Still life with stuff, 2015

Still life with stuff, 2015

This morning I was defending all my stuff to my husband. As a maker of things, a producer and artist of terra firma, I am committed to stuff. My parents are still alive and they have some stuff left, albeit sifted and downsized many times over the past decades. Each time they moved, they culled more stuff from their archives and tag saled it or gave it to the Salvation Army. What a relief! I feel so much lighter! Well, then there comes the regret. What happened to that amazing set of Russell Wright dinnerware I grew up with? Just one serving bowl left from that entire set of mid century dishes that I would love to have in my collection. My argument to my husband this morning is this – yes, there is an inclination to go overboard with shopping and hoarding and making piles of stuff, but there is a flip side to that notion. My stuff is a record of my history, an archive of my choices over the years. As such, I think it important as a part of my chosen identity and the way I imbue meaning in my world. The meaning I find in my life is often attached to the things that I have chosen and sometime those items that have been gifted to me by others. The books, music, art and objects of living; dishes, furniture and linens, all lend their auras to the environment that is my home and where I spend much of my time. So, instead of giving into the impulse to throw lots of things away, ála Marie Kondo, I am choosing to take a breath – and find better ways to organize and display what I have. William Morris, perhaps a better mentor for the thoughtful interior space then the overly spare alternative. 

Mala Meal Project

 'Dear Mother Nature', Dorsky Museum of Art, 2012

 'Dear Mother Nature', Dorsky Museum of Art, 2012

In about 1998 when my studio was in the meat packing district of lower Manhattan, I had a flash of an idea. I envisioned a collection of 108 bowls, metaphors for the beads in a mala, set in a circle on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and serve a very early morning breakfast. A hit and run sort of extemporaneous performative meal-art-thingy that never left my brain. 3 years later, after 9/11, I felt a sense of urgency to make an iteration of that idea come to life. The first Mala Meal event took place on June 21st, 2002 at Art Omi, Ghent, NY. A full Mala Meal with 108 bowls and 108 (or so) people to participate has happened 5 times in the past 13 years. As part of an art exhibition in honor of Mother Nature (Dear Mother Nature, Dorsky Museum of Art, SUNY New Paltz, 2012) and also part of a conference in Berkeley, California called Digital Earth, the Mala Meal Project speaks to a deeply felt need to connect. Universals are almost impossible to sustain -- the minute we find one, plurality, multiplicity and variation interrupt our universalizing desire. The Mala Meal Project allows a universalizing moment to occur within the confines of an event. The event is this ceremonial meal, preceded by a prayer (several prayers or blessings, actually) said in an inclusive and interfaith manner. The event at Berkeley included an atheist who said a lovely blessing -- one devoid of notions of God but without ideas about faith and hope and the possibility of life that includes the human on the planet. A secular humanist poet. Yay.

Finished Mala Meal bowls, waiting to be packed up

Finished Mala Meal bowls, waiting to be packed up

So, in the spirit of building community, I have been invited to share this event at the monthly artists' potluck that happens at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Hudson, NY tonight, October 16 at 6PM. In addition to the Mala Meal, we will see artworks by artists Stuart Farmery, Jan Harrison, Arnie Zimmerman and perhaps a few surprises. If you are around I hope you will come. Otherwise, stay tuned for future meal-art-thingies coming down the pipeline from the studio. Our business is our art and spirit.  


Musings on Production

Preparing bisque-ware to be glazed. Sage, Jessica and Ben.

Preparing bisque-ware to be glazed. Sage, Jessica and Ben.

We make things. That is our art, that is our business. By “our” I refer to myself and to the people that work at davistudio. By things I refer the items you see for sale on this website, at the studio, in stores listed on this website and at the craft shows, art fairs and markets we participate in. Everything that comes out of the studio, start to finish, is made here. For some this might seem obvious. I would suggest that for those to whom this is not news are a) people who know the studio, who have been here and have seen how it operates – OR – b) other makers/producers or aficiandos. Making/producing is a highly charged and complex activity. It wasn’t always so. For this bit of writing, suffice it to say that wealthy nations, such as the USA, have, for better or for worse, let go of much of our productive capacity. I argue that a shift is taking place, however.

The rise of the maker community, the rising awareness, acceptance even, of artists, designers, artisans and that nebulous being, the ‘creative’ are encouraging the noble act of making again.

