The Artist Profiles:
Mary and Joe Devenney
I had the pleasure of speaking with two genuinely lovely people this past week, and writing about the beautiful pieces they create for our shop. Mary and Joe Devenney work as full-time artists, making pottery from their home and studio in Jefferson, Maine. The creativity that emanates from both of them, as well as their children, is astounding. They have taught and influenced each other, encouraging new ideas and inspiration for all different types of media. Joe had not touched a piece of clay before meeting Mary–and that’s a whole other story.
Joe was working in Woods Hole, Massachusetts when he befriended one of his coworkers, who happened to be Mary’s brother. Meanwhile, Mary was teaching in Derry, New Hampshire and was engaged to someone else at the time. On Christmas break, Joe ventured home to visit family. On New Year’s Eve, he got set up to go on a date–ironically with one of Mary’s fellow teachers. The next morning, “I snuck out before breakfast,” Joe laughed.
The date had taken place in Manchester, not far from where Mary lived, so Joe decided to stop by on his drive home. “Mary was home in her living room, trying to take down her Christmas tree,” Joe remembered. He helped her toss it out the second-story window, and they spent the rest of the day together. I could hear the smile in her voice when Mary reflected back on that moment. “I remember thinking, ‘Well, this guy’s kind of nice,’ and the more I got to see him I thought, ‘I like this one better than the other one’…it’s terrible, but it’s true!” The rest, you see, was history.
Mary was an art teacher in Derry, and with Joe expressing interest, she began teaching him to throw pots on the classroom wheel after school. Every once in a while, her students would want to throw clay in class and she’d put a stop to their behavior immediately. “But as I’d get towards the end of the year, I’d tell them that I did have one clay fight,” Mary claims. It was with Joe. “I took a hunk of clay and slapped him in the face with it,” she laughs. Looking back, it was pretty fun.
Shortly after they married they moved into an old farmhouse, bought a kick wheel and put it in the basement. They’d throw pots in the dank and dark, and later Mary would take them to fire in the school kiln in between firings for her students. After getting the hang of this new routine, Mary and Joe took a two-week workshop in Dunbar, NH from a very well-known potter, Jerry Williams. “We worked from six in the morning to eleven at night for two weeks. It was really quite inspiring,” says Joe. They brought their new knowledge back to their old kick wheel in the basement, and kept at it.
During visits to their daughter in Bath, Mary and Joe would take time to walk the streets and pop into shops. Passing by Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine, they wondered if it was a place they could sell their pieces. Nudging each other through the door, they took a look around and thought, “Wow, they have a lot of potters…they’d never want to see our stuff.” Friends of theirs, Pam and Kevin White, would chat about selling photography at Lisa-Marie’s and the easy-going, familial atmosphere of the shop. One day in January, Joe took a chance and walked back through those doors.
Lisa-Marie happened to be there that day, and she suggested they bring in a few pieces for her to look over. Within a few weeks the Devenney pottery was newly featured amongst the shelves of Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine. “We went from admiring the store from the outside to admiring it from within!” Joe exclaims.
For years, Mary and Joe have settled into their lives as full-time artists, producing pottery for local shops and craft fairs around Maine. Through their experience at Lisa-Marie’s, they’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to be creative and add new items to their inventory, with the ability to step back and see what happens.
Feedback from managers and staff have led to new additions, one of those being Christmas ornaments. All year round, these delicate ceramic tree-hangings fly off the hooks. They’ve even begun collaborating with their daughter Nina, incorporating her hand-drawn and painted designs onto their signature mugs. Joe explains that “knowing Andy and Lisa-Marie as much as we do, or as little as we do, it still feels like we’re dealing with–” “family,” Mary says, finishing his thought. And creativity seems to run in their family, as well.
Nina Devenney, one of Mary and Joe’s daughters, has recently joined Lisa-Marie’s artist lineup. She’s a queen of all trades, dabbling in various types of media. You can find some of her beautiful paintings, cards, and jewelry between both shop locations. Her skills were curated from a young age. “I remember–I think I have a picture of her–when she was 3 years old, I gave her clay and watercolors at the table all at the same time. She didn’t know what to do!” Mary recalls.
