Judeth Davis works on a bust at her studio in Granite Falls. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Judeth Davis works on a bust at her studio in Granite Falls. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

She does her sculpting from a studio in the Granite Falls outback

Judeth Davis fell in love with clay when she was just 4 years old. Now she’s an award-winning sculptor.

Who: Judeth Davis, 67, started sculpting more than two decades ago. Her first piece was a portrait of her daughter, then 12 years old. Davis mostly works in clay but also creates in bronze. Her work has been shown locally and nationally, and she’s been recognized with several awards. Davis grew up in California. In college, she began to study art but switched her major to child development.

She and her husband moved to Granite Falls a few years ago, where they live on a 21-acre forest preserve. Her studio is on the property. See more of her work at www.judethdavis.com.

Here’s what she has to say about her work.

What: I started with portraiture, and that’s how I got my foot in the door with some of the more well-known groups. I’m a member of the Portrait Society of America, and have taken awards with them.

I am self-taught, but I would go buy books. I fell in love with Bruno Lucchesi’s work. He’s in Tuscany. I found out his son was putting on this workshop in Italy, and I had been studying Italian. So I said, “I’m going to go.” I was there for the summer. The workshop was in May and I came home in August. I just couldn’t keep up with all I was exposed to — it was overload. I’m still trying to download stuff I’ve experienced, and that was a long time ago. It was in 2001, because I came home in August and 9/11 happened the next month.

When: I’ve been an artist my whole life. In my studio I have a cat I sculpted when I was 4 years old. I got into drawing, and all through high school people would pay me to draw on their notebooks — back in the day of canvas-covered notebooks — and on their book bags. So I was always doing art, but when I got married the first time, it was a very difficult marriage. His health went south very fast. It was mental illness. He was a paranoid schizophrenic. He could not seem to work, keep a job. So, you know, you make the lemonade you can with those kinds of lemons. I did a lot of banners, a lot of illustrations, a lot of art you could sell. But nothing out of my soul, except for my kids. My kids have always been great fun. I would write stories for them, and I would illustrate the characters.

Where: We moved from Los Angeles to the Columbia River at the end of 2014. We were there for two years before we decided we wanted more privacy and a lot more land, and so we found this place. We didn’t know anything about Granite Falls, but we fell in love with this place. That was in 2016, so (it was) three years this Christmas. So basically for four years, I have been setting up households and taking them down. And setting up household studios, and trying to meet other artists and resources. My husband, Jim, and I both feel like we just now live here — we are just now getting to know our neighbors, we just now know what restaurants we like to go to and, boy, has it been hard to meet people.

Why: My first husband was very, very ill for 17 years. Very ill. And near the end, he was pretty housebound, bedridden. I had three kids, pre-teen, teenagers, and it was a lot. I realized that for my mental health, gardening wasn’t going to be enough, cooking wasn’t going to be enough, teaching wasn’t going to be enough. I needed something that fed my soul because it was give, give, give. I would always go get car magazines for him, because he loved reading car magazines when he could stay with it long enough to read. I was at the magazine section in a Barnes & Noble, and there was the Sculpture Review. On the cover I saw what I think was a Fredrick Hart sculpture, and I said, “I can do that.” Who knows why you think these things. I don’t know why I thought I could. But across the street there was a hobby shop. So I went over there, bought a 25-pound block of wet clay, went home, and we had this little loft, and I sat up in the loft and I did my daughter’s portrait. She was 12, so that was in 1994.

My neighbor had a kiln and I took it over to him and asked if he would fire it, and he said, “OK.” But the next morning his wife came over and said, “You’re not going to trust him with that masterpiece. He’s a hobbyist. You need to have a professional fire that.” And I said, “It’s my first thing. It’s not important, I’m just trying.” She said, “OK, we will fire it, if you do my kids.” So I did her kids’ portraits. Then her mother said, “Well, I want those of my other two grandkids.”

Within less than a year, I rented a beachfront hotel in Morro Bay, California, and opened my first studio.

How: I have three ways I approach my sculpture. I either work in water-based clay, where I just fire them once and they are dry, and that’s the permanent finished product — I love doing portraiture in water-based clay; I do best in that. Or I work in oil-based clay, and I mold it in silicone, then I pull a wax version out of the silicone mold and the foundry pours it into bronze. A third way is stone; direct carving into stone.

First piece: I did the full 360 of my daughter’s head, and the back of the hair was so heavy it fell off. So I just took the wire and cut it, so the face was what got fired. Years later it was on the wall in one of my studios, and it came down and cracked. I glued it back together and painted it with this awful paint, but I was learning. I still have it.

Stephanie Davey: sdavey@heraldnet.com, 425-339-3192.

An artist on exhibit

This story is part of an occasional series in which local artists share the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How on their creative careers — plus the story behind their favorite original artwork. Do you know an artist worthy of a feature in the Good Life section? Email features@heraldnet.com.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the winter issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

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