Davistudio has been committed to making since its inception some 20 years ago. Pressure was applied by those who would like to see our products more cheaply made, or existing factories that would like our business itself. Somehow or another, I intuited the need to hold on for dear life the noble act of making, to maintain control of my productive capacity and by extension, every detail of the design and execution process. This control grants us control over options in regards to environmental protection as well as contributing to the economic integrity of our community. These small acts of agency allow us to live with greater freedom and to know that simply making is anything but simple. It is in fact, a revolutionary act. 


ps- 14 years ago today I was deeply impacted, as was everyone else alive on the planet, to an even further commitment to making. Keeping it local seems a better way to govern ourselves, to keep ourselves solid in community and to respect other's capacity to survive without our intervention. Never forget is a cry to tread lightly, to be an example and to be responsible.

End of the year

It has been a wonderful year here at davistudio. I always want to write more here on the blog and seem to only get around to it now and again. So, here a brief blog for today, no promises, but I again hope to write more in the coming days and next year. Sage is hard at work this morning finishing up last minute end of year stuff for Christmas. This Saturday I have decided to have a studio open house, so if you are in the neighborhood, do stop in. There is a ton of stuff for last minute gift shopping. Gift wrapping service, hot tea and some sort of sweet thing will be on hand as will I, to entertain with my pithy banter...



Arts and Crafts

It seems we are living in an all or nothing world. Since my focus here is on production and handmade stuff, I'm going to address that statement vis a vis look at how our stuff comes into being. A lot of stuff in the world, the intimate items of everyday use, are produced in factories whose main objective is to maximise producation and reduce dollar cost. This approach has lead to a vast network of factories, delivery systems and distributors whose objective is also to maximise output while reducing cost with an eye on profit. In and of itself these are fine objectives. But, as the world has gotten bigger (or smaller) the means of production by large scale industrial factories ceases to be an affective tool to eradicate poverty and hunger, for the many. Industrial factories often seek to reduce human labor, as in the pin factory model of Adam Smith. Separating steps of production to be performed in a rote fashion has reduced the cost of production, in the short run. But the long term implications of this model are waning in their affectiveness.

What of the role of craft and the master craftsman (woman)? I argue that craft enhances our lives, all the more so in an age where anything is accesable and our wants are being placed above our needs. Craft gives us greater choice, flexibility and empowers us to create lives of greater meaning. Choosing small scale craft producers goods in a time of over production of mass marketed objects allows the freedom to buy things that build a home full of items of individual taste. If freedom is the big thing these days, why not express that through buying handmade stuff? Curate your home.

The Birding Life

Hermit Thrush
Hermit Thrush

Carol and Larry Sheehan with Kathryn Ge Precourt curated and wrote a book that I have the great priviledge to be included in. Called The Birding Life, there will be an exhibit of work from the book and associated bird art at Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield MA. opening October 29th. There will be a gallery talk from 4-5PM followed by a reception for the artists and authors. The book will be published October 18th.

Plates on a path

This is an image from a project I did a couple of years ago with artist, Lonnie Graham. I made 200 bowls, which I packed up and took with me to conference in California at the Copia Institute. The bowls were given to the participants with 5 tastes in each - salty, sweet, piquant, sour and bitter. Before the panel spoke, Lonnie and I wandered out into Napa and found this location.

It was dawn, we sang. Later, we ate. What's possible? How can we reimagine how we live? So many possibilites....

A new reality

Slowly, but maybe quickly, by historic standards, a new reality is taking shape. Monday, I got word that our own Chatham is embarking on a world class development. Solaqua, a 100,000 sq. ft. abandoned factory here, will be transformed over the next 3 - 5 years into a thriving arts community powered by solar, water and wind energy. Artspace, a Minneapolis based arts organization with 30 years experience revitalizing factories, warehouses and the like around the country gave the nod to our project. Artspace has the muscle to raise millions of dollars for the project and will also help work out the logistics to maintain affordable work spaces for artists.

The Columbia Berkshire Craft Guild, an organization I am part of, will be one of the first tenants of the newly refurbished facility. Soalqua is a long time vision of the owner, Jody Rael, whose steadfast intention of turning the old mill into an arts space goes back a decade.

Richard Florida, in his brilliant "Rise of the Creative Class" discusses how the creative people in any community give it its soul and its economic potential. A project like Solaqua, in a rural community like Chatham, 2 hours north of Mannhattan, will prove to be an amazing magnet, both here and further afield. It has already begun to galvanize the imagination of both artists and environmentalists alike, sparking energy to create a place that can show how alternative energy can and will fuel the future.

I hope to move my porcelain production there eventually. The promise of firing my kilns with solar power lifts my spirit no end. Artisanal production of all sorts will have facilities there.

