Mavens. Experts. Connoisseurs. Laura Brzozowski and Lilli Steinlicht qualify as all three when it comes to clay. With over 40 years of experience in clay-making between the two of them, these two local artists are opening an incredible new studio-gallery in downtown Taos.
Nestled in the perfect spot under the blue staircase next to Muerte Tattoo and across from Eske’s Brewpub, Clay Mavens serves as both a personal work space and a public ceramics shop for Laura and Lilli. Having an open studio-gallery space allows the artists to directly meet people interested in their work. They prefer building relationships with community members and potential buyers over the more detached process of selling their work through others’ galleries.
Lilli proposed the joint business venture to Laura two months ago, while they were in between jobs in Taos, and they are taking the leap this week. Their focus is on getting to know the community more. They are particularly excited about uniting businesses in Taos, for both locals and tourists.
Lilli got into clay with her first piece, a giraffe, at the early age of 9 years old, and her practice grew at the ceramics program in her local high school in Bend, Oregon. She solidified her personal style with coiling while studying with Jim Romberg at South Oregon University.
She works largely in abstract sculptural pieces. She has three textures she works with: scaly, coils exposed, and “smooth-ish.” In many cases, she keeps edges rough “to catch the ash and emphasize the variations” in the clay. Lilli’s process is organic, rarely starting with a concrete idea of the finished piece, but rather starting “to follow the feeling of where the clay wants to go.” Her process is evident in the product. Some of her pieces look like underwater sea creatures; others have no nameable shape; all evoke the urge to touch, to handle, to hold.
Laura hails from Reading, Pennsylvania, where she dabbled in clay. However, her ceramics practice really took off during her studies with Chris Staley and Liz Quackenbush at Penn State University.
She starts with realistic images in mind, and she works with precision to realize those in clay. In the gallery, there are bowls and plates impressed with a bison vacuuming, a rhino doing laundry, a bird riding a bicycle, an elephant standing on a TV. The images are as whimsical as they are exact. These, along with mugs, soap bottles, and the like, share both practical purpose and metaphorical imagery.
Laura’s cowgirls, which evolved from modeling clay, represent the strong women in Taos. Of her images, she says they are “things that come to me and stay with me.”
These Clay Mavens have an application in to the Town of Taos to install a working kiln just outside their studio-gallery space for their use. The space is too small to offer classes or to host other ceramicists, but they will be creating and sell their work in the space, with the goal of adding online sales. While they are working on their website, they have a Facebook page at facebook.com/claymavens.
There is a clay cowgirl standing in their shop, one hand in her pocket, the other on her hip, eyes closed, relaxed. She strikes me as a calm assertion of her own skill, like Clay Mavens, these amazing female artists claiming their space in downtown Taos.