One of the strengths of the New Mexico Arts and Crafts Fair is its variety. Mary Sharp Davis’ work is an example: she was awarded Best Semi-Precious Jewelry but her booth featured more than just jewelry. As I walked up to her display on the last day of the show, I felt invited by its earthy quality and copper-looking decorative ceramics. The ceramic pendants on the wall looked primal and full of grounding energy. I was surprised when I picked one up and discovered its heaviness was only an illusion—the hollow piece was as light as a dried gourd. After the show, I caught up with Mary to get more details about her creative vision.
Amy: What brought you into the world of art?
Mary: Although my family is from New Mexico, I was raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. After attending UNM and receiving my BFA in painting and drawing in 1966, I felt determined to return to New Mexico to live and did so in 1971. Albuquerque has always held a strong heart pull for me. The topography, climate, its history and its legacy entranced me.
Though I obtained my degree in painting and drawing, I love the cool, plastic sensuality that clay affords. Its three-dimensional quality offers limitless possibility. I was hooked the first time I saw someone throw a pot on a wheel from a seemingly lifeless lump of clay. Hand building has become my preference, however. I’ve always looked to nature and more primitive or hands-on cultures for my inspiration in my work. I also love the alchemy of the clay’s processes, employing air, fire, earth and water. The water adds life, cohesiveness and pliability to the clay (earth), the air dries and hardens it and the fire and air transform it. Beautiful!
A: How did you come to use that stunning, aged-metallic look in your ceramics?
M: A trip to Japan for my son’s wedding with a visit to a museum in Nara where I found 4,000-year-old Chinese bronzes set me in motion. They had such a strong draw to my senses, as if they were old friends. I began to seek finishes other than glass glazes for my pots and found metallic paints that could be patinated (aged by oxidation and moisture).
A: How did your work with decorative ceramics bring you to jewelry, or was it the other way around?
M: It is just a fluke that I started with my jewelry. While getting ready for a show, I felt the need to make myself a pendant that reflected the shape of my smaller, amphora-shaped vessels so that the public could associate me with my work by sight. The rest is history. I started playing with hollow pendant forms.
My jewelry work is best described as ethnic pendants with patinated and glazed surfaces. I search for beads that complement my pieces, mostly ethnographic handmade beads gathered from all over the world. I draw from historical mostly classic, simple shapes and most significantly from my muses in the creative process. Magic happens in the studio! I am drawn to textured surfaces, which enhance the patinas of the pendants. I think of my work as strong power pieces, imbued with the energy of many hands from many lands. I feel a little naked without one these days.
A: Where can people see your work?
M: I have a small gallery in my office at home where clients can see my work. I’m finding larger, fairly localized shows to be my best options for now, and am working on a website. I’m doing two shows in the Denver area soon, one in Sedona and the Weems Artfest in Albuquerque in November. I am also a ceramic urn maker and hope to get that enterprise pulled together later this year. I invite the local public to visit me at my studio with an appointment. I can be reached at email@example.com.
Congratulations to Mary Sharp Davis and to Richard and Beth Elkin for their awards at the 2011 New Mexico Arts and Crafts Fair! I’m looking forward to next year’s show and what New Mexico’s best and brightest artisans have to offer.