Ria Leigh

Ria Leigh played an imperative role in the foundation of Project Girl Crush. I first saw her a few years ago around Seattle’s Capitol Hill, where she co-owned a wonderfully curated vintage shop called Kaleidoscope Vision. One specific day, clad in a denim onesie, black beanie, red lips, and long black hair hanging in a braid, she held a toddler on her hip. Her daughter, Ari, fussed as children will, and Ria’s composure and grace amidst chaos struck me as hypnotic. I had never spoken to this woman, but I was so utterly taken by her I fumbled to understand my own reaction. Because I’ve always considered myself a ‘straight’ woman with a fierce attraction to men, moments like these forced me to grapple with my own understanding of sexuality. While I believe sexuality absolutely exists on a spectrum, and we all oscillate and exist between the polarities, I couldn’t quite identity my fascination with this creature. It wasn’t sexual in nature, yet it felt primal. It was indeed about her gender, her ‘female-ness’, but not necessarily her ‘femininity’. It was about her beauty, but it felt more emotional. Encountering Ria and, subsequently, coming to her, has helped uncover a more precise understanding of that infatuation. I was finally forced to name it, this ‘girl crush’.

I’ve said many times that PGC was founded with many notions at play, and Ria was a major factor. She epitomizes elegance and understated self-confidence. She lives her own life in reverence of beauty; worshipping, collecting, and sculpting it. When I had the opportunity to visit her in her home in the Los Feliz neighborhood of LA, I was once again overtaken by her appreciation of the profundity of aesthetic harmony.

“How we construct our world and our visual and tactile experience is so infinitely interesting to me. I love that by making a piece of pottery or a quilt, I am actively creating an experience, and in some small way impacting the way someone else views our world.”

Ria defines the importance of art of all forms, and acts as a supreme reminder to me why immersing myself in beauty is so essential. Allow me to get more honest here—the last three weeks have been rough for me. Really rough. I very consciously chose to feature Ria this week (after some PGC-free time) because she will continue to act as an embodiment and a reminder of the depth and need for aesthetic harmony. And it was this prompt that forced me to recall this project’s absolute necessity to me, as it too acts as a reminder of the beauty that exists in the world.

Where are you from, and how did you make your way to where you are now?

I’m not really from anywhere, at least in the traditional sense. I was born in Indonesia, raised in California, spent some time in Washington and now live in Los Angeles. I’ve ended up here in my search for a place that feels like home. So far it feels pretty good, don’t think I could complain about living in year round sunshine for the rest of my life, but we’ll see how the journey unfolds.   

What do you do for a living, and how did you find yourself there?

I make things, I collect things, and then I sell some of those things to get money to buy other things, and eat tasty things, and generally perpetuate the cycle. Specifically, I make functional ceramic items & quilts and I collect antique ephemera and vintage clothing. I’ve been a maker and a collector in one way or another for as long as I’ve been an autonomous being.

My mother is a ceramic artist and her mother (my grandmother) was a dedicated quilter, so those two particular crafts are definitely in my blood.

More importantly, what do you do that you love?

I love design. All of it. Good design, bad design, naive design, kitsch design, fashion design, product design, print design, graphic design, architectural design, furniture design, ancient design, cultural design. I love to look at it, I love to research it, I love to discuss it and I love to do it.  

What inspires you to get up in the morning?

My daughter Ari. She more than inspires me, she physically forces me to get up…I mean literally, she sometimes pulls me out of bed and demands her “flat eggs” & milk. But really, I’m inspired to get up and be an active and creative human because of her. I want to continue this matrilineal tradition of making and I want her to know that with self-confidence, effort and determination, she can make her vision of the world a reality.

How and where do you find inspiration throughout your day, and what has that inspiration compelled you to do in your life? 

I find inspiration in so many places, but I particularly love looking through old books, magazines and auction catalogs. One of my favorite feelings is finding a little thread of new intriguing information, and pulling at it and finding it connected to other things that have captured my attention before. That continuity and connectivity is so reassuring to me, I’m comforted and inspired by the idea of these “energy trails”.

What challenges have you met in chasing that inspiration?

I find it a challenge to work off an inspiration or an idea and attempt to re-imagine it and make it new, make it my own. I strive for my work to be informed by my inspirations without being too referential or blatantly derivative.  

Then comes the question of purpose and function, I am really focused on creating things that are useful and needed and I am often challenged when it comes to translating my creative concepts into a functional design. There are so many intricacies when it comes to successful functional design, the way the product feels, its weight, its ease of use, its durability, the way it relates to other items, all of these factors have to be considered and in this consideration the original creative idea is sometimes compromised. 

But I find all of these challenges to be fun, they keep my mind working.

Do you have a specific space that helps you feel inspired? What does it look and feel like?

I’ve kind of recently realized that I’m most comfortable, focused, and productive when I’m working alone. Solitude I think is more important for me than a particular space. I’m adaptable; I can manipulate my space to make it work. Like right now for instance, I’m doing most of my ceramic work out of my kitchen, I have a membership to a ceramic studio and I take my pieces there to be fired but rarely ever go there to get work done, even though there is more space and better tools and resources. I find that when I’m trying to work around other people I just get distracted and way too self-aware to be able to be really productive, for me the process of making is really intimate and requires a certain amount of privacy.

Who do you have a girl crush on (you don’t have to know her, she doesn’t even have to be alive)?

Eartha Kitt!

If you had the opportunity to ask her anything, what would it be?

I would ask her to be my Sensei

Who/what is your “spirit animal”?

I am a Capricorn and have always been connected to the animal associated with my sign, the goat. As a somewhat solitary animal and a climber, it speaks to me as a symbol of independence, perseverance and a reminder to try and look at life from a higher perspective.