one. And it all started during college, when she used her own money to take ceramics classes from a little gray-haired lady who lived on the outskirts of town.

“She was patient and encouraging and sort of mystic, and we learned to throw on these archaic kick wheels, which is still my preferred mode of throwing,” recalls Clemons.

Upon graduation, Clemons got married and became a high school teacher. It was only when she had a child of her own that she was inspired to try her hands at something different.

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Photo by Justin Clemons

A diligent study of installation artists led her to Jessica Drenk’s work—the way Drenk manipulated porcelain lit a fire within the artist. She enrolled in classes at the Creative Arts Center of Dallas under Lynn Armstrong’s instruction, and the rest is history.

Her work is mostly residential, but if you happen to be near The Woodlands’ Westin Hotel, check out her installation, made of more than 200 ceramic pieces. Like all of her work, this one is custom.

She begins all projects with a meeting, taking in the surroundings where the piece will live. She then takes a couple of days to create renderings before the clients select their preference.

Each project begins with small batches of porcelain slip. The creation process can take weeks because of the standard of work she sets for herself. Once the elements come together, she adheres the fabrication, which allows the pieces to suspend from the wall, and then packs it for delivery. Installations usually range from $200 to $400 per piece.

Clemons has always installed her works with her husband Justin by her side. She admits his sense of calm brings success to this crucial part of the operation.

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Photo by Justin Clemons

Lately, it’s the culinary arts that has sparked Clemons’ creativity. “I am slightly obsessed with the documentary series ‘Chef’s Table,’” she says. “I don’t think I fall into the foodie category, but there is something very alluring about watching artists break the rules of food while still keeping the pure and unique qualities of that food.”

In fact, the resourceful artist sometimes takes notes during episodes and brainstorms how she can use what she has seen in the context of her current projects.

As for the medium itself, Clemons refers to porcelain as a woman. “She reminds me every day that she refuses to be conquered—ever evolving,” she says. “And to be honest, that’s what drew me to porcelain from the beginning, and it’s what will keep me coming back to her every day.”

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