Guest Spotlight

Claudia Reese

We have the coolest guests! An adventure isn’t just about the itinerary–it’s also about who you share it with. We want to turn the spotlight on some of our guests and what they’re passionate about.

Travel inspires us. For many, these inspirations are profound but intangible: a fresh way of interacting in the world, a heartfelt gratitude & awe, and a sense of confidence that comes with exploring the unknown. For Claudia Reese, however, those inspirations are very tangible and absolutely gorgeous!

Claudia joined us on our 2018 Around the World journey and she was an absolute joy of a travel companion every step of the way. She made me laugh every single day and only made me cry once, when I was filming her in Madrid. (Don’t worry, they were happy tears!) 

Claudia is an Austin, TX-based artist ( that works with clay in many forms. “I started out with sculpture, made a living with dinnerware, found my stride with architectural ceramics and tile which I am currently doing while making a segue back into sculpture.” To get a feel for Claudia’s work and her commitment to sustainability, check out the video below.

You can see some of Claudia’s work in this YouTube video by Central Texas Gardener; funny enough, it was filmed the day before she flew to Hong Kong to join our Around the World trip!  

One of the stops on our journey together was the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia. You may already be familiar with the iconic silhouette of this Cambodian temple set against the sunrise. What you may not realize is that the entire complex is covered, floor to ceiling, in amazing bas-reliefs that reflect the mythology of the time. One particularly picturesque section depicts the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, a story from the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. You can learn more about all of these reliefs, including the Churning, in this short Smithsonian video. (you’ll find the Churning portion starts at 2:14). 

What I thought was just a normal morning of “taking hundreds of pictures at Angkor Wat” turned out to be research for Claudia’s next project! In mid-2019 I got an email from Claudia that she had been “inspired by the images of the fish and fantastical water creatures.” (Yes, even mythological Oceans of Milk are brimming with sea life!)  Check out the images of Angkor Wat’s reliefs and then Claudia’s tilework below.

Would you have ever guessed that this was the least exciting view of Angkor Wat?!

Churning of the Ocean of Milk bas relief at Angkor Wat

Our amazing friend and guide in Cambodia, Yut, sharing information about the Churning of the Ocean of Milk bas relief at Angkor Wat.

close up of the ocean life in the Angkor Wat bas relief

A close-up of one section of the “marine life”–fish, crocodiles, dragons; you know, the usual. 

Claudia Reese Angkor Wat inspired tiled columns

Claudia’s pavilion. You’ll notice that each column has a different capital–palm fronds, nopalitos (cactus paddles), artichoke agave, and water lilies.

Close-up of tiles inspired by the Churning of the OCean of Milk bas relief at Angkor Wat

A closer look at one of Claudia’s columns, with the nopalitos capital. 

“The far end of the pool needed a statement, like punctuation, which would also provide a bit of privacy. The columns are cast concrete and covered in tile. The capitals represent plants growing here — Sabal Palm, Water Lilies, Artichoke Agave, and Nopalitos. The back wall has tile patterns found the world over, so the Pavilion is quite international and spans centuries of artistic inventiveness.

“I just gathered and edited all that info, kinda cutting and pasting ideas before making all the parts. I had no idea that putting all these images together would work, but I am happy with it. It makes me feel part of the continuum.”

How does travel inspire you?

I have traveled quite a bit in my life and each place has had a transformational effect on me. My parents liked to travel and took all of us as kids with them.  We spent summers in Hawaii while our Dad was working at the East West Philosophers center. Christmases in Puerto Rico to get out of cold and dreary New England. They took us to Buenos Aires for a year, stopping in every Latin American country on the way there.  I was able to do a sister city student exchange in La Garde Freinet, France while in high school.

Since I’ve been on my own, I’ve been on a pottery tour to China, a residency at the International Institute of Ceramics in Keskemet, Hungary. I would walk around Budapest and Keskemet where the studio was, observing the people, then go back and create porcelain miniatures—busts, just shoulders and heads. Tiny, only about 3-4″ tall, so I could fit them in my suitcase. I also brought back dried porcelain clay from the Herrend Porcelain factory so maybe I’ll make some more of these little guys. 

Do you have a favorite memory from the Around the World trip?

Oh my, so many! I really like seeing what people in other cultures had done—and were still doing, and how it related to the work I do. I liked picking up a shard of fired clay at Saqqara in Egypt and knowing just how the potter had fashioned that bit. 

Meeting new friends who were in the group—and still getting together with them now—that has been enriching on many levels.  Seeing all the tremendous and varied sights on the itinerary, many of which I never would have gotten to see on my own; marveling at the natural beauty everywhere, and especially at the focused attention that it took to create so many enduring architectural and cultural masterpieces, many of which took generations to accomplish.

Do you have any favorite ‘travel gear’?

Eyeliner and an extra bag to pack with all the perfect souvenirs. And a baggie of laundry soap.

Ooh, what kind of eyeliner?

Whatever will stay put—I like the one you recommended. (The printing has been rubbed off the eyeliner stick, still using the same one from our trip!! It lasts a long time.)  (Edit: For those of you into waterproof liquid liner, this is the one I recommend.)

Claudia and our friend Raafat, our Egyptologist, examine a found piece of ancient pottery at Saqqara near Giza, Egypt. Don’t worry, it was returned to its original spot! 

Claudia and Annie examine the pottery shards used to create Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, in Bangkok, Thailand. We try our best to highlight sites that have special importance to our guests hobbies and interests!

What’s next at Cera-Mix?

Right now I am cleaning up my studio and getting ready for more birds—I have become obsessed with crows, ravens, blackbirds, and grackles. Black and glistening, with hints of blue or green—these are clever birds, one minute soaring skyward and the next picking a lock. And they are vocal, creating a ruckus wherever they are. I like that.

Claudia Reese crow sculpture
The whole Shrine candle family.

I love these photos of Claudia and Annie, taken on a tuk-tuk in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Imagine this much fun, times ten, for 28 days. 

BJ and Lauren are the perfect travel guides. No, make that travel companions, fellow explorers. They are organized, knowledgeable, fun to be with, energetic, sympathetic, non-judgemental.  They were as excited to see and experience each new place as we were, eager to try out new food, drinks,  experiences—even if they had done it 10 times before—it was always still new and exciting.

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