I recently wrote the piece below, about the fabulous ceramic sculptor Sue Treuman, for my regular artisan column in the News & Observer. Her work is sold nationwide and menorah prices range from around $95 to $250. Google her name and you’ll find stores that sell it. It’s amazing! Here’s the article:
The aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted ceramic sculptor and musician Sue Treuman and her husband, Bill, to look for a more low-key place to live. She grew up in New York, and had spent most of her adult life not far away, but moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 2007.
Despite the emotional and economic trauma of 9/11, Treuman said it was a dream a few months earlier that affected her most.
“It was the end of the world, and everyone was running around trying to get what they could get, just running around like crazy,” she recalled. “I walked through the crowd and decided I didn’t want to do that. I walk through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and there are poets and singers singing their songs. I see everyone expressing themselves. It’s all about creating one’s life and doing what one needs to do. It changed my life.”
While she had been making art for decades, Treuman, 62, became more focused and more appreciative of her creative community. When she and Bill decided to move, that was key.
“Family, community, connections, generations; that’s what’s important to me,” she said. They spent two years in Northampton, Mass., but Bill wanted to move south.
Then she saw Weaver Street Market, the cooperative grocery store and gathering spot in Carrboro, near the boundary of Chapel Hill. “I said, ‘OK, I can live here.’ It speaks of community, and that’s what my work is about.”
Indeed, community and family are themes that run through Treuman’s work, especially in the pieces for which she is national recognized: menorahs, the candelabrums used during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Each is a masterpiece of ceramic sculpture, depicting one to nine figures in clay often in motion, perhaps dancing, playing music or praying.
She got the idea about 30 years ago, and over the years, they have become more sculptural, textured and detailed, she said.
“I celebrate the culture of being Jewish, and Hanukkah is one of my favorite Jewish holidays, because you sing,” said Treuman, who composes music, plays the guitar and sings.
“It’s the story of the miracle of light, that the oil that was supposed to burn for one day burned for eight days.”
In her 20s, while working out of a co-op art studio in the Bronx, Treuman’s pottery was for the most part functional. But as her work evolved, she moved more into sculptural pieces, especially the human form, and the menorahs were the perfect stage.
“These are functional, sculptural, and spiritual, synthesized in a ritual form,” she said. “There’s something about making an object of ritual use that people will touch and use. For me personally, I need my stuff to be touched.”
Treuman works on them year-round, in parts, storing limbs in different boxes. “My husband calls them the body snatchers,” she said with a laugh. She shapes the stoneware clay with her hands and a potters’ wheel, and each menorah has textures pressed into it, not carved.
“I do series, and though some might look the same, they’re all different. They’re fired twice, glazed, and then I enhance them. The faces have to be worked on to bring out detail, and I’ll use different lusters and acrylic colors.”
She sells the menorahs in galleries around the country, and they will be among the work on display at her home studio during Orange County Open Studios in the first two weekends of November.
More recently, the sculptural series Treuman has been concentrating on is her “goddess pots,” vessels decorated with a fantastical woman’s face or torso.
“They were conceived after spending a day egg-painting with a group of women,” she said. “For some reason, being with a group of women always gets my creative juices flowing. I woke up in the middle of the night and said, ‘My next project will be goddess pots,’ and I drew everything out.
“I wanted it to be women vessels, women holding space, and it turned into open vessels that became women, and then a venue for making different faces, hair, textures. Some are very, very big. I do make some smaller ones, but I usually sell them to private collectors.”
Since moving to the area, Treuman has gathered together a new group of women.
“I literally found one woman weaving in her front garden. I’ve never been so bold,” she said. “We dance and sing and eat and laugh. We have fun. The group is dedicated to the spirit of being a woman and what wonderful things women can do and be.”