Studio Visit

Inside Elena Strohfeldt's Beautifully Therapeutic Ceramics Practice

We’ve all heard about the therapeutic nature of art before, but Melbourne-based artist Elena Strohfeldt understands its healing powers better than most.

The stress of the pandemic combined with a traumatic assault a few years prior reignited her childhood love for art-making, and before long she had started painting, hand-building ceramics, and designing jewellery as way to work through her anxiety.

The effects on her mental health were profound. And in just under two years, the self-taught artist has triumphantly made a name for herself with her whimsical vases and textural sculptures under her own business, Elso Collective!

Christina Karras

Introducing Elena Strohfeldt’s quirky ceramics! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Amazingly, Elena is self-taught, learning how to make ceramics through YouTube videos! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Her work has a playful and tactile quality. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘For my ceramics nature is my biggest inspiration, especially for my Lotus collection. The openings of my pieces were inspired by the blooming of flowers,’ Elena says. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

My studio is in my house,’ Elena says. ‘It is a light-filled room at the front of my house with big windows in front of our beautiful front garden. The table I work at is right in front of the windows, it is nice to feel the sun on my face as I work.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

A line up of vessels from her Lotus collection. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘I hand build each piece using a mix of pinching, coiling and slab work. I prefer to use clays with grog, they are great for creating texture.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

While her business Elso Collective started initially as a jewellery brand, it’s now the platform for her ceramics and art too. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Elena with some of her works in progress! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Beautiful clay colours enhance her works. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘In just under two years I have taught myself and experimented and feel like I have finally found a style that is mine,’ Elena adds. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Christina Karras
18th of August 2022

Elena Strohfeldt has always used art as a form of self-expression. In high school, she experimented with abstract landscape painting, but decided to study psychology at university instead and put her art ‘on pause’.

‘I became so career-driven and consumed by the daily grind that I forgot to take time for myself and my creativity, but it did feel like a piece was missing,’ Elena says.

‘In January of 2018, I was a victim of a violent assault as I waited at a bus stop, on my way to work one Tuesday morning. I was almost killed and had never been so lost. It made me question everything.’

Looking for a reprieve in such a painful and dark time pushed her to pick up a paintbrush again, and reconnect with her creative side. Then, when she lost her job in 2020 due to the pandemic and was struggling with anxiety she discovered another silver lining – her knack and passion for ceramics.

‘A friend kindly gifted me a pottery kit and one afternoon I took it out and began to have a play. I really loved how I felt after creating my piece, and as corny as it sounds, the rest really is history.’

Elena spent hours at home playing with clay as a profoundly therapeutic way to work through her trauma, channelling it into vases and vessels with organic folds and visible textures. She is entirely self-taught, having learnt hand building techniques from social media and YouTube tutorials before connecting with experienced makers like Mark Gambino and Yenara White from Yen Ceramics.

Fast-forward two short years, and Elena’s business, Elso Collective, has flourished. Her recent ‘Lotus Collection’ features whimsical vases in natural toned clays with an endearingly earthy quality, mimicking the shapes of flowers in bloom. Elena crafts them from her light-filled home studio in Melbourne, working whenever inspiration strikes before sending off the finished works to an impressive list of stockists including Makers’ Mrkt, Bison Art and Elka Collective stores.

In Elena’s own words, her love of art was ‘reignited when she needed it most’, but her success is also a credit to her overwhelming resilience.

‘The process of hand building has done wonders for my mental health’ she says. ‘Nothing beats the proud feeling you get when you make a piece that you love’.

Shop Elena’s work through Elso Collective, or via one of her stockists.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.

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