Frame of Mind: Leandra Urrutia - The Bend Magazine

Frame of Mind: Leandra Urrutia

Inside the mind and visionary world of multi-media sculptor, Leandra Urrutia.

photo of corpus christi artist, Leandra Urrutia

Leandra Urrutia photographed in her Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi studio | Photography by Matthew Meza

As a child sitting in the quiet awe of a church pew, Leandra Urrutia found her earliest inspirations by gazing up at faces and figures that would trace a thread throughout her life of work. Whether it was drawing or carving hands out of household objects, Urrutia recalls having a drive to create. Growing up in a Mexican American household with strong Catholic traditions, she captivated herself during Sunday masses with the numerous saints, icons and Bernini replicas found in her church.

 The daughter of an aerospace engineer, Urrutia had a knack for biology but quickly settled into a drawing major at Texas State University and eventually the ceramics program at Southwest Texas University. Throughout this time, she continued to develop a special relationship with her favorite subject, people, by working as a portrait artist at amusement parks.

 I believe that you can receive energy and kind of a sense of spirit from people just talking to them or being next to them,” Urrutia said of her early sensibilities. “I think I have trained myself to be somewhat sensitive to that. I really enjoy translating that [energy] into something physical.” 

 While in graduate school at the University of Mississippi, Urrutia quickly identified her niche in finding the beauty in people’s individual bodies and features. In these parts, she discovered something uniquely expressive; they transcend many of her installations and find a major role in many of her subjects.

“I never take in the whole person — I fall in love with the little bits I think are beautiful. Parts of the face, parts of the hand, little things like that,” she said. “People sometimes have a fear of drawing [human features], but I never wanted to let that scare or deter me.” 

 Throughout her career, Urrutia has drawn inspiration from her upbringing and culture, as well as from her travels to China, where she helped establish an international artists’ collective, Studio Nong. She went on to teach at the Memphis College of Art from 2002 to 2020 and now educates undergraduate and graduate students in ceramics at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC). Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, covering themes like intimacy, spirituality and aging and the concept of personal myth through a female lens.

 “We all have these fears in contemporary society. We make up comforting justification stories to make sense of chaos in our lives. We all do that. Women especially are good at it, because we really are tested for patience and perseverance,” she said. “I try to cover more universal themes; the connection is the biggest thing.”

 A prolific creator who finds inspiration in the process of engineering designs, Urrutia experiences endless opportunities for innovation in her medium. The trial and error of intricate processes, in many ways, drew her to ceramics years ago.

 “I respected that ceramics had the potential for a lifetime of discovery and learning. There are so many things you can do in clay, you can’t possibly master it all,” Urrutia said. “But I do really take pride in that kind of fluency, to be able to speak all these kinds of clay languages.” 

 While much of her work is built in solids — heads, hands, ears and many other complete body parts — some use the slip technique of drawing in a mold to create shapes out of the ceramic. The process itself involves the over-deflocculation of ceramic, something that may otherwise be considered a critical error in this medium, but which allows Urrutia to find balance to combine and create with her two great loves of drawing and sculpting.

 Across her work, Urrutia seeks to challenge larger religiously based, cultural narratives surrounding women, as well as societal ideas of compassion and connection. “There’s a lot of reality in people’s work. Our stories are so ingrained in us. If we could change some of these narratives, the world would change,” she said. “In my art, I flip the script on some of these ideas and challenge how we think about these connections.”

 As part of an art collective of clay makers and educators, Urrutia will showcase and demonstrate her slip technique at the Oso Bay Festival at TAMU-CC in October. Her work can be found at the Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University, as well as on and her social media

Check out the full “Frame of Mind” feature from the June 2024 Artist Issue.