You’ll never feel alone on a visit to sculptor Almut Ellinghaus’ garden. Working with stoneware clay fired in a gas kiln, Ellinghaus creates sculpted figures of all shapes and sizes, with a variety of constantly changing expressions.
Clay did not come initially to the German-born artist, who comes from a theatre background, studying puppetry in Stuttgart as part of the first four-year puppetry degree in the Western world. It was there she met Felix Mirbt, a German-Canadian puppeteer who she followed to Quebec, where she has lived for over 30 years.
After Mirbt’s death in 2002, she began exploring sculpture for the garden. Her first creations were done with cement, but after a back injury, turned to just clay. She now lives and works alongside her husband Stanley Lake, whom she collaborates with often in clay, music, and organizing festivals. They both work out of Ruiter Brook Pottery, Lake’s pottery studio.
While her final product may not be malleable, Ellinghaus’ sculptures capture a form in constant movement. Often, she creates figures whose heads are separate from the body, allowing one to move them about at different angles.
“What interests me is shape and how things relate to one another,” she explains. “Maybe this comes from the puppet world. You have one shape that’s a body and a face. How do these two relate to one another?”
With modifiable heads, Ellinghaus can capture a variety of possibilities for emotion within her figures. When creating her sculpted faces, she aims to imbue them with questions and then have the body play into it, depending on the angle it is viewed from.
“When I make a sculpture I still want that different emotional possibility in that face, rather than just a static smile for example. Then I consider the overall shape of the body.”
Body language thus becomes a stage for emotion, while the expressions spread across the face are the driving force. Her process of shaping the bodies is one that she cannot plan in advance, one that relies on intuition and the act of seeing. She begins with a sheet of clay, which she shapes into a cylinder. On this cylinder, she does a basic drawing of what she sees, including some of its face.
“Basically, I have to listen and observe what is happening in front of me. Can I see the possibilities in its imperfection? And if I do see something, am I skilled enough to not lose it while I work it, to strengthen it?”
Eventually these sculptures take form into something familiar to the human mind, many taking large forms, which makes them ideal for an outdoor setting.
Once her figures are filled with a range of emotional possibilities, she fires them in a gas-fired kiln. This specific type of kiln interacts with its atmosphere and smoke to create chemical changes within the clay and its glaze, resulting in unpredictable colour changes. Ellinghaus is never certain what colour her sculptures will take when she puts them in the kiln, making the final product a surprise to its own artist.
Sculptor isn’t the only art hat she wears; Ellinghaus is also a musician and community arts organizer. Along with Lake, the pair have several musical projects together, including the Almut Ellinghaus Trio and the Honeysuckle Sisters. Ellinghaus is a vocalist, while Lake plays trumpet, bringing lots of great harmonies to the Eastern Townships.
They are also the organizers of the Tour des Arts and the Sutton Jazz Festival, both occurring once per year. While next summer is still far away, they are currently preparing for next year’s editions while balancing out their own artistic practices. The Tour des Arts 2022 will take place from July 16 to 24, 2022, at various spots in the Eastern Townships.
This project has been made possible by the Community Media Strategic Support Fund offered jointly by the Official Language Minority Community Media Consortium and the Government of Canada.