Monday, January 30, 2006


"It's not that we are too materialistic, it's that we aren't materialistic enough."

This is a quote I heard sitting next to Paulus Berenson at an environmental conference several year ago. It stuck with me because it sounds true. I hear an awful lot about our (western) materialism, how we are so consumer driven, seeking more and more to fill some sort of spiritual void. I question the overly materialistic popular wisdom. What if we examine the possiblity that we aren't materialistic enough? That the material world is precious, neccesary and limited? Limits are so annoying, or are they? Constraints, in my mind, are an exciting realm within which to operate. The artist is keenly aware of the constraints of a medium, or an idea. I argue the artist must clarify her work so that it can be understood by more than the initiated ("the art smart"). This artist, for one, is dedicated to the visual, primarily. I also believe all art functions, so that use, in fact, bestows daily contact with a work of art. Influence is the hallmark of achievement in the long run for an artists life. That influence is felt through the actuality of the work. Its material impact. Its being. Words, music, dance, all ephemeral. Sculpture, painting, pottery, textiles, wood, glass, jewlery - material. The best of both enhance our lives, open us up to the quiet voices within, which lead to greater sensitivity.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Production by the Masses

"I must not serve my distant neighbour at the expense of the nearest."

This is Gandhi's definition of Swadeshi (well, he had a lot of definitions for it). What I want to mention today on this regard is the concept of production by the masses, not mass production.

The British believed in centralized, industrialized, and mechanized modes of production. Gandhi turned this principle on its head and envisioned a decentralized, homegrown, hand-crafted mode of production. In his words, "Not mass production, but production by the masses."

OK, make stuff. Make it yourself and sell or trade with your neighbors. How does this work in the global village? The internet gives us access to everybody wth a computer and a network connection. Still a lot of folks out that loop, but hey, we're getting there. So if everyone is making stuff, then maybe mass marketing needs to be replaced by marketing by the masses. If each individual, small business, artisan, guild of artisans, whatever, can create a balance betweeen making and telling, which is what marketing is, a conversation, right? Then, wow, new/old reality.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Social Sculpture

My favorite artist of the late 20th century is Joseph Beuys. One of his famous slogans was "Everyone is an artist and society is a sculpture". If that is true, and I believe it is possible, then what we do matters, and even more importantly, it has an effect. Introducing people has the effect of changing those people's social milleu, but also of influencing thought. If thought is where we make the greatest social change and what we believe leads thought, then having a broad social base (lots of friends and associates) broadens our outlook through understanding multiple points of view. It requires listening to the other. I may not believe everything everyone else believes, but if I stay open to another's point of view, especially if that person has mastered an area I know nothing about, my own understanding is broadened.

What does that have to do with dinnerware, the main thrust of my daily art making? Dinnerware is what you eat on. (duh?!) The dinner table can be thought of as the social context of a dinner party or having family and friends enjoy a meal, the ultimate social activity, imho. If the dinnerware you use reflects careful thought, the food choices are fresh and healthy and your cooking delicious, doesn't that all enhance a pleasant experience for the guest? Maybe something amazing will happen at your dinner table if you look at it as a canvas, changing, ephemeral, but very real. A place where inspiration takes place. Art. Knitting social sculpture. Art is about building a structure for new thought to take place, expanded thought, discourse. Where better than at the table?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Making a living as an artist

I spent the day in New York yesterday with the one and only Seth Goodin at his seminar. While he presented a huge amount of information about marketing, including, getting permission to talk to people about what you are trying to sell, presenting your materials in a clear and concise manner and most of all, being honest, I came away with the knowledge that marketing is work. Aha?!? Well, not really, but for this recovering egomaniac, I realize that marketing is the hardest job ahead for me, making art is a breeze in comparison. Well, I have 30 plus years making art, so hopefully that is the easiest part of my job. The marketing piece, while I am eager to learn as much as possible, is a relatively new realm for me. What I know now is that telling people my story, making the best work I can, continuing to improve my ability to make my work and being as good as I can be at it are all parts of this complex thing I do, making a living as an artist. There are no magic cures, no instant bullets and certainly no get rich quick schemes out there to help me. Creating a livelyhood so that I can make art most of my days requires being organized, available and talking to people. Oh yeah, TV advertising doesn't work, especially for art! Yelling's not so effective either.

What about selling out? What does that mean? Making crap? If I don't make too much crap, maybe I'm not selling out? Or maybe the whole concept of selling out is another bit of mythological, conventional wisdom that deserves scrutiny, analysis, and well attention. Maybe we just avoid making crap.

