Color and whimsy inhabit work of 77-year-old artist
“The secret is you have to keep your head going,” says 77-year-old Maxine Davis, a retired psychologist from Ferrisburgh who now spends much of her time making art. “You have to keep doing things, going after things, being curious.”
Davis’ art medium is glass, although she has experimented over the years with painting, fiber arts and other crafts. She has a home studio that her husband (who will be 90 years old this summer) built as a small addition to the house initially and then extended as Maxine’s passion grew.
Her “play room” is now 16 feet by 22 feet, enough space to accommodate a large kiln, racks and shelving space to catalogue the many colored sheets of glass, molds and forms that shape each piece, plus large tables over which she can create her works.
“I say, if it makes her happy, she could have the whole world,” says Norton Davis, who supports his wife’s work not just by building the spaces, but also by framing all of the hanging pieces as well as managing the firing schedules and kiln temperatures to best avoid cracks in the glass. He had been an electrical engineer prior to retirement and takes pride in utilizing his knowledge and skills to help with Maxine’s work.
The couple met while both were vacationing on the Pennsylvania coast in 1960.
“We met Thursday at 12:30 over lunch,” Norton recalls. “I knew I wanted to marry her by two in the afternoon. She took until Saturday to say yes.”
The couple has been married 54 years and has been living in Vermont for 38.
Maxine Davis has a deep commitment to experimentation and lifelong learning. She and her husband have stories of traveling the world as volunteers. For more than 15 years she has voluntarily taken classes at many of the Vermont colleges and universities to help expand her understanding and “just have fun” with art.
“I take classes to learn more about the skills as well as to meet other people who are playing with materials,” she says. “I’ve taken over 30 art courses and continue to take them to challenge myself and just have a great time.”
As a psychologist Davis worked primarily with kids and her art continues to display a youthful spunk.
She works mainly with fused glass, or “warm glass,” which is distinct from stained glass (that is not kiln fired but rather cut glass that is soldered together), blown glass or hot glass — which are made with molten glass that is either shaped by blowing air into the form or pulling it into shapes as it cools.
Fused glass, by contrast, is fired in a kiln that rises to temperatures between 1250 and 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. Artists stack comparable types of glass on top of one another to create mosaics and scenes with each firing.
Davis’ work ranges widely from small jewelry pieces to clocks, animal portraits, signs, bowls and plates, to large sculptures or wall hangings that depict detailed scenes. Most of her pieces are fired at least twice and many go in and out of the kiln three or four times with more detail and layering with each iteration.
“That’s one of the reasons that fused glass is expensive,” Davis explains, “it’s a very laborious process that requires a lot of kiln time and a lot of handling.”
Fortunately for Davis, she doesn’t assume as much pressure as other artists do who are trying to make a living at their work.
“I’m retired so it’s different for me because I don’t have to make a living at this. I just try to have fun,” she says.
While that may be true, she has found modest success. Davis’ work is displayed at the Shelburne Museum and Basin Harbor Club locally and in a few places in South Carolina, where the couple spends some of their time.
“Anything that doesn’t sell ends up finding happy homes with members of my family and friends,” Davis says, which seems to be working out just fine for her.
HOUSE OF ART
The Davises’ house is filled with Maxine’s colorful work and whimsy. Drawer knobs, clocks, large framed wall hangings and some of her old paintings cover the walls and surfaces. Stacks of plates, bowls and platters occupy space on almost all flat surfaces in the house, reflecting the volume of work Davis has produced.
She is passionate about color and uses dichroic glass with an oil-like sheen and other vibrant colors throughout her pieces to produce playful and engaging compositions.
“I’m usually in the studio working about three days a week,” she says. “The other days the kiln might be running and I might be out at school or volunteering or painting another wall in the house. But I stay pretty busy and the time goes by quickly.”
Davis’ hands are arthritic now, which prevents her from being in the studio for too many hours in a day or in a week, but she is still mobile and mentally more fit than most.
“Getting old happens really fast,” she says. “One day you’re 20, then you’re 30, then you’re 50 and then all of a sudden you’re 70 and you’re old.”
Her artistic hobbies, however, have kept her feeling young and successfully distract her from the realties of age.
“Art is very therapeutic,” she says. “You don’t think about other things or stresses. You just focus on the task and get lost in it. Time disappears as you relax into a totally different frame of mind. Hours go by without knowing it.”
Davis loves to share her work and talk to others about shared experiences with hobbies. To that end, she has recently begun to develop a reference list of professionals by category that live in her town of Ferrisburgh. She is beginning with artists and craftspeople, but is interested in extending the list to “anyone who does anything” in town.
“It seems like people don’t know who the others in the community are that are doing similar things. I want to develop a professional network so that visitors or residents can learn who all the artists are, who the woodworkers are, the babysitters, the hair dressers, the bakers,” Davis says.
While she’s not sure exactly how these lists will be used or distributed, Davis is committed to connecting people in her community and helping them engage with each other.
For more information on Maxine Davis’ work you can visit her Facebook page or email her at [email protected].
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