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.