Penny Birnam

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Tofino Art: Penny Birnam


Penny Birnam is a Vancouver artist who spends time kayaking in Clayoquot Sound when she’s not busy creating her amazing clay creatures.

Penny is gaining international recognition for her ongoing series dedicated to endangered species. Her molded and hand finished ceramic sculptures range from warthogs and rhinoceros, to zebras and gorillas. The textures and colors of the slab-molded clay, smoke-fired, hand-painted or glazed, impart a realism and distinct personality to each animal’s portrait.

“ These creatures are my attempt to give meaning to my life” says Penny, “I make stuff in my backyard, I swim, cycle, and kayak, and don’t own a car or a t.v. or a cellphone. No air-conditioning, no computer. My current project is trying to learn how to listen; to tress and wind, to music and people.”

The animals are her sympathetic magic. Like voodoo dolls in reverse, they carry her love and respect out into the world, and her hope that their new owners will become protective of them and by extension the real animal in its fragile co-existence with people.

Penny enjoys working with clay because it is so responsive to every nuance of mood, so capable of subtle variation:

“ It’s the primary mark-making medium for humanity. I enjoy the parallels with mythical acts of creation, and the fact that it is hard to be pretentious in clay.”


Penny’s endangered species and her glazed rockfish can be found at the Lounge Collection in Tofino.

Tofino Time Magazine February 2003

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february 2003