Our January Artist Spotlight is with Eileen O’Donnell. Eileen is a ceramic sculptor, teacher, and filmmaker. In her work, she searches for connections to a common human experience, and draws upon ancient works of art, literature, and film to to create her sculptures. She earned a B.A in English Literature from Saint Joseph’s University, and a B.F.A. in Three Dimensional Fine Art from Moore College of Art and Design. She has shown her sculptures in exhibitions throughout the U.S., and has been awarded grants from Creative Capital, and the Louisiana ArtWorks. She loves teaching at Baltimore Clayworks, where she also makes her work in the upstairs Mezzanine Artists Studios. In 2019, after years of being a cinematographer and production designer, she finally got to direct her first short film.
Question #1: What is your earliest memory of clay?
This might come from my Catholic upbringing. Creating my thoughts out of clay from the earth is the closest I can get to being a god.
Question #2: Who inspires you and who do you hope to inspire?
Inspiration is a call to action, transformation. I am constantly inspired by the world and its mystery, the people and animals in my life, the structures of nature that surround me and that I am a part of. To feel surprised, to learn something new, to be hurt, or confused- all of these experiences bombard me with opportunities to respond.
I hope to inspire the people in my life, my students, and my audience, to search for what being a human means to them. Sometimes this comes out in my own work in ways that people find disturbing. But my work is the product of my own explorations, and is true to my experience. For me, the best art, the “most beautiful” resonates with a truth about human experience that connects us through time, place, and culture.
Question #3: What is your fondest or funniest memory associated with clay?
One summer I interned at a production pottery where, among other duties, it was my job to wedge and pug the raw clay that they received from the land of a local farmer. The sun was beating down on me as loaded up the clay, and I thought it would be a smart idea to wipe some of the dark brown clay on my nose and cheeks to stave off a sunburn. My boss came out later and said “You know there’s goose poop in there, right?”
Question #4: What is something about yourself or your artwork that other people may not know?
I make independent films with my husband, Miceal O’Donnell. Mostly I work as the cinematographer and production designer, but this year, I directed my first short film. “Good for Goodness Sake” stars Aaron Henkin (from NPR’s Out of the Blocks) Vera Takemoto, and Ada Smith. It’s a morality tale about a young girl who takes revenge on her cousin at Christmas. It played at the Charm City Fringe Festival’s rough cuts screening at the Creative Alliance in September.
Question #5: As a teacher and member of our Mezzanine program, what about working at Clayworks have you enjoyed most?
It’s hard to say just one thing. Clayworks has become my creative home. I truly learn something new every day I am there, and am so grateful for the generosity of people who stop to answer me when I ask “What are you working on?” The community at Clayworks shares a love of creating, and is therefore kind, ebullient, and delights in sharing their knowledge about clay. I can’t think of a more inspiring place to be.