abba's way

Remembering Mal Davis


Mal Davis died unexpectedly following hip surgery and by all rights should have a New York Times obituary since he was and is one of the world’s prime ceramists. I knew Mal and his wife Judy because we were students together at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. I followed Mal’s early career. Like many Union students, his Christianity consisted of being one of the world’s decent people, Such people are less identified by what they do than who they are.

True to about half his fellow students, Mal ended up changing what he did. He moved from ministry to the potter’s wheel. He became preeminent in his field, not easy when you start at 40.. Judy has provided me with the following information which I publish here  in hopes that friends of Mal will feel free free to add comments that will further tell all who are interested how special Mal was and is.

Mal Davis

Malcolm Davis, internationally acclaimed ceramic artist and named one of the 50 top craftspeople in the US,  died on December 12 from a pulmonary embolism,  three days  after a hip replacement surgery. He was 74. Born in Newport News, Virginia,   Malcolm was  a long-time DC resident whose studio and kiln was in Tallmansville, West Virginia.

At age 40, he touched clay for the first time, noting at that moment that he “had been a potter all his life.” Shortly afterwards, he left his paid campus ministry work at the United Campus Christian Ministry George Washington University (Washington DC)  to become a full-time potter, and quickly achieved fame as a Master Shino Potter.  A graduate of Union Theological Seminary in NYC and ordained United Church of Christ clergy, he considered his life in clay as a continued ministry.    He married dozens of couples theUS, and considered  “the making of pots as a way to celebrate the mundane rituals of daily life and to make them holy.”

Malcolm exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, the American Craft Council Shows, and was a regular participant for over 30 years in the Annual Pottery Invitational (curated by Karen Karnes) at the Old Church Cultural Center in Demarest, NJ.  He first exhibited in NYC in 1991 at the Greenwich House Nancy Hartsock Gallery.   A second major national exhibition, “Shino Extravaganza,” for the 2012  46th Annual NCECA National Conference in Seattle was in process when he died.   He was the recipient of numerous awards, including four grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Internationally acclaimed for his functional porcelain shinoware. Mr. Davis taught and lectured widely throughout the US, Canada and Italy, and was featured in over 15 books and publications in the U.S. and Europe.   Revered in the pottery community, his work is in numerous Collections including the American Craft Museum (NYC), the American Museum of Ceramic Art (Pomona, CA), The Schein-Joseph of Ceramic Art (Alfred, NY), Mobach Collection (Utrecht, Holland), and a permanent collection in Yixing, considered the pottery capital of China.

Malcolm’s shino glaze receipe developed a ground breaking carbon-trapping glaze that, true to his generous nature, he released to the world rather than keeping  a secret.   “Malcolm’s Shino” is in clay studios throughout the US and Europe.

Mal was strongly attached to his DC, New York City and West Virginia communities.   Known as a creator, teacher and friend, he was also an activist who once was on Nixon’s Enemies List.  Survivors include his wife, Judy Davis, a fabric artist known for her shibori silk work.

Gifts in memory of Malcolm are requested to be sent to the Old Church Cultural Center (Demarest, NJ), The Studio Potter (Shelburne, MA), the Baltimore Clayworks (MD), and to Union Theological Seminary (NYC).

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Additional bio and images can be found on following links:

   (images and short bio….)
  (more images and bio information)
There is a full article interview about his life on The Studio Potter website, www.studiopotter.org
 titled “Shino Warrior”.
Excellent photos and bio also at http://www.brackers.com/malcolm-davis
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5 thoughts on “Remembering Mal Davis

  1. Anonymous says:

    Judy – We just recently learned of Mal’s passing and are so sorry for your loss. Unfortunately we have lost touch with many family members over the years. We are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers and hope you are doing well. Sincerely, H.C. Page and Family

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