This all brings me to this morning's rant. I woke up to fierce winds this morning, last week a 60 degree thaw followed by a freeze and snow. The quickly shifting climatic changes happening here now, maybe at a micro level for now, make me very nervous. As an environmentalist, I am keenly aware of global warming and the danger that it poses. I have taken the stand, in my need to remain focused within the vast amount of work, change and projects that are happening in regards to shifting our world and our consciousness toward gentler living on this earth, to support art as a way out of this mess. Art and the production of local artisanal goods to satisfy our need for stuff. Revitalizing regional, smaller scale farms, reclaiming land, cleaning the water and basically learning to live in greater harmony with all that sustains us, the earth, is a vital part of my generation's work.

Business as usual is no longer good enough. We need to refit our imaginations with a broader way of seeing, a broader way of listening to each other to find ways, though creative thinking and doing to find ways out of the old ways of thinking. We must change course and live as if there won't be a tommorow unless we change course. Gandi had a vision for India during the time England had colonized the country. He called it Swadeshi. This is not a new idea, but an ancient way of being, that in today's world can fire the imagination and create lives for everyone on the planet that reveal right work and social justice.

This blog will act as one platform and a channel for this conversation. Please comment.

Fact vs. Fiction

I read a blog this AM from my favorite blogger, Amy Shaw at Greenjeans, about telling the truth. Hype, spin, excitement, panic, so much of what is propelling us forward as a society is more often than not based on asssumptions, misunderstandings, and exageration. The conventional wisdom if accepted as true, boxes us into a collective understanding of what is real. This is not only unwise, it can be dangerous. Lying about a product, for instance, "its fabulous, will make you look 10 years younger!" Lying to grease the wheels, or sell a product, seems to me to stem from an inability to really face the truth, which can be brutal, but also life changing.

Seth Goodin and Hugh MacLeod have been talking about lying on their blogs lately. Seth even wrote a book about it, "All Marketers are Liars". So, where does all of this lead? Well, being true to yourself, I suppose. Romantic, idealistic, sort of corny? Or is that the fear? Being hip, smart, with it, cool, popular and oh yeah, making lots of money, does that all require lots of lying? What if the new thing is telling the truth? Not exploiting others to make a buck? Can you get ahead that way? What companies, entrepreneurs, artists, etc. have succeeded by being honest? What if some traditional ideals, like honesty is the best policy, actually DO lead to long term success? Numbers don't lie, especially when you are balancing your checkbook.

Knowing what you like, who you are and what kind of relationship you have with your family, friends, customers and most of all, trusting your gut, maybe will help navigate this sometimes cold, sometimes warm, sometimes cruel, but often kind world of ours. I believe most people are OK. We are all strugggling with not knowing for sure. It is hard to know what is true when you can't ever be certain. Isn't that what makes it so fun?!?

New York

I had an amazing trip into New York yesterday. I drove down with Liz McIlvaine, textile designer and painter extraordinaire. We began our day with a visit to Toshie Otsuka, potter par excellent. Traversing through my old haunt, the meat packing district and the West Village we walked by a lot of old and new places. We made our way to Opto Design Studio, where I met with my graphic designer/web developer John Klotnia. John and Ron at Opto did my first web design and are now readying web 2.0 for me. Stay tuned!

From Opto, Liz and I met at Betty Woodman's studio. I worked for Betty when I was in graduate school at SVA. She is getting ready for a big retrospective at the Met which opens in April. Liz will sew 100 bags for the museum shop via the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia.

Finally, we ended up at my dear friend and patron, Cathy Kaplan's apartment, where Cathy graciously entertained a handful of friends, showing off my tiles I installed for her this past fall. The tiles are pictured here.

All and all, it was a most amazing day, full of inspiration, reconnecting with old friends. I love my life! Thank you Liz, Cathy, Toshie, Guillermo, Joanne, John and Jefferey!

Thinking and being

I am waking up each morning, now, thinking about what to blog. At this point, very few people are reading this blog, but I am still writing here everyday. I am cautioned by friends not to advertise my committment to write daily, in case I miss a day, but I am drawn to this new medium. I used to write a column for a local arts publication, but since my core daily activity is making pottery, I have to choose where to publish. For now, I have chosen to publish here. It is a far more fluid place to publish my thoughts and I can do it everyday, if I choose. So far it is a forgiving place to place my words, partly because it isn't being critiqued, yet, but I am forever hopeful. I have a feeling this new medium is similar to the invention of the printing press. Similar in its advancement of human thought, but this new medium is exponential, viral. It will catch on and impact the world far more quickly than the printing press did.

