Grief was the surprise visitor Claire Strauss welcomed into her world when she first started making masks. Her first mask emerged out of a month-long art education intensive as she was finishing her undergrad in psychology. It was inspired by her father’s fatal cancer diagnosis. 

“There were elements which I was instructed on how the mask could emerge and as reflective of what was current in my thoughts and feelings.” 

Strauss turns to various artistic mediums such as dance and clay to express states of being and emotions she finds challenging to “sort out” using language. Although she may have had challenges in verbalizing some of the emotional states she has experienced, the creative process of each clay form has led to Strauss including short “poetic thought bursts” with each one. 

“As a platform of expression, the medium of clay has afforded me the interest in what happens when we reach critical mass of our emotions.”

The piece that Strauss feels most intimately connected with at the moment is “Grief.” Earlier in her life Strauss didn’t have much of a relationship with grief. Although she experienced the death of her grandmother, she didn’t develop an understanding of grief until losing two key men in her life to cancer. 

“Grief is something you can’t be responsible for. You can’t hold onto the feelings of it.”

A year after losing her father to cancer, Strauss’ relationship with grief deepened when her partner of 15 years was also diagnosed with cancer. Pausing in sharing her experience, Strauss pointed back to the mask of “Grief” to share the words written beside the piece.

Each salty tear carried a message of love you sent until your heart held the ocean.

“The message that I got about grief is that there would be something linear,” Strauss said, describing her grieving process as something visceral and far from linear in nature. “It felt like it didn’t really have a limit. Someone might say, there will be a time when this ends but I don’t think grief actually has a limit, I think you carry it with you once your heart’s been opened to it and it surprisingly just invites itself into you.

“That element has taught me that I can overlap my feelings with grief and there’s room for joy and there’s still room for even being supportive when someone else is grief-stricken.”

Two years ago Strauss danced with grief by honouring her partner’s wishes to part ways with the world in a Viking funeral ceremony. She wrote the words to the magician’s mask, “Winter Kiss” with her partner in mind read. It read, “… he awoke to a chill. It was a strange and wonderful beginning to an end.” 

Strauss is quick to point out that not all of her pieces are about grief, pointing to the piece titled “Sunset Crush” with the cheeky words “… I love how you go down … on me,” written beside it. Something Strauss feels strongly about is her choice to not sign her work. “It’s not my work once it’s someone else’s and I have this idea that if I put my signature on it somehow I sort of drag myself into it. I want to let go.”

Strauss views her work as having “community in the message” for the people who are drawn to her work. She said those who connect with what she’s created can feel support in their own life process without her directly telling them something specific. 

Strauss’s ceramic art pieces are on display at Baked until the end of November and are available for sale.