Humans Bond with Animals and Nature in Adrian Arleo’s Poetic Ceramic Sculptures

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“Internal” (2021), clay, glaze, wax encaustic, gold luster, and mixed media, 13 x 20 x 12.5 inches. All images © Adrian Arleo, shared with permission

Honeycomb faces, a hound with hands for fur, and the all-seeing eyes of a badger are just a few of the hybrid figures in Adrian Arleo’s striking sculptures. For four decades, the Missoula-based artist has explored poetic imagery that creates strong emotional bonds. “Often, there’s a suggestion of a vital interconnection between the human and non-human realms; the imagery arises from associations, concerns, and obsessions that are at once intimate and universal,” she says in a statement.

Working primarily in clay and porcelain, sometimes with the addition of encaustic, gold luster, and other materials, Arleo’s pieces reveal an interest in mythology and archetypes. She focuses on themes of change and transformation, both personal and in our environmental, social, and political realities. Each work harbors a story, like “Internal,” which references “the vastness of our internal space and experience.” She says:

The small figure that’s cradled in the woman’s hair has a surface coloration that references the night sky: a deep blue-black with gold flecks, like the cosmos. That references the beautiful frescoed chapel ceilings I’ve frequently seen in Italy, the blue with gold stars. The piece was made during the pandemic, and the isolation of that period created a kind of turning inward, since outward was so restricted.


Detail of “Internal”

Ideas for Arleo’s pieces often arise from everyday observations. For example, one day she was watching her chickens and noticed the texture of their feathers, prompting her to imagine numerous hands overlapped in a caressing formation and to create a series experimenting with the motif. The symbolism of hands as the source of protection, communication, and creation provide a deep well of possible interpretations. In “Dog With Hands,” the creature might suggest the therapeutic way that dogs can calm us or indicate how well they are cared for and loved.

“Much of my work arises from a kind curiosity,” Arleo says. “I’ll observe something, either in nature, in a relationship, in an experience, and images start to form, and I feel compelled to see it take shape. That curiosity has stayed with me for most of my life and is really the essence of why I make work.”

Radius Gallery in Missoula will host a solo exhibition of Arleo’s work next summer, and she regularly teaches workshops. You can follow Instagram for updates, and find more work on her website.


“Dog With Hands” (2007), clay and glaze, 20 x 34 x 14 inches

Detail of “Dog With Hands”

“Three Flora Cups” (2020), cast, altered, and sculpted porcelain, and glaze, each approximately 4 inches tall

“Dog Tulipiere” (2021), porcelain and glaze, 8.5 x 10 x 5 inches

“Echo” (2020), clay, glaze, and wax encaustic, 15 x 13 x 6 inches

“Persistence Badger” (2020), from ‘Awareness’ series, clay, glaze, and gold leaf, 9.5 x 22 x 11 inches

Detail of “Persistence Badger”

“Embodiment II” (2005), clay and glaze, 6 x 11.5 x 11 inches

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