Revolutionary? Oh yes...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Techno Swadeshi

I talked about Swadeshi in an earlier post, the Gandian economic model he implemented to get the British colonists out of India. Nearly a century later, the web and advances in technology have added multiple layers to our ability to participate in this revolutionary way to be. Last night my friend Eric suggested I talk about desktop making, similar to how desk top publishing changed publishing. What is desktop making or techno Swadeshi? It could be thought of as a way to make things on a micro level, market them via the internet and change how we aquire goods.

My own studio practice has given me the hands on experience to talk about this possibility. I am engaged in making fine porcelain dinnerware, not for mass consumption but for a niche market. My motivation is to do what I am passionate about and make a living doing that. I have chosen not to out source my production, but that doesn't mean I won't out source as much as possible in order to achieve my basic premise. I buy my clay mixed and ready to go, because I can. I buy my glazes. I buy my boxes, packing material and use Fed Ex to ship my work all over the world.

Is this pure Swadeshi? Maybe not, but Gandi also advocated bramacharia! Swadeshi, in the purest sense, is a local movement, becoming self sustaining through the development of a local economy, and local production of goods needed to survive. In its purest form, Swadeshi is a bit heavy. In a free world, a democratic world, I prefer to be engaged with all kinds of people. If I set my priorities, my personal hierarchy as: family, local community, region, nation, world, I am beginning to participate on a more engaged plane of being.

A micro-enterprise, one based on creation, innovation and production, has the potential to replace mass production as a means to satisfy the needs of people for food and goods. Using all the tools available to do this adds traction to an enterprise. That includes the need for a producer to market their work and their story. Social justice is built in. Environmental justice becomes possible. Believing in the power of positive manifestation of reality can and will create an alternate universe that promotes peaceful exchange of ideas, resources and value. Techno Swadeshi. Maybe it's an idea whose time has come. So, make stuff and sell it! (Just be sure it is good...)

Sunday, January 22, 2006


The picture here is of some seed vases I made last week at davistudio and fired over the weekend. People are often surprised at what happens in the kiln, so here is a little glimpse into to the process of making pottery. After I glaze a piece, the color is muted, soft, almost pastel. After the firing, to 2100 degrees F. the pieces are transformed. The clay becomes porcelain and the color instensifies, strengthens, becomes clear. These particular little vases I call
"seed vases", part of the
seed vase project-

e Seed Vase Project is a global "scatter" piece which is a single unit in its entirety, but is spread throughout the world in individual’s homes. The Seed Vases are numbered, not as an edition but as an act of numbering, creating a sequential relationship between the pieces. They are then given as gifts or kept. It is my intention to redefine the very nature of the way we view art, creating greater accessibility through shared ownership and public invitation to the conversation.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

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....

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

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.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Mad linens

Liz McIlvaine and I are doing table linens. Here's a preview.

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?!?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

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!

Friday, January 13, 2006

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.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

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.

Monday, January 09, 2006

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.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

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...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

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.

Friday, January 06, 2006

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

Thursday, January 05, 2006

New Year

Hi there and welcome to my new blog, davistudio. This blog will feature all things davistudio and all things MAD (Mary Anne Davis), for that matter. 2006 is off and running. The image you see here is part of my fall/winter collection, a new concept for me. Actually limiting my pallette to 5 or 6 colors per season (or twice a year) and producing work within those color restraints is a radical departure for me. I will still do custom dinnerware in all my colors, but this exercise affords me the possibility of deepening and developing my own signature work.

I am an advocate of cottage industry and studio practice in product development as a means for artists and designers to create interesting work, edgy work, work that may not hit the mass market for years to come. My customers tend to be in personal contact with me and often become friends. Relationships guide my work as does my community. I am part of a craft guild in Columbia County, New York, where I live and it is exciting to work with other artists trying to figure how to make a living. My studio is often open to visitors and I encourage people to come by, especially if dinnerware is in the offing. It is easier for us to communicate in the context of where the work is produced, where we can look at colors together and choose an appropriate collection together.

Marketing is always a challange for me and all artists, for that matter. I am attending a seminar given by Seth Goodin ( January and look forward to his energy and ideas in this regard.

I hope to post new work and ideas here regularly. The website ( is still best for placing an order, but I thought adding this blog would facilitate thoughts and interactions among the interested.

Send me your thoughts!

Cheers in '06-

Mary Anne