Elise Siegel came to Canada in 1972. She is remembered fondly by her former instructors including Sally Michener and Tam Irving at the Vancouver School of Art and her friends. Siegel had transferred from the University of Chicago where she had studied ceramics with Ruth Duckworth. While Siegel was openly opposed to the Vietnam War, she says that it was not the defining reason she came to Canada. She became a Canadian citizen during her ten-year stay.
After graduating Siegel set up studios along with a group of friends at the corner of Maple Avenue and 4th Avenue in Vancouver. The group built a communal two-chamber gas kiln in the parking lot. The front chamber was a four-burner downdraft LPG kiln while the second chamber, which operated as a chimney behind the first chamber was also the bisque kiln (used the run-off heat from the front chamber). It is amazing what you could do in the 1970s! And how wonderful for this group of young people that they pushed the limits of their understanding of kiln building right in the heart of Vancouver. Along with Suzu Matsuda and Larry Cohen, Siegel formed a collective and an open store/exhibition space at the site which they called Kitsilano Pottery. The cooperative adventure lasted for several years with each sharing responsibilities. During this same time, Siegel was also busy making functional tableware for a number of Greek restaurants within Vancouver. Siegel was also part of the Outreach Faculty of the Vancouver School of Art. She travelled to outlying northern communities to present ceramics workshops to adults.
Siegel slowly moved from vessels to sculpture. For a while, she continued to use clay as the main medium for her work but she branched out experimenting with other materials that were not specifically tied to ceramic traditions. She returned to clay in the late 1990s. She says, “If there is a thread that still connects my current work to the pots I was making after art school, it would be an intense awareness of the tactile responsiveness and immediacy of clay as a material”.
Today, Siegel has her studio in New York City. She taught both undergraduate and graduate ceramics at the Pratt Institute between 2008-11 and has taught at Greenwich House Pottery since 1985.