A Conversation with Renée Chase: Loving the Earth, Breaking the Rules

The Who, What & Why of the Artistic Process By Karen Akst Schecter

We sat down a few days ago with Renée Chase, an accomplished sculptor, renowned for her expertise in fashion and her sculptures of women’s dresses, including bridal gowns. Our questions and Renée’s answers follow:


Q. Why do you do what you do, or create what you create?
A. I have no choice. It is part of my DNA. Fashion and working with my hands is what I was born to do. I realized that about myself at the age of ten and I haven’t stopped since.


Q. How long have you’ve been working as an artist? Did you enjoy any other careers?
A. I was a fashion designer, fashion journalist and teacher before I started my work as a sculptor. After many years teaching fashion design and creating curriculum for the Fashion Design Program at Drexel University, I decided to try my hand at clay, which is something that I’d been longing for for many years. It’s been seven years since the transition and I’ve learned so much about the art form and about myself as an artist.


Q. How did you become interested in the medium/media you use?
A. I love the earth. I am a very earthbound person. There was always something about building sand castles and bread making and play dough that I was drawn to when my children were growing up. I just loved forming things with my hands and the idea of clay was very alluring. During my early years I was committed to fashion design and had my own business. There was no time for clay. When the time came, it took about five minutes and I new I had come to the next phase of my life. Clay became an immediate passion and my thoughts, time and imagination became consumed with the medium.


Q. Did you receive formal training or have an apprenticeship?
A. I took classes for a few years at local studios and then received a few grants to study with masters in Italy, Poland and the United States. My teachers were always surprised by my process since it breaks many rules that extended formal training provides. Most of the time my exuberance yields good results; sometimes knowing more of the rules and regulations would be helpful.


Q. Is there anything interesting or unusual in the creative process that you would like to share?
A. When I started working in clay, I always thought I had to have an end-goal. Now, I trust myself enough to allow the clay to become something that is just guided by my hands. I have a very harsh critical eye, so there is always a bit of a balance between happenstance and finality.


Q. Is there anything/anyone in your life that is your source of inspiration? Who, what, and why?
A. My Mom. She has been cheering me on since I was a little girl. She is, at the age of 90, still my greatest fan.


Q. Please tell us about your favorite piece of art you’ve created.
A. I just sold my favorite piece of art. It was so difficult letting it go that the customer asked if I really wanted to sell it! She promised that it would have a good home and that she would take good care of it. She even sent me a photo of it in her home. It sounds so silly, but I get attached. This piece is a saggar fired piece, which means that I put it into a container that has a variety of chemicals and findings in it and close it up and let it burn. The smoke and heat reacts with the chemicals to produce unusual and unplanned marks on the surface. Those pieces that are most meaningful to me are those that I have little control over; rather, the process serendipitously produces art forms. It is glorious!


Q. Please tell us about the funniest or most unusual experience you have had as an artist.
A. People often misunderstand the title of my company, CLoth2Clay. They think I am making clothing out of clay. Recently, I was at a show and I overheard a man ask his wife if she would like to wear one of my “dresses.”
Q. Who are your favorite artists or artisans?
A. I really admire the work of David Roberts, who literally paints with smoke. Then there are the fashion designers like Thierry Mugler and Jean-Paul Gaultier who have so much to say about form. The combination of form and surface is what drives me.


Q. Please feel free to share any other information that you believe our customers will be interested in learning about you.
A. I have always created figures that are one quarter scale of the human form. I was recently asked if I could do full scale figures. I immediately answered yes, not knowing how I would even begin. So that is my latest pursuit. I’ve attached a few images of my first attempts.



Learn more about Renée and browse her creations here.

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By Karen Akst Schecter

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