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If one believes in the relationship between medium and message, Brooklyn ceramicist and designer Eny Lee Parker’s affinity for employing clay speaks volumes about a belief in the malleability of creativity and an optimism inherent with any beginning. “When I found clay, something just clicked,” says Parker, “When I began, I was only okay at it…but I quickly improved. Now it’s so therapeutic, and if I have time to work with clay it feels like a break from work.”
The designer’s collaboration with the earthen raw material began back in 2016 during a residency through the Savannah College of Art and Design – first as curiosity, then quickly evolving into an obsession that would soon define her own unique career path – the embodiment of the belief: “Sometimes going all in isn’t a choice, it’s an obsession.”
The young designer would quickly go onto gain the attention of the design media by conjuring a coterie of ceramic furniture and objects residing somewhere between the distant realms of late Italian architect Paolo Soleri’s utopian ecological architecture and the imaginary, pliable landscape of a Gumby animation – lamps with coral-like protrusions crowned with globe lights, glass top tables with hand thrown terra cotta bases, a series inspired by cellular drawings throughout nineteenth century – all works inscribed by the subtle marks of the designer’s fingerprints across their surface.
“I come from an interior design background, and usually you’re dealing with a pretty linear space,” she says, “Floor meets wall, wall meets ceiling, ceiling meets wall again, and wall circles back to floor. It’s a box. I like to think I make organic and curvy pieces so our bodies can relate to something within that space.”
Parker’s affinity for organic shapes is further amplified by a proclivity for finishing pieces with an earthen, neutral palette – the combination seemingly challenging the notion furniture must be designed in strict accordance to the necessities of fabrication. Instead, the designer’s work seems guided by the same intuitive process guiding the architecture of termites or the building of sandcastles, resulting in forms that feel naturally shaped rather than forcefully assembled.
Today, Parker admits her comfort with clay has brought her to a crossroads, with the bothersome itch of stagnation driving her toward new mediums and collaborations. “I’ve started messing around with glass and plaster. And because I don’t know much about these materials yet, I feel like I’ve been experimenting more…nothing in final form, but allowing myself the opportunity to see how they can be manipulated.”
Though Parker is committed to designing to meet her own level of quality and satisfaction, the desire is always tempered by a sense of responsibility as a business with employees. “I think one of my strongest suits as a young artist and designer is that I’m not married to or stubborn about my work,” says Parker, delineating the desires of a creative in relation to the necessities of operating a business.
Desiring new challenges, Parker has also recently ventured to collaborate with print designer Spencer Malinski to design rugs, a partnership eased by their relationship as both best friends and roommates. “During quarantine we were losing our minds a little – we could only cook so much. [Spencer] is an incredibly talented print designer in the fashion industry, and I wanted to bring her over to the furniture/interior world, so we started this rug project! I’m lucky to have really talented people around me, so these collaborations can happen naturally.”
Speaking of quarantine, Parker shares how she strove to find productive outlets during quarantine, her creative circles and Clay Play — the best use of oven-baked clay possibly ever in an episode of DMTV Milkshake:
Finally, Parker has found a collaborator even closer to home: her own mother. The pair worked together over the span of the pandemic to design a collection of ceramic earrings together, a means for daughter to give her mother an opportunity to follow her own passions. “After working so hard non-stop for years to raise me, my mom felt a little lost, so I brought my mom into the business,” shares Parker, “She worked in the Fashion District in Los Angeles, which if you are familiar, is known for fast fashion. I wanted to introduce her to the slow movement – a more creative fulfilling side of making a product.”
The resulting Artist Line collection of interlocking ceramic rings still exhibit the tactile hallmarks of their maker, while perhaps also silently signifying the profound connection between mother and daughter. “My mom and I immigrated to the United States when I was 13. She worked multiple jobs to raise me, paid taxes and put me through college without any loans. So now I’m here, running a business, contributing to the local economy of New York, being an adult and what not. So the Artist Line has become an outlet for her.”
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Even with all these projects perpetually ebbing and flowing, and as a personality who identifies as a person “making a mess for a living and then cleaning it up,” Parker seems committed to continue to go all in both as a creative and as an individual. “I know I have a lot of growing to do, so if I’m not fully satisfied with a piece, it’s okay. It’s a long journey, and everybody has different views and tastes,” notes Parker.
“Mine changes all the time, and I learned early on to embrace that.”