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Everything Ewa Grochowska creates and advocates for comes from the depths of her being, from her own difficult, real life experiences.
The New London resident is both an artist and an activist on a mission to end domestic violence.
She uses a portion of sales of her ceramic sculptures that she sells at art festivals and craft shows to buy supplies for children's art programs at domestic violence shelters. She also donates her time to teach art at the shelters - currently the Prudence Crandall Center in New Britain and beginning this fall, Safe Futures in New London.
Grochowska was the victim of two abusive relationships, with the most recent ending in 2012 after three-and-a-half years.
"I was physically, sexually, mentally, financially abused. Any abuse there is, I went through," she says with utter candor. "What got me to finally leave was that I had a very strong gut feeling that I was only going to leave one way - he would end up killing me."
Grochowska says on the day she left the relationship, her abuser called her and told her to come straight home after work, which she always did because he controlled every aspect of her life.
"I asked him if I would be safe if I came home and he didn't answer," she says.
That's when she knew her life was in jeopardy.
"I went to my manager's office at work and told him everything and he helped me out tremendously," she recalls. "I stayed with family and got a restraining order. I was lucky; my abuser didn't come after me."
Her ceramic sculptures, Grochowska says, are a way to take all the pain she has experienced in life and bring beautiful artwork with deep meaning to the world. The strength her pieces convey is something she has personally regained after surviving years of abuse.
Mostly self taught, Grochowska has been making art since she was a child, but says she fell in love with pottery when she was introduced to it in high school. After graduating in 2003, she stopped making art for about 10 years because of her situation and returned to it in 2012 when the abuse ended.
"Clay, for me personally, is a great way for me to express what I'm feeling," she continues. "You're starting off with a ball of clay and you can make anything. There's no limit. With paper or canvas, you have to stay within a certain size or perimeter. With clay I can make (a piece) as small or large or detailed as I want to."
Grochowska says she doesn't plan her pieces; they just come to her naturally. She creates a simple wheel-thrown bowl and then sculpts layers onto it.
"I sit there and listen to my music and think about other survivors and victims of abuse. All that plays into what I end up making out of clay," she says.
She describes several of her sculptures as botanically inspired.
"I make a lot of my pieces with flower petals on them," she notes. "One is called 'Love Lives & Hate Dies.' I made the sculpture like the petals are withering away. The glaze is dark brown with specks of orange yellow that signifies hope and life within the flower. I think of myself or other people who've been in domestic violence situations and survived as the flower. Eventually the specks of hope will overtake the flower and bring it back to life.
"Another one I call 'Protected Beauty.' It has what looks like scrap metal pieces intertwined with the petals, sculpted out of clay - like men or women that have survived abuse. As a survivor, you can still be that soft, loving, beautiful person you always were, but also be that strong, protective person so that no one can break you again."
Each piece, Grochowska says, evokes a stage in the healing process of surviving domestic violence.
"When I start making something, I think of what I've gone through, what I feel about it, and about all the other survivors out there - the men and women who have reached out to me after seeing Freedom4Ewa Pottery on Facebook - and also the kids I've worked with."
"In spreading awareness of domestic violence through my pottery, I want every little boy and girl to grow up knowing they are worth love and that they can and will live in love," she says.
When teaching art to children Grochowska says, "I give the kids a piece of clay and they do whatever they like. It's one place they're in control of what they want to do. The way we interact with one another is to be respectful and kind - no negative behavior. It's important for them to understand what real love is … to see kids come out of these situations and be happy, gives hope for their future."
Grochowska works full-time in an office for a medical distribution center and looks forward to the time when she can work on her activism and art full time.
"Before the school year starts, I will reach out to schools everywhere in Connecticut for the opportunity to share my story and do preventative work with the kids. I'll also speak to organizations and individuals."
Grochowska offers the following advice to victims of domestic violence.
"If they're in a bad situation, I would tell them first off, they can reach out to me because I believe everyone is important and worth saving. And I would tell them that I've been where they are. I've been a victim and now I'm a survivor. They are probably feeling like the only way they're going to get out is death, ultimately, but they need to know that they do have people in their daily lives that would help them if they knew, and they should never be afraid to ask. They are deserving of living a life with love and no violence, and to know the strong always survive. The abusers are the weak one because they get their strength from abusing you."
Grochowska points out that most people tell domestic violence survivors to sweep it under the rug and forget it happened.
"I know, because that was said to me personally," she says. "I say, 'If I don't speak up, the next generation will suffer, and the generations after that will suffer.' Speaking up does save lives.
"As individuals we can make positive changes in this world," she asserts. "A lot of people think, 'I'm one person, I can't do anything.' I'm one person and look at what I'm doing. Why can't anyone else? People need to get out of that mentality."