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Lily Haas' Muse is Nature 

click to enlarge "Spore Queen" by Lily Haas.

Courtesy of the artist

"Spore Queen" by Lily Haas.

"I've been making art since as far back as I can remember," says sculptress Lily Haas. "I still remember my ... ceramics class in second grade." From the beginning, she says she has used art feel grounded. Her relationship with clay offered her a vehicle for self-investigation and expression, and a place where she felt more accepted and at ease than elsewhere. "Art and sculpture have been the language I used before I found the words, skills and confidence to be myself out in the world." She believes what she calls her "fairly introverted and neurodivergent" personality are strengths in art-making, but not always helpful in navigating the world. 

"I grew up in Southern Humboldt, near Briceland on a 40-acre mixed tan oak forest playground," Haas says, and she's kept close to her roots, artistically and otherwise. She has shared her work at a variety of North Coast events, including the Humboldt Bay Mycological Society's Mushroom Faire, Mendocino Botanical Garden's Art in the Gardens and this year's North Coast Open Studios. A selection of her smaller work is also on display at the Arts at Heart gallery in Shelter Cove. In 2022, she bought Phoenix Ceramic and Fire Supply, located in Arcata's Creamery District, adding another dimension to her connection with Humboldt and its ceramics community.

Haas says she's drawn to ceramics "because it's so tactile and there's so much you can do with three dimensional forms." The techniques and materials Haas uses keep evolving but her subject matter has stayed consistent over the years. She's inspired by nature, especially floral and fungal forms, which are her "absolute favorite places to get lost."

Rather than throwing on a potter's wheel, she prefers hand-building techniques, shaping most of her pieces from slabs, then using her fingertips and a variety of texturing tools to achieve different surfaces. The tools vary from traditional ones to random objects "that look like they'd be fun to poke clay with." A favorite is an auto detailing brush that, in Haas' hands, mimics the texture of moss. As for color, she tends to jump around with different finishing techniques, including layered glazes, underglazes and acrylic paints, all applied by hand.

Sometimes she heads to the studio with a general idea of what she wants to make, other times she literally opens the heavy plastic bag of clay and lets her hands lead. She says her creativity is not her own, but rather is energy that flows through her when she's open, creates the right circumstances, and provides the right materials.

Haas first studied art at University of San Francisco but transferred to then Humboldt State University. Because she never thought she could create a livelihood doing ceramics, she double majored in graphic design, and now wishes she'd sought out artists who were able to sustain themselves by their art making as role models. "What I learned over time," Haas says, "is that I love the craft enough to keep finding ways to create, figuring out the business skills along the way."

The ceramic supply shop is one way she's found to support her creative life. She is deeply grateful to Noel Munn, the former owner of Phoenix, who was willing to facilitate the financing as long as she could find an artist like Haas who was both invested in the ceramics community and interested in buying the business. "It was a life-changing opportunity for me," Haas says.

Since buying Phoenix, Haas has had less time and energy for her creative practice, but "being an artist doesn't mean I'm always making art." Her creative energy is also channeled into building a social media platform or redesigning the studio's retail space. Still, this year she's happily found more hours to work with clay. She believes her time spent doing art in the studio is restorative and a gift, like a generous friend.

Haas has found the Humboldt ceramics community to be deeply supportive as well. "It feels like we're in this together, the mission of keeping more dollars local, creating local jobs and having sweet local shops offering a shopping experience that's more than just a monetary transaction." She also enjoys the opportunity to be a role model for other women who question their ability to run a business. 

And although there are challenges, like the occasionally overstimulating workload and the extra costs involved in running a small business in a remote area, she wouldn't trade the experience. 

Nor would she trade her surroundings. Haas feels deeply connected to the natural beauty in Humboldt County, which she acknowledges is not her ancestral land. "I try to remember that there's no such thing as spending time 'in' nature, because I am a part of nature and inseparable from it. Nature, for me, is both kin and muse." 

Her ultimate goal as an artist is to "mirror the joy, wonder and aliveness" she finds in the natural world. She believes that what we love as humans, we respect and protect. "The more often humans are reminded to fall back in love with nature, all of life benefits."

Louisa Rogers (she/her) is a writer, painter and paddleboarder who lives in Eureka and Guanajuato, Mexico.

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