Meet a Porcelain Artist with a loyal client following

Meet Mary Anne Davis

All budding ceramic artists should talk to Mary Anne Davis, owner of Davis Studio in Chatham, New York. A lot of wisdom can be collected over a very short time when talking to a successful professional such as Mary Anne, with many years of experience.

I had the opportunity to meet up again with Mary Anne, a friend since many years, a meeting that left me inspired and would give anybody invaluable advise on pursuing a successful business in ceramics. To become more familiar with her work, go to her website www.davistudio.com

Mary Anne has a calming influence as she speaks. She has the conviction in her voice of what works and what does not work, which reflects experiences that took her many years to accumulate. She studied sculpture and design and has a Master of Fine Arts degree. She found her niche after searching and trying, discarding and re-trying – just like any mature professional. She has rented studio spaces in several places in New York City only to find that, if you want a stable work situation, you are better off owning your own place. And what a place she has! A home combined with studio in the eastern area of beautiful Upstate New York. From her studio you look over a breathtaking scenario of hills and valleys.

 

Lesson  1. Specialize

Mary Anne's studio

Mary Anne specializes in porcelain designs. From the accompanying pictures you find her pieces an elegant blend of fine art and everyday usefulness. My question to her was – how to you get from nothing to where you are now?

She and her parents knew she had an exceptional talent when she was only three years old. Her start in ceramics happened when she was 13 years old and from there on she was focused on ceramics as a career. She started her present business in 1998.

She found that the claybody that best suited her work is porcelain. Her clientele is broad and includes many individuals and families who are loyal to her designs and repeat customers.

She has very few suppliers – as few are possible – and in her case the main ones are a supplier of her porcelain slip, developed especially for her, and one major glaze manufacturer who has great flexibility in meeting her smallest and biggest needs. No middlemen are involved – she buys directly from flexible and accommodating quality manufacturers. Being a repeat customer guarantees her loyalty from her suppliers. That is one favorable aspect that specializing can lead to.

 

Lesson 2. Sales and marketing

Mary Anne has no compunction about proclaiming herself a business woman as well as an artist. “If you don’t recognize this, how would you survive?”, she says in a matter-of-fact way.

It took her a while to find her right price ranges and she “is working on deepening her relationship with her customers”. She hardly attends any shows any longer, but used to in her early career. “The internet has made it much easier and less expensive to find new customers and develop your business”, she advises. Her gorgeous website attests to this. Having a blog and a presence on Facebook is important. She works with Etsy, where her products are featured (Etsy is an organization for made-in-America artists’ and crafters’ works. Go to www.etsy.com). Today that website features more than 99,000 items under “Ceramics and Pottery”.

She has gained exposure and fame as she has been featured in the New York Times, in Oprah’s magazine and in Elle Decor. Such write-ups give her stature and can be built on in order to stay in her customers’ awareness.

Don’t forget your immediate geographic environment; don’t underestimate the clientele that is closest to you.  You may establish a loyal core of customers within the area where you live.

 

Lesson 3. What is your most important advice to budding artists?

“Search for and find a sustaining approach that combines the technique that suits you with yielding the products that your customers expect from you”. The word “sustaining” comes up frequently and I find it an accurate way of describing what you should strive for. Being a one-of-a-kind artist is very hard so you have to find a way of producing your work that is duplicable and attractive to the customer.  “Duplicable” as in casting in molds or pressing or some other way where you can produce quality products with assistance from part-time help. You need that help while you spend time on what’s important – sculpting new shapes, finding new colors, selling, marketing, finding cost reducing ways of manufacturing – in short, what only you can do and must find time to do.

 

Lesson 4. What was your biggest challenge during the first years in business?

Money, says Mary Anne without hesitation. I had to juggle my paying job and building my business along the way. Money will always be the main concern for anyone in business. It’s a constant part of it. But, the harder you work at the money aspect, the more you learn. It’s not easy, but it can be done as proven again and again in our entrepreneurial world. And, again, once you find how to match your talents with sustainable production, it gets easier.

 

How do you find the business climate today?

 

“The business is getting more robust”. You can perceive it growing again. So stay with it – it will come back to where it makes life easier for artists.

 

Thanks for sharing, Mary Anne!

 

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© 2011 by Rolf E. Ericson, Oneonta, New York, publisher. All rights reserved. Photocopying, reproduction , copying, or redistribution of any kind in printed or electronic form is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.