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CORY KENY, Alien Ceramics & Soleil

Interview with Katie Bonadies

Pictured: Cory Keny of Alien Ceramics and Soleil.

Cory is an artist working in clay. He has been a member at RWS since January 2022. Cory works in clay because it’s a medium that lends itself to endless possibilities and exciting challenges. And the possibilities are endless when you approach the medium with a vivid imagination and sense of world-building like Cory does. The name Alien Ceramics is a celebration of the otherness of his designs, many of which are spontaneously made one-of-a-kind characters that live within the same visual realm. Cory jokes that he “wants to be on good terms for when the mothership arrives.” His belief in the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe gives him comfort.

Buoys. Clay.

The name also allows for the creation of alternate worlds. Cory has two separate worlds that he’s building right now. He builds these worlds through color and form. He has a collection of handbuilt animated characters in bright colors that uses low-fire clay, and a series of high range work that uses more muted, earthy tones for functional pottery due to the clay body’s sturdiness. Each of his characters have their own backstory and unique name like Gorbert, Guthrie, Mariette, Brisket and Triscuit, or Lenny. He names his mugs too, as each one is different.

Gail is a white mug with blue polka dots. Cory also has a series of small mugs that are nameless. His work is inspired by animation, science fiction, and the natural world. He’s motivated by the ‘collector culture’ of the ‘90s that was heavily marketed to the millennial generation when they were kids, “I was obsessed with my little things and had them organized on my desk. I was always excited by finding those treasures.” He wants to create that excitement for other people and reignite their sense of wonder and their playful childhood spirit. He wants his work to transport people to a world of imagination and remind them of the joy that comes with exploring the unknown. His collections include toothbrush holder figurines; magnets in fun shapes like fried eggs, pigs, and cows; buoy charms; and ‘Worry Frogs’ that have the feel of worry stones with the look of frogs. He likes to have fun and it's important to him that his work conveys that.

Toothbrush Holders. Clay. Worry Frogs. Clay.

He has been working in clay for three years now and Cory is always finding new things to try. Most of his clay work is handbuilt, but he does throw on the wheel when he wants to make a symmetrical, functional form like a mug or vase. Cory works with three different clay bodies, mostly mid-fire with some high-fire clay. He loves to explore different shapes and textures and finds it’s the versatility of clay that keeps him interested, “When I’m working with clay I find myself lost in the process. I find it therapeutic in that sense.” It’s a tactile experience that allows Cory to immerse himself in the present moment and let go of his worries or stress.

He starts with a general idea then lets the clay guide him. The transformation from lump to something recognizable has always appealed to him. He had been introduced to clay at camp as a kid and was reintroduced when his fiancée, Emily, gifted him a class for his birthday at a clay studio near their home while the couple was living in Brooklyn. The class was mostly wheel work and he quickly fell in love with clay. When the pandemic hit the students in the class were given the clay to take home. He started hand building and developed his style and discovered his preference for the mode. After the couple moved to Maine, Cory took classes at Portland Pottery to learn how to throw basic forms on the wheel; then he found his way to RWS. He has recently been exploring lighting and is in the process of making sculptural lamps.

Soleil storefront at 550 Congress Street in Portland. Soleil's interior is full of light and treasures. Soleil uses antique furniture to display home goods for sale.

Cory usually attends summer markets, but this year will be different. In December he and Emily opened a home goods and gift shop called Soleil, which is French for ‘sun’ that was chosen to reflect the warmth and light vibe of the shop. Fittingly, Soleil offers a curated collection of ‘treasures and essentials to brighten your day’. Emily had been working at the museum with the dream of opening her own business. It took a while for the couple to find the right location, and when the opportunity to move into a storefront in Portland’s Arts District presented itself the couple couldn’t resist. The storefront, located at 550 Congress Street, has an old world feel with a green painted facade. The business name is printed in yellow script across one of the large windows. The interior decor has a cozy, vintage aesthetic achieved with a pared down selection of antique furniture used to display the items for sale, including representation from local makers like Alien Ceramics and a few other RWS members. Stop by the shop Wednesday - Sunday from 11am - 6pm and get in touch with Cory through his website ( or on Instagram (@alienceramics).


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