Paulette Esrig

Photo: Dion Ogust

It was the glistening hands covered with thin mud encircling a shiny mound of clay that attracted Paulette Ente’s attention as she thumbed through the depression era encyclopedia that her mother had collected for her at the weekly movies. Paulette at about eleven thought ‘I might want to try that one day.’

It is not as if Paulette wasn’t closely acquainted with clay because it actually was very much a part of her life as was Plaster of Paris, marble and other stones. She had frequently observed casting of clay and the process of carving and finishing stone. Later on she wrote material for art shows and helped to find titles for sculpture and print works. Paulette was the daughter of Lily Ente, the sculptor and print-maker.

As a child, Paulette studied dance with Lillian Rosenberg, a follower of Isadora Duncan. She loved the sensation of movement, its energy and risks. She still remembers the quasi Greek outfits and the act of warming up to the music of Chopin and Schubert among others.

At 12 years Paulette was forced to stop dancing and swimming, another favorite. Her asthma was too severe. Her parents then strongly encouraged her interest in the piano. Paulette proved talented and was chosen to perform in Carnegie Hall, the radio and later on with orchestra and other venues. Any interest in clay was discouraged, yet Paulette attended numerous art shows, met other artists as she accompanied her mother to galleries and openings. She also was able to attend dance recitals and concerts which she does till this day.

As Paulette got older she became plagued with anxieties about performing before an audience. She tried to accompany others. She did teach music individually, to small group and in New York City junior high schools. Later on she became an elementary school level teacher and then spent more than 20 years as a teacher of reading and writing, always infusing her work with her love of the arts.

When Paulette and her husband, Bernard Esrig, were young parents of three sons, Seth, Marc and Dave, a neighbor told her of ceramics classes at the nearby Hudson Guild in Chelsea, Manhattan. Paulette soon transferred to Greenwich House Pottery in Greenwich Village and began to work there with regularity ‘throwing clay.’ Over the years she worked at the 63rd and 92nd Street Y’s and at her homes.

At first it was a few hours a week as she was busily raising a family, taking additional graduate school courses, teaching part time and then full time. At Greenwich House Pottery she worked in stoneware and porcelain and began to decorate her work and gradually moved from the sharp Asian aesthetic to hand-building 25 years after starting. At first she still produced work that was related to functional forms of her wheel work.

It was inevitable that Paulette would move more and more into sculpture taking with her everything she had learned and taught herself. She called upon all that she loved in her artistic life. As she continued to work she questioned whether she should go on. After all she felt that there would be the inevitable comparisons with her mother. Life had handed Paulette some real bumps. She survived cancer and had problems that led to bone cracking periods of pain. Surgery has remediated some of this but Paulette at 80 with the loving help of her husband and her family has realized that she is going to work in clay using the gifts that were given to her at the start and will continue looking for and realizing her own voice.

Paulette is represented by Lily Ente Studio.