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The Ceramics Designer Inspired by 20th-Century Drawings of Brain Cells

By Lizzie Feidelson

Lauren Coleman. Styled by Todd KnopkeFrom left: Eny Lee Parker side table, US$4,200; columnar lamp with miniature shades, US$14,000; two-shaded terra-cotta lamp, US$6,200. All from Parker’s Internal-izing series.

Nearly everything the ceramist and designer Eny Lee Parker makes is meant to offset what she sees as the tedium of domestic architecture. “We have a floor, a neat vertical wall and then a horizontal,” she says. “We live in boxes.” Since receiving her M.F.A. from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2017, she’s developed an array of distinctive hand-built ceramic furniture and objects, from bouclé- and mohair-upholstered stools to interlocking earrings, with pleasing, curvilinear shapes that look like naturally occurring phenomena. Parker, 30, was born to Korean parents in Brazil, where she roamed the craft stalls of the beach town of Fortaleza. But for her latest collection — a series of 11 lamps, mirrors, stools and side tables titled “Internal-izing” — she looked past the shoreline to something much smaller: an individual cell.

The idea was born when Parker found a collection of vintage medical drawings in a secondhand bookstore in her neighbourhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Inside the book were hundreds of pages of delicate pen-and-ink renderings of brain cells by the 20th-century Spanish scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who discovered the noncontinuous nature of neurons, which communicate across a minuscule gap. Parker began experimenting with translating the drawings to clay, and the resulting dendrite-shaped sconces, blood-red side tables and lamps with branchlike protrusions topped with the vintage shades that Parker finds at antique shops and church garage sales were recently on view at the Brooklyn design showroom Love House.

Together, the pieces reveal Parker’s dedication to the whimsical: She ignored the sizing standards that usually accompany commercial lighting design, instead capping a 12-by-12-inch moss-green lamp base with a miniature green gingham shade. Four pieces include multiple lamps clumped together at the base like low-slung toadstools; another comprises stackable parts, each ringed with its own set of French accordion shades. Parker fired the pieces of this six-and-a-half-foot totemlike lamp separately so that they would fit into her kiln in Maspeth, Queens, while the sections of her glazed end tables were built upside down and twice fired, but the technical accomplishment is paired with a child’s sense of delight and possibility. “Design has so many rules to follow,” says Parker. “There’s something so nice about questioning utility.”

View Eny Lee Parker’s Internal-izing series.