Creatures in Clay
Ceramist captures wildlife with an eye for animals
By Jessica Laskey
A rodent with a remote control. A ring-tailed lemur rowing a boat. A chameleon climbing a cake. These whimsical beasties aren’t from a fairytale, but rather from the wildly talented mind of ceramist Julie Clements.
Clements’ ability to render animals in such exquisite detail is no accident. The Georgia native was exposed to art early on by her grandmother who did china painting—Clements was fascinated by the detail—and she went on to study art while an undergrad at Emory University, followed by a yearlong internship at the renowned Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta. She even started a master’s degree in ceramics at the University of Georgia.
But Julie Clements also brings another unique perspective to her artwork that makes her pieces come alive. She’s worked with more than 250 species of animals in her 15 years as a veterinary technician in zoo and small animal medicine.
“I have an intense interest in animals in all their unique forms,” says Clements, who decided after her first year in grad school that she wasn’t prepared for its rigors—and instead found a job through a friend as a dog mushing guide on a glacier in Skagway, Alaska.
“It was a pivotal decision,” Clements says. “Moving out of the south and meeting different people was really eye-opening.”
But the biggest eye-opener were the monthly visits from the veterinarian who came to care for the sled dogs. Clements was so fascinated by his work that she asked to assist him. That turned into a job as his office assistant and eventually a part-time job as a vet tech at an emergency clinic in Fairbanks. During that time, Julie Clements also worked as a wildlife guide at a backcountry lodge at Lake Minchumina, where she met a fellow guide who became her husband. They married at Denali National Park.
While Clements continued to dabble with clay, her new career was taking off. When she and her husband moved to Monterey so he could attend grad school, Clements earned her vet tech license and volunteered at the SPCA Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and Monterey Bay Aquarium—she was determined to “get my hands on every species.”
When the couple moved to the Bay Area, Clements landed a job as an internal medicine nurse at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, which provides specialty care to animals at the San Francisco Zoo. Clements was so in her element that when a temporary job at the zoo came up, she gave up her supervisory position and took a chance—which turned into a six-year veterinary career at the zoo, where she treated thousands of animals.
“It was exciting but exhausting,” Clements says. The couple eventually decided they needed a simpler life, so they sought the affordability and livability of Sacramento.
After settling in Hollywood Park, Clements returned to art full time, creating stunningly detailed exotic animal ceramics out of her home studio, Clay Pigeon Ceramics. (She also filled in as a relief vet tech at the Sacramento Zoo for two and a half years.) Once she’d built up her portfolio, website and connections, Clements really began to hit her stride, showing in galleries like Elliott Fouts Gallery on P Street, Pence Gallery in Davis, Epperson Gallery of Ceramic Arts in Crockett and Studio Seven Arts in Pleasanton.
Then the pandemic forced the cancellation of many shows Clements had counted on for 2020. “This was going to be my year!” Clements says, then laughs. “In hindsight, I hope this will all be funny. I’ll have thousands of postcards from shows that didn’t open. It will be the year that never happened.
“But it’s all about how you define yourself as a successful artist. It can be hard to motivate yourself when you don’t know the outcome, but if you want to make this career sustainable, you have to find balance. I’m using this period to figure out the way forward and get even better at my craft. COVID might just be the kick in the pants I needed.”
Clements’ current and upcoming shows include “Into the Woods,” which runs through Nov. 1 at Epperson Gallery, and an open studio event in Sacramento on Oct. 24–25. Her work can also be found at Elliot Fouts Gallery. For more information, visit claypigeonceramics.com.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.