Non-traditional ceramics student looks to build her life around sustainability

Alicia Brimhall works on a sculpture before it goes into the kiln in Westminster College’s Eccles House of Clay. The sculpture is a two-part series Brimhall started in the ‘80s, showing an Egyptian prince and princess. (Photo by Jesse Cervantes)

Alicia Brimhall works on a sculpture before it goes into the kiln in Westminster College’s Eccles House of Clay. The sculpture is a two-part series Brimhall started in the ‘80s, showing an Egyptian prince and princess. (Photo by Jesse Cervantes)

Before Alicia Brimhall became a student at Westminster College, she traveled the world, lived in Hawaii, South Africa, Chile among other places, and learned about ways to improve people's lives through sustainability.

Brimhall, currently a non-traditional student at Westminster and a ceramics major, said she is already making a living through her art — whether that's functional wear, sculptures or tile in someone's house.

“[Alicia] is very accommodating and wants to be helpful,” said LeAnn Peterson, the ceramics studio technician at Westminster. “She tells me that all the time — ‘Just tell me what you need done. Just tell me what you need help with. That’s why I am here; I am here to help you and make your life easier’ — and she is like that with everybody.”

Brimhall started at Westminster’s ceramic center with some life experience in ceramics and tiling. She was “a breath of fresh air,” Peterson said.

“I think she thinks that her life mission is to make other people’s lives easier to walk through because she has a greater perspective,” she said. “She always looks for a way to lift people’s burdens and make it a little easier for them. . . she is kind of brilliant that way.”

The Forum sat down with Brimhall to talk about sustainability in her life and artwork and her plans for the future. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Q: Why is sustainability important when you create something?

A: When I do create something, I think about how it’s going to live in the world. What is this made out of, where is it going to end up? [...] And if it is going to end up in a landfill, how is that going to live in the landfill? Will it biodegrade, will it not, will it go down some poor bird’s throat and kill it? Things like that are really important to me as a creator of things and a designer of things, and I think it’s something that should be more thought about in our human existence.

Q: Why did you start making sustainable homes?

A: They are just different types of homes. It feels different — completely different. You are probably a lot healthier in a [sustainable] home like that because the air breathes, the walls breathe, the materials breathe. And clay is a big part of that. Clay is a natural material that you can build out of. I am really interested in digital printing homes out of clay.

Q: How did you get into sustainability?

A: I am a contractor — a mason — and my granddad was a mason. And the reason I pretty much got into construction was because of my granddad and my dad. My dad teaches sustainability at BYU [Brigham Young University] and he is retired now. He sent me to different seminars all over third world countries. I was born and raised in Provo, [Utah], and also raised in South America — Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Mexico and Guatemala — and all over Indian reservations in the U.S. My dad was very involved with sustainability and helping indigenous people to become more sustainable and have a happier life.

Q: What are some ways people could improve their sustainability efforts?

A: We have this mentality in the U.S. that we need a bunch of stuff and we have these credit cards and this and that. If you don’t have money, don’t fricken buy it. Save your money, then go buy it. This mentality that people have in the U.S. is absurd. It’s all about money and greed and how much stuff [you have and] how you look. Well, guess what? It’s not about how you look, man. That’s one big problem [...] the consumption and the mentality of the U.S.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the future?

A: I have a lot of opportunities out there and I am not sure which direction I am going to go. I do know that there will be art involved – using my hands - and Spanish. I do want to be near my daughter so I will probably go back to Kauai, [Hawaii]. I do have an opportunity to open my own studio over there [and] if I do, I see myself making ceramic tiles, something simple. And live off the grid... it’s easy to do over there. I don’t want to live in the snow anymore, I have lived a lot in the snow, and I just want to be able to go float somewhere every day and enjoy being around my daughter.