Mary and Joe own many of her pieces, as well as their daughter, Angela’s photography, on display throughout their home. “Oh yes”, Mary laughs. “We have a big painting in the living room, and a wreath all the things that are special in our family. We have a photogravure of her and her sister called My Estuary, it’s really beautiful.” That’s not all. The Devenney’s can’t leave out an up-and-coming artist from their home gallery. “We have our 5-year-old granddaughter’s first drawings hanging, too.” As I speak with them on the phone, I can imagine their cozy house, proudly and tastefully decorated with artwork by both owners and their family full of artists.
“You know, there’s a lot of stuff in this house! You wanna tour? I’ll give you a tour!” chuckles Mary.
Inspired by family, students and friends, the Devenney’s have made countless pieces in their years as artists. Their designs have changed throughout time, but along the road they have achieved a signature style. It features glazes of teal blues and seafoam greens accompanied by a pop of contrast with dainty, red hearts. Influenced by her students and driven by their love for Valentine’s Day (and each other), the hearts evolved during creations. Beginning as “bumpy hearts,” as Joe lovingly called them, they modified them to be simpler, smaller, and a whole lot smoother– resulting in their iconic mug and bud vase designs.
Turning your passion into your career can be a tricky path. Whether it be researching start-up funds or the challenge of keeping a steady yearly income, Mary and Joe have experienced the journey from full-time employment to full-time creation. “When you’re involved in the arts it’s a real gift. It’s not like when you reach a certain age you have to retire and figure out what to do, “ Mary says. “You can keep on doing what you’ve done, you know? It’s awesome, I feel pretty lucky.” The key to happiness is loving what you do, and you might have to work hard to get there.
Switching gears, we touched upon the looming COVID-19 crisis and how it was affecting our daily life, our future plans, and the ability to connect with friends and family. Knowing that we have been swimming in updates and news revolving around the pandemic, I asked them what they’d be doing on a perfect day, untouched by the Corona Virus.
Mary answered first. “I would get up early and feed the birds–Ha! ’s in shock because I never get up early. Maybe walk around the yard, make some pots, then go out to have breakfast with some friends, like Kevin and Pam. Then go for a walk on the beach and come home and check on the kiln.”
Joe’s answer followed suit. “I would get up at 4 o’clock , and I’d ask Mary if she’d wanna go and she’d say ‘No thanks.’” They both crack up. I do too. “I’d go to the sunrise at Pemaquid or Popham beach–I’m an old photographer– so I’d go there and take some photographs and work until it got late enough that the nearest coffee shop would be open. Then I’d hang out with a cup of coffee and a biscotti. After, I’d come home and throw some pots. If it were summertime, I’d probably saute some scallops and make supper with Mary…and I’d have several glasses of red wine,” Joe finishes, their laughter echoing in the background.
Their love for each other and their passion for creating has driven the two to lead lives with no regrets. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to speak with Mary and Joe, especially during this time of “social distancing,” a term I personally have mixed feelings about. While we are remaining physically distant, it’s the social connections that keep us together. The Devenneys warmly welcomed me into their lives, even if it was only for an hour long phone call. Before hanging up, they spoke about how they were thankful for the ability to continue working during this uncertain time. And as a small business, we are thankful for their endless hard work, producing pottery for our online shop–and for other local businesses, too.
Joe said something during our chat that stuck with me; something I think describes the way the Devenneys have cultivated an appreciation for life and the way they live it. “We moved to Maine to be potters back in the mid-70s, and after about ten years of making pots, I said to Mary ‘Jeez, you know I’d like to do something else besides spending my entire life in a two-car garage’.” He chuckles. “A couple years ago I said to Mary ‘You remember when I said that? Now I feel like the only place in the world that I want to be is in our two-car garage’.” If we can channel Mary and Joe’s outlook during moments of doubt or uncertainty, we can step back and discover newfound appreciation for the daily routines, the wonderful people, the doting pets, and the meaningful hobbies.
These are the little things that make life that much better.
Take a peek at some of their ceramic creations here, and email us if you have any questions!