She makes magical menorahs (and more)

A trademark handcrafted sculptural menorah by Sue Treuman

Trademark handcrafted ceramic menorah by North Carolina artist Sue Treuman

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.”

Single woman menorah

Some of her menorahs focus on one figure

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.”


Sue's work often depicts family, community, and connections

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.”

A handcrafted sculptural menorah

Menorahs are used during Hanukkah, which this year starts Dec. 12

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.”


Sue shapes the stoneware clay with her hands and a potters' wheel

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.

Godess pot

A day with friends inspired 'Goddess pots,' Sue's most recent creation

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.

Goddess pot

Goddess pots celebrate womanhood

“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.”


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10 Responses to “She makes magical menorahs (and more)”

  1. karel Says:

    Amazing story. What kept my attention was the kind of déja-vue-phenomenon that the artist had told of. That creates a background for the meaning of the word ‘menorah’. I thought that originally it was the name of an 8+1 branched candalabre that was kept from the Jeruzalem-temple at a war. And that this has given rise to a celebration (Hanukkah)
    This makes me think that the shape of this candelabre was strict defined .
    The work of the artist shown in the pictures brings me to the assumption that the notion she has about the 8+1 shape is not very strict.
    OK, she’s an artist who likes to create beautiful objects in clay. But can this be linked to the Jewish faith. Is a liberal notion about menorah accepted ?

  2. didaniel Says:

    Speaking in Jewish terms here, I’d liken it to the Orthodox Jews vs. the Reform Jews, which have a more liberal and open interpretation of things. It’s all Jewish, at least according to those involved. And considering that Sue’s menorahs have been selling strong for decades, I’m guessing many people agree. Not that you need to be Jewish to appreciate them, but I’ll bet most of her customers are.


    We have been trying to contact Sue Treuman to place orders for her menorahs and other items to sell in our gift shop at Congregation Beth Elohim in Charleston,SC.

    I went to her home this past June and found it for sale and it looked abandoned. Called the realtor and spoke to a neighbor but they were no help for making a contact.

    Any information that you can give me, would be most appreciated.

    Doris Meyers, Merchandise Manager

    • didaniel Says:

      Sorry, I can’t help you. It’s been three years since I wrote the article and I haven’t had any contact with her since. It’s a pity, though, that it sounds like perhaps she is having some issues. good luck!

  4. Barbara Watkins Says:

    I have a gallery in Great Barrington, MA, & have also been trying to contact her. If I am successful, I’ll leave a post at this site!


    • didaniel Says:

      I’ve made a few calls and discovered that, sadly, Sue’s husband passed away unexpectedly within the past year or two. I was told that she went to live with her daughter somewhere in the south, Kentucky or Tennessee perhaps, and that she was quite, understandably, shaken. I hope Sue returns to her art because she really touches people. That’s all I know, and don’t have any contact information or her daughter’s name. Maybe we’ll hear from Sue here some day.

    • Suzanne (Herbst) Rovner Says:

      did you find anything about Sue?
      Hoping to find her. We are a group who went to junior high school with her and are really trying to find her!

      Suzanne (Herbst) Rovner

  5. Gail Cleare Says:

    Sue lives in Louisville, KY now.

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