I’ve met American artist and metalsmith Ann Davis several times at conferences in the USA, back in the days when there was a big conference every year for metal clay artists. Ann works in a wide range of media including glass, metal, enamel, ceramics and metal clay, which is what makes her work so interesting.
Ann told me a bit about her home. “I live in Virginia, just across the river from Washington DC, with my wonderful husband Howard, who does my photography, and my two Hairless Chinese Crested pups. I consider myself to be a maker, artist and being my only employee, chief custodian, but I am a metalsmith.”
Brought up in Ft Worth, Texas, Ann’s creativity started early. “I remember stringing Pyracantha berries on kitchen string with my grandfather, I was about four. Or perhaps my earliest memory was using Silly Putty to transfer the newspapers colored comics onto…mmmm everything…walls too,” she laughed.
I asked her when she first discovered metal clay. “I think it was 96′ or 97′. The first thing I made was a small pendant, well not so small when it started,” she smiled. “I thought it was easy, but my minor was in ceramics. I had a keum boo class at the Torpedo Factory the next day and we were told to bring something in fine silver. Since I was a production caster at the time, and only cast sterling, I thought I would give it a try. I figured it was easier than depletion gilding something already made a dozen times. I fired it in my giant pottery floor kiln, it’s amazing it worked! Took it to class and keum booed it, perfect, then entered it in ‘Positively PMC’, I think the first national show and was accepted. There were some amazing pieces in that show that really opened my eyes to what could be done. I didn’t know anyone else doing it at the time.” (Image Ann Davis-“Tiger 1”)
With such a wide range of techniques in her portfolio, I asked Ann if she has a style. “Wow, I don’t know. The 50’s and 60’s Studio Jeweller’s Movement greatly inspired me, simple, elegant, soft lines, but I never really thought about it…I just make what pops into my head, or my dreams, which is more usual.”
Ann told me more about how dreams influence her work. “A piece that specifically illustrates this is my Dream Boat,” she began. “It’s just as it sounds. I have vivid, sometime lucid dreams, at least the good ones!” (Image Ann Davis-“Dreamboat”)
She went on, “I dreamt I was standing on a Fiord, just after sunrise, everything was beautiful, it was a summer day, clear, clean, placid and a parade of boats started going by. Impossible boats, but so beautiful. I wondered what was going on because each boat was from a different time in history, some sort of a smash up, from Spanish Galleons to American River Boats. I was trying to memorize the details of each one because I knew I was dreaming. Then a Venetian Gondola came by and it seemed to have a castle in it. Suddenly I was flying above the boat and there was a full-blown English castle on board, with people and horses and workers, everything moving and towers and a big gate on one side. I knew it was impossible for all that to fit into a boat, but you know how dreams are, bigger on the inside than the outside.”
“Then I woke up and started drawing. I got several of the boats drawn when the dream began to fade, but the one that stood out was the Gondola, I knew it was mine. A beautiful dream but puzzling. My dreams are often visual puns, my mind is very playful. I spent several days describing it to friends and trying to ‘unknot’ it as Gilgamesh said to his mother about his dream. Finally, I started looking online at pictures of castles to see if anything would jog my memory and I came to keeps, castle keeps. The people in the dream castle were happily going about their day, safe. And I knew it was a visual pun, it meant Sanctuary. A quiet place, a meditative place, full of joy and happiness. Nice. So, I built it out of metal clay, took months of trying because it was not an easy shape. There was no way to get a real castle in there, so I just put in a facade. Added a handmade wave chain, well of course, what else and it just made me laugh.”
So apart from her dreams, what inspires her? “I’m an amateur epigrapher, and I love Archaeology, the original dating system used until modern times was pottery styles, so I’m full of those images. My hobbies are physics, architecture and gardening. I love to climb pyramids, I’ve climbed all over the world.” And what does she do to relax? “Go find a beach to lay on and swim with the fish.”
I asked Ann which piece of her work she thinks best shows these influences. “That would be Minoan Shard, a pate de verre likeness of a Minoan Vase, set on a metal clay background of Minoan script.” (Image: Ann Davis- “Minoan Shard Vista Print (2)”)
Complex work can require quite a bit of planning, so I was interested to learn about Ann’s creative process. “I do make sketches, then usually run it up in cardstock to see if it fits, the Silhouette has become such a useful tool for that, really makes that part go fast. I wish I could say that I don’t plan, but I was taught that way in school and it stuck.”
Ann pretty much creates everything rather than relying on commercial findings or bought components. “I make everything because usually I’ve got such a weird size of something I’m working on, I need to. I do use commercial chain though, it’s so time consuming to make your own and frankly I don’t enjoy it. I make my own glass beads because the holes in commercial beads are always too small! But I love making my own findings. When that is all that’s left to do, I sit down with the piece and ask it what kind of finding it wants, somehow I get an immediate answer.” (Image: Ann Davis-“SpiralDescentResized”)
With so many media at her disposal, I thought it must be tricky to fit it all into one studio space. I asked her to tell me how she organises her work area. “I have a studio which is part of my home. All outside studio spaces I ever looked at banned dogs, and they are such a huge part of my happiness, I just decided to set up where they could be. Everything is organized into stations, a place for regular metalsmithing, a glass bead making table, a metal clay work space, computer space, lapidary equipment and squeezed in, my newest obsession, my 3D laser printer, I use it in a lot of my work now. The time I spend in my studio varies from all day for weeks at a time, to zero for days at a time. And my pups have a bed under my desk, so they are always there.”
She also sells her work from her home. “I used to do a lot of galleries but now I’m making more complex pieces, I prefer to work at my own pace.”
Ann teaches on occasions too. “I just taught at Sawtooth last year at the metal clay conference. That was a lot of fun and I’m scheduled to teach at Bead Camp in the Bahamas this July. Right now, I’m into teaching different enamelling techniques, but I really love working with mild steel and combining it with metal clay and glass, I will be teaching that and enamelling in July.”
I asked her to tell me what she’s working on at the moment. “I’ve currently decided to go back and explore pottery, especially raku but with a different slant. I’m making vessels out of copper clay, then enamelling and rakuing them. I also have decided I like to set my work either in a stand or a wall hanging. So that’s been fun figuring it out and using porcelain impressed with 3D printed stamps, mostly ancient alphabets among other things as a background. I’m getting very mixed mediaish.” (Image: Ann Davis-“RakuVessel”)
So, what’s next for Ann? Where does she see her work going in the future? “Right now, I want to broaden my control over the raku process with copper clay and make bigger vessels, more shapes, more styles. I’ve already integrated my 3D printer into just about everything I do. I feel that is still so untapped in my art and I want to expand that over the next few years.”
It’s always lovely to find out more about the artists I admire, I just wish I had such poetic dreams as Ann does! Find out more about Ann’s work and see the classes she is teaching in the following places: AnnDavisStudio.com, LaRucheDavis.com, LaRucheDavis.com/blog
About the author: Julia Rai is an award winning artist, teacher and writer well known in the international metal clay community. Her work has featured in a wide range of publications and she writes regularly for print magazines and online. She teaches in her home studio in Cornwall and travels to teach by invitation.