During the 1970s and 1980s children all over Weston could be heard calling to their parents, “don’t forget to pick us up at pottery!” as they trundled off to school. Mary King’s pottery class was such a staple of the Weston Arts and Crafts after-school Arts Program that her studio was a stop on the school bus route. Mary started her career by teaching in the Natick and Newton public schools, but after she settled in Weston she found her true niche. She joined the Weston Arts and Crafts Association, a group of local artists, and took a ceramics class that inspired her to start one of her own.
Mary, a transplanted Californian, landed in Weston as a single parent with two children and a strong art background, nurtured by her major at UCLA. She brought with her a trinity of talents that support each other like legs on a stool: her own creative genius, her knack for finding the inner artist in anyone of any age who happens to wander into her studio, and her admission that “I have my mother’s ability to bring people together and to get things done.” One of her mentors, the well known ceramicist Makoto Yabe, used to say, “I love making friends and making pots;” he might just as well have been describing Mary. Her three passions: art, people, and “bringing people together to get things done” have shaped her adult life in the Weston community over the last 40 years. They provide her with strength, courage, and a devoted following.
“I love kids because they are so fresh,” Mary says. My own children were charter members of her class. She taught them how to handle clay, took them on field trips to the De Cordova Museum, assigned projects, and then stepped back to let them soar. They brought home elaborate castles, coil pots, ceramic bowls filled with bright ceramic fruit, ceramic pumpkins that kept their shape by drying around blown up balloons, sconces that held real candles, ceramic tic-tac-toe sets with removable X’s and O’s so you could actually play the game, and much more. Each child’s pot was unique to that child.
As our children’s creativity took flight we mothers could not resist the temptation of trying to work with the sticky stuff ourselves, so we talked Mary into starting a class for adults. We would spend three hours in her studio one day a week from October to May learning how to work with earthenware, which is clay that is fired at a lower temperature than porcelain. We learned to wedge air out of the clay so our treasures wouldn’t explode in the kiln; we learned that clay has a memory, and that if you don’t treat it properly, your carelessness might come back to haunt you later, in the form of an air bubble, a warp, or a crack; we learned how to mend cracks with “slurry” and “slip,” a mixture of water and clay, and how to build coil pots gradually and hold the coils together with the slip. We learned too that you have to cover your pieces when you leave the studio and then uncover them gradually to allow them to dry slowly. We learned—usually the hard way by watching it break in our hands—that newly dried “leather hard” clay before it is bisque-fired is hazardous to pick up. You have to have patience.
Our adult class grew into two classes with long waiting lists. We dissected and lived through every aspect of each others’ lives—sometimes we even talked about clay. One day, after a heated discussion where everyone disagreed with everyone else, someone quoted an aphorism: “we are not here to see through each other, we are here to see each other through.” We do both—so much so that Mary renamed our adult classes “Psycho-ceramics.”
Mary’s living room explodes with colors and shapes, two dimensional and three dimensional works of art, her own, as well as those of her friends, mostly well-known Weston artists. Her work takes your breath away for its creativity, simplicity, and style. Displayed in front of her picture window is a small village entitled “Weston Center in Clay,” the result of an arts grant Mary received in the 1980s. To get started, she gathered an inter-generational group of Weston artists and several children from her classes. Each of them researched his own building and they all spent three to four months in Mary’s studio working on exquisite, exact replicas of the buildings. Together they created the masterpiece. It was featured at the re-opening of the Josiah Smith Tavern and the Weston Historical Society is planning to take pictures.
Mary sees all of life through her artist’s lens. She is willing to take risks. If she happens into the 16th-century ceramicist Bernard Palissy’s exhibit she will rush home and try to recreate his platters filled with snakes, frogs, fish, ferns, and lily pads. And if her experiments succeed she will teach her new discoveries to her class. If she goes to a Linda Huey exhibit she will get to know Linda and invite her to come back to her own studio to teach a workshop. Mary has spent her teaching life pushing and expanding her students’ artistic horizons. Those little children we picked up at “pottery” now have children of their own.
Ten years after the onset of multiple sclerosis, Mary finally forced herself to drop her three children’s classes, long after the disease made teaching little kids untenable. She, now a little stooped, still carries on with one adult class. Sometimes one of us has to drop out due to life’s vicissitudes: divorce, marriage, birth, death, or illness, but we stay in touch and usually find a way to slip back in.
Perhaps Mary’s body moves more slowly now, but her mind and acerbic wit remain as swift as ever and she rarely accepts help. It is hard even to imagine that she needs help. In her mid-seventies she looks forty-five and has maintained her mother’s classic English beauty. Courage is Mary’s underground talent, as well as the only subject we are not allowed to discuss in her class.
She confessed recently that one of her greatest joys is working in clay with her grandchildren. “Having my grandchildren paint their own plates has brought me one of the most beloved art treasures I own. I also work with friends and neighbors doing hand and/or foot prints on clay that are then made into bowls or plates — a very sociable way of having fun and sharing a creative experience with people.”
One of her teachers at UCLA, the well known ceramicist Laura Andreson, gave Mary advice that still haunts her: “find something in your life you can do well.” Mary protests, “I haven’t done that yet.” In fact, the opposite is true, and she has outdone herself. She has never promoted her own work, yet it is renowned in Weston. She does not acknowledge the greatness that lies in her intertwined talents: art, teaching, and her ability to bring people together. She has transformed lives while living her own to the fullest. Talk to anyone who has taken her class and, to a person, each will say the same thing: “she makes you feel like an artist.”