Sculpting Unique Ceramic Pieces

Renee Parker in her Wailua studio. Coco Zickos photo

She started with making mud pies in her backyard at age 4, but ceramic sculptor Renee has come a long way since then, in many ways

Ceramic sculptor and teacher Renee Parker always knew she wanted to be an artist.

“So many people struggle in life trying to find what they love, but I found it right away,” she says.

She recalls making mud pies in her backyard when she was only 4, but it wasn’t until her early high school years that her passion truly sparked. Though she admits she was a poor student academically, Parker excelled in the arts.

“It really helped my self-esteem,” she says. “There was that one thing I could do that I got so much praise for.”

By the age of 15, she knew she wanted to work with ceramics for the rest of her life. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a major in ceramics, she moved to New York City intent on practicing her craft.

“I really felt like I needed to see more,” says Parker, an Indiana native, regarding her move to the big city. She got a job at a toy sculpture company that made products largely for Sesame Street. While it may sound glamorous, she says she didn’t really feel passionate about what she was doing.

“I was getting paid to do something I almost loved, but it’s not what I really loved to do,” she says.

In the mean time, Parker continued to do her own artwork at home.

Living in the city, however, became difficult for her, particularly having to cart her ceramics back and forth to venues where she had to pay to use a kiln. She eventually moved to Kaua‘i, where she had decided she wanted to live at age 11 when she first visited the island with her father.

Now Parker is equipped with her own kiln and studio in Wailua, where she is inspired by the nature that surrounds her.

“Nature is a great thing to imitate because it’s so amazingly perfect,” she says.

Parker prefers to create sculptures that often end up as vessels, such as teapots — objects that have the ability to hold something.

“It’s strange, because I think that a lot of people who do ceramics end up gravitating toward this vessel form,” she says. “I have gotten away from it before, but I really enjoy it.”

Another thing Parker really enjoys is passing her skills along to keiki. She teaches classes at her studio as well as at Kanuikapono Public Charter School, the Good Grief Club at Kapa‘a Elementary School for bereaved children, and the Boys & Girls Club.

“Children just absorb it so much better, and they’re so much fun to work with,” she says.

Based on her own experiences, she believes art is important for children.

“If I hadn’t had art classes through grade school, middle school and high school, I don’t know what would have happened,” she says. “If I hadn’t had that opportunity or had people saying, ‘You’re really good at that,’ then what would they have been saying I was really good at — anything? Because it didn’t really seem like I was really good at anything else.”

There are kids who share similar sentiments and learn in the same fashion.

“We need these kinds of people out there. You have to have artists because they bring creativity, invention — they’re your scientists, your inventors, they have the new ideas that push us into the future and a better place where we solve problems,” she says. “You can’t just follow the line and be a bunch of sheep. We have to think out of the box and question what’s going on in the world.”

By giving children some clay, they are indirectly learning how to use a different part of their brain. In addition, they develop skills like hand-eye coordination.

“Some kids in my classes don’t even know how to use a pair of scissors or how to draw a straight line or circle,” she says.

The rewards she reaps from teaching keiki are endless, as well as the benefits she achieves from creating her own pieces. Still, the best thing about it all is looking at her work after it’s completed.

“I don’t see anything else like this out there. I just think it’s so beautiful,” she says with a giggle.

For more information about classes, email Parker at clayrenee@gmail.com.

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