Yes, I hope these entries will allow me to sell more pottery, since I don't like packing up my work, hauling it in my van to various locations, set it up and get dressed up to stand in a booth and talk to a lot of people anymore. But more than that, this form of communication is giving me the opportunity to express my thoughts and hone my thinking about my work and about being.

I live in a rural environment, wildness exists outside my door. I spend my days making work that people will use. Work that contains, through the extreme temperature of the kiln, a sense of my being and the place where I work. Many mornings as I walk to the studio, I see a hawk circling in the sky seeking her next meal or just flying for the joy of it. It gives me a thrill to be in a place that supports that kind of life.

It is still dark out as I write this. It is still and quiet. My day ahead will be anything but, because I am going to New York today. But I will return here tonight, and wake up tomorrow in the stillness that is a part of my life now. A stillness which gives me pause for thought and lets me be, embuing my work with a sense of both.

What is modern?

This morning I woke up thinking about this question, as it has tended to raise my ire on more than one occasion. The first time I heard the word modern used in a limited way was in an early (in my life, that is) art history class. The professor said modern art was the style of art created from about 1900 to about 1950. I became red faced angry at this limiting of such a universal thought/idea captured in a word. Modern, in my mind, is anything new, or advancing culture. What we do today is modern, not post-modern, which is a reference I really hate. By capturing a word like modern and encasing it in a time frame, we lose an infinately useful term in our vocabulary. The wheel is a modern invention.

I checked out the word on Wikipedia and am dissapointed in their treatment of it. However, if you link to present time , which they have linked to another article connected to modern, you begin to get a little closer to the elusiveness of this word and the ideas attached to it.

Rigor is expected from academia and is becoming more and more an essential aspect of the internet. Checking sources for information and turning assumptions and "conventional widom" on its head is entirely possible with the vast data available here, quickly. Seth Goodin discovered very quickly yesterday the Windy City is called the Windy City because of weather, not politics, and corrected his earlier post.

Let's talk about modern, modernism and modernity, from a philisophical point of view, not from the conventional wisdom, because conventional wisdom is more often wrong than not.

I look forward to the deepening of human thought with the help of the internet. Our ability to immediately talk, debate, reframe and reexamine our assumptions about so many things takes my breath away. Understanding truth has never been more possible.

Making pottery 2

After a week and a half of organizing, throwing lots of detritus away, and planning, I am ready to begin producing today. This morning I will begin readying my clay for casting (pictured here). Getting the clay ready after about two weeks of sitting in my tanks will take all morning. I reclaim about 20 percent, meaning dry, used clay is worked into newer clay and all put into a huge blender, called a blunger. This afternoon the casting begins. I am making first stage pieces today that will be samples for my spring and summer collection.

Hopefully, by the end of the day tomorrow, I will be able to load the first bisque kiln of the year. 2006 is looking like a very good year here at davistudio.

One of my goals this year is to decrease my turn arround times for shipping. I plan to do this by having a wee bit of inventory and increasing my efficiancy in the studio. I will be making a few things for Valentines Day, which will be wicked cute. I'll keep you posted! Pink and red, dots, stripes and solids, to be shown here first!

email me - maryanne at davistudio dot com

Making a living as an artist

This is a tricky and difficult proposition. I can only speak from personal experience so here I go. Art school, undergraduate and graduate prepared me for nothing with regards to commerce. One valuable skin it helped me develop, though, was the skin for criticism. I'm not talking Art in America here. I'm talking about the day to day opinions of others about my work. Art school has weekly critiques, which prepares you, in a way, for others looking and commenting on your work, often brutally. So, that, I admit, is of value.

Commerce, on the other hand, is far more brutal than mere opinion about what are your sources. Commerce requires that I be organized, have a product (art) that is clear, specific, well done and affectively communicated about, not to mention ready to ship. And, selling my work is in a constant state of change. I lived in New York City for 15 years, had a studio in the meat packing district for 10 and was a star in graduate school. None of that helped me develop a presence in the art world. Maybe I was drinking too much, although that didn't seem to hurt a lot of other artists (at least at the level of their careers). I think my timid attitude toward commerce, at that time, was counter productive toward my career. Artists with an eye to a career are called careerist, a very derogatory term. Hello! Who doesn't want a career as an artist? What am doing here, making art that is above commerce? What's that anyway.

I hope my work will contribute to the expansion of culture in our society and in the global village, but I sure as hell can't do even that if I can't make a living doing my primary activity, making art.

