Ceramicist Mary Anne Davis Talks to Valley Variety
Nationally recognized ceramic artist Mary Anne Davis left New York City in 2000 and relocated to the Hudson Valley where she established Davistudio in the historic hamlet of Spencertown, NY. The sense of freedom she discovered working outside the city, combined with her love of rich color and organic shapes, became immediately evident in the porcelain collections of dinnerware, dishes and objects she creates. With a dedicated team of fellow artisans and associates, the work of Davistudio continues to find its way into homes and collections around the world.
Residents of and visitors to the Hudson Valley, Columbia County and the city of Hudson specifically, are rewarded with the opportunity to see Davis’s work on display here at Valley Variety. We know from our own experience, that when we consider the lush range of color, while holding the dishes and dinnerware in our own hands, we appreciate not only the items themselves but we begin to feel and understand the creative process of an individual artist. Leaving you with that thought, we’ll let Mary Anne Davis tell you more about where that creative process began and where she’s headed.
Valley Variety: Hi Mary Anne. Let’s start off by asking an easy question. Where did you grow up? We know you eventually relocated to the Hudson Valley and set up shop in Columbia County, New York but tell us where you were living and working prior to your move upstate? What made you decide to change your location?
Mary Anne Davis: I was born in Wisconsin in the late 50’s. My mom was an avid collector of pottery and art and worked in a gallery in downtown Milwaukee. It was there I was introduced to mid-century modern design as well the work of local potters, including Don Reitz, a well-known Wisconsin ceramic artist. I later studied with him at the University of Wisconsin.
VV: You went to Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan for your BFA and then attended the School of Visual Arts aka SVA in New York City for your MFA. That’s quite an interesting academic mix. Tell us about it.
MAD: From the University of Wisconsin, I transferred to Cranbrook, and worked with ceramist Jun Kaneko. Cranbrook broadened my knowledge of the mid-century aesthetic it was famous for. I was exposed Eliel Saarinen’s architecture and the iconic work of Charles and Ray Eames, Florence Knoll and other luminaries that passed through that very special place. From there I moved to New York to attend SVA where I focused more specifically on art and worked in a variety of materials. SVA and New York City thrust me into the heart of the artworld in the 80’s and 90’s. I might add that I went back to school in the last 10 years and got a PhD at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, writing a dissertation on the history of porcelain and its impact on local economies.
VV: Moving the timeline closer to now, where and when did you discover your ability to use porcelain clay to translate that feeling you have for simple organic shapes. Was your use of color always as pure and direct as it is today? Has the Hudson Valley, the surrounding area and the upstate vibe altered your process, your work ethic or even the way you look at life?
MAD: I returned to ceramics after decade of experimenting with a variety of materials, and knew that I wanted a durable, white clay body to use colors on. Porcelain was a natural choice. The repetition of working with the clay allowed a more confident hand to emerge and the organic nature of my shapes surfaced. Color has always been important to me and I have regularly gravitated to simple, clear colors. The Hudson Valley has had a decided impact upon my work and my life. The rhythm of life imposes itself upon me daily. Cooking and gardening as well as seeing friends are important aspects of life in addition to my full time vocation of pottery making. Living closer to the land, in a stronger relationship to the seasons continues to reveal itself in my activities and choices within the work.
VV: Tell us about how your sense of creativity developed or changed over the years. Have you always been focused on utilitarian objects like dinnerware—was function always as important as design? Did you move forward with a singular objective?
MAD: Functional work has always been important to me. I appreciated being able to use what I create. All of my designs have been developed out of the needs from my own kitchen. Dinnerware especially appeals to me as I have a passion for cooking, for food prep and menu planning. The access I have to local farms influences my cooking and therefore the shapes and design of my dishes. It is a symbiotic relationship, food and pottery, and it is always evolving.
VV: At Valley Variety we always notice people being drawn to the Davistudio display. People love to pick up the different pieces whether it’s a small bright green bowl, a blue coffee mug or a yellow dinner plate—even kids are drawn to the shapes and colors. People can easily imagine putting the pieces to use in a way that mass-produced dinnerware doesn’t inspire. Is that the kind response you’re hoping for?
MAD: Yes! And that is wonderful to hear! I am excited by the nature of a collaborative process. In the case of Valley Variety, when Chuck comes to the studio and carefully considers what he will offer his clients, he translates my work for his audience. I consider my dishes to be alive, yes, to inspire mindfulness in the act of setting the table, choosing the ingredients for the meal, to bring a reverence to the table. Mine is a pottery of revolution. My revolution is called Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner! A celebration, at every meal!
VV: You have a team that you’ve been working with and Davistudio seems to be flourishing. With the pandemic upon us, how has that changed things for you and what has it done to the team? Has it meant a return to basics? Given the current protocols and how those affect you and the studio, are there any new projects or directions you’re looking to explore—any ideas that you might revisit?
MAD: Unfortunately the pandemic has meant most of my team has been furloughed. I still have one team member coming in once a week to help me pack the ware to ship around the country. But the making itself has returned to my shoulders. I am currently working 6-7 days a week to fulfill all the holiday orders and people's dinnerware orders. So yes, a return to basics. But, I am enjoying the solitary nature of the work, which is how I started. Definitely a return to basics. I am excited to see where it will take me next!
VV: This has been great. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us. Your work certainly has the ability to make people smile and offer a sense of familiar comfort whether it’s here at Valley Variety or at home around the dinner table—and that’s truly a great accomplishment.
MAD: Thank you!