I have found a way to integrate my art into a living, which is in the development of a line of fine porcelain dinnerware. That is an aspect of my art. I also draw, paint and make totally useless (although mind bending) sculptures, but what I sell on a daily basis, to normal (maybe slightly above normal) income people is dinnerware.

I have shown my work at craft shows and in a fair number of group shows in galleries and museums and even had a great show this past summer of 5 years of sculpture. I am still getting up every morning, now blogging first, then pulling myself away from my computer to mix clay, pour it into molds, fire it, glaze it and hopefully ship it. This requires I also spend a fair amount of time marketing it. Taking photographs, making catalogs and updating my web site. Oh yeah, mailing info to people, snail mail, email and word of mouth. I donate lots of work to good causes, mostly for silent auctions to raise money. Oh, and I also maintain a press list with editors who have published my work in the past and I do my best to keep them updated. Whew! That is a lot to do in a day.

You know what though? I love it. I am passionate about it all to the point that I want to continue learning (major learnig curve, all the time) and share what I have learned with others. Back to blogging. This seems like a good way to do that.

So, there is today's rant. I hope you will consider buying my work. It is really good, hand made by me, not in my spare time, but in the main core of my daily activities. Check out davistudio.
No grants (I am a for profit org of one) , no VC (yet) and no academic institution to pay me a salary while I wax poetic.

Bespoken dinnerware

Bespoken dinnerware is a term I started thinking about this past fall as I looked at factories or another artisan to help me produce my work. Making fine porcelain dinnerware is such a highly specific task, that in traversing around the east coast in search of a production partner, I realized the best move forward is to keep doing it myself. At right is a shot of me filling a mold with slip, a slurry of clay and water held in suspension with some magical stuff called a defloculant. The mold was originally created by me, but I have a brilliant mold maker I work with, named Robert Petro, who makes my production molds.

Bespoken dinnerware can be likened to the same concept in clothing,
i.e. Saville Row tailors. Dinnerware is made to order in specific colors and specific shapes for an individual who orders it from me, davistudio, directly.

What is art?

A big question, like what is god. The question requires of lifetime of thought, conversation and paying attention to how art is thought of. My questioning of art over my short(ish) - (47 years) life has revealed some noteworthy ( I think) conclusions, or at least ideas I haven't dismissed, yet. Art inspires. Art functions. Art is done well, and masterly art making borders on great art. Art provokes, questions, pushes the envelope. Joseph Beuys said "Everyone is an artist and society is a sculpture". This was a revoltionary idea and he said it 30 years ago. Being an artist is empowering, because an artist has "artistic liscense" meaning anything and everything we do is art. Chew on that...

New Years Resolutions

It's Saturday and I'm in the studio. I have a lot of cleaning up and cleaning out to do, New Years resolutions and all. At left is a production shot of some greenware, ready to be cleaned before it goes to the next step, bisque firing. davistudio is gearing up for a different kind of year ahead. New partners like Greenjeans, old friends and in between. Making art, making pottery, getting and staying organized, being a good mom and spouse are all on my list this year.

Winter in Columbia County

Here's a picture of the studio in this week's snow storm. It is beautiful up here in winter. One of my goals this year is to clean out and upgrade my production capacity so I can fulfill orders more promptly. So I am in the process of hauling 5 years worth of broken pottery into a dumpster parked in my driveway. I checked out several outsourcing possibilites in New York Sate and Massachusettes this fall and have decided to keep on producing the work myself. Making fine porcelain is not an easy task, which may be why the best of it tends to come from places like France, Germany, Belgium, Japan and China, places where ceramics have a much longer history than the USA. So, I will continue to plug away, refining my process and hope to be able to fill orders with a 2 week time frame. Since the vast majority of my work is made to order, 2 weeks would be a real break through for me. I basically work alone, which is also out of the box.

I have started working on a spring and summer collection. The new pallette is softer than the brights I have used in the past. I hope to have new work ready to publish in a month or so.

While I love working directly with people creating work and knowing who owns my things, I have new favorite store in Brooklyn called Greenjeans. Amy and Jae are remarkable people with a vision of consciencious living. They inspired me to create this blog with their blog

Winter is a great time to clean out, reassess and make resolutions. There is so much great stuff going on and sometimes I feel like there is too much bad news in the media. Communicating the good news has become the task of citizens. I hope to contribute to the good news here at my blog. It is thrilling to have access to technology that facilitates the telling of more of the story. The story of a potter living and working in upstate New York.

Warm regards-

Mary Anne