Internationally acclaimed ceramic and clay artist Dora De Larios wasn’t going to marry the first man that came along and proposed, even though he was a keeper—and any other sixteen year old would have jumped at the chance. It was the 1950s, after all, and what young women often did—even if they aspired to go to college, which she did. The handsome Italian couldn’t believe she wouldn’t marry him—until she threw the engagement ring out the car window.
“I was born into a family that was passionate about everything,” De Larios said. “The women in my family are strong in spirit.”
Saying goodbye to the proposal meant she could focus on what she already was passionate about—her art. But she would need to buck another tradition to pursue it. “I had a Mexican father, and if I wanted to go to college, I had to stay close to home. That’s the way it was.”
Luckily, the University of Southern California (USC) was nearby, but at $14 a unit, they couldn’t afford it, she said. She received a scholarship but had to maintain a 3.8 GPA. “That was like asking me to jump over the moon. When I got a C+ in biology, it was like getting the Academy Award.”
With her artistic capabilities, she was recruited to be a biology medical illustrator—and turned it down. Her focus was on Art History and Philosophy, the basis of understanding different cultures and religions, she said. This built her curiosity when studying with ceramists Otto and Vivika Heino and helped to develop her unique style. “I had a visceral connection to stone, to clay.”
Shortly after graduating, she married USC architect Bernard Judge. They traveled throughout Europe on $6.50 a day for thirteen months, said De Larios. The travels added to the richness of what she had learned growing up—an appreciation for cultural beauty.
Working with clay, steel, wood, sculpture or plastic, De Larios features opposing forces in her art including mythological creatures and goddesses at once whimsical and fierce, Japanese and Mexican influences, Catholic and pagan, and the mystical and powerful feminine form.
After teaching ceramics at USC and UCLA, she took a leap of faith. “I thought if I started my studio, they would come.” Irving Place Studio was born, became home to a handful of other women artists—and local business owners bought their art.
“We had multicultural support. Los Angeles is a convergence of so many cultures that can clash at times, but it’s vibrant. Our city is fabulous that way.”
Her work has made its mark on the city and beyond.
In 1977, her 12 place settings of dinnerware were selected for a White House luncheon and subsequent exhibition. She led the design of a massive mural at Walt Disney World. There is a blue porcelain seascape for the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach, a monolith in cast cement and textured bronze in Pasadena entitled “Home to Quetzalcoatl,” and three “Koi Goddesses” in L.A.’s Westin Bonaventure Hotel fountain. She has served as representative to the World Craft Congresses in Mexico, Japan and Austria.
The list goes on and spans decades.
The Female Influences
“The thing I’m most proud of is I was born Mexican because the culture is most influential, and all the women in my family are central to that,” De Larios said.
She is still close to her 104-year-old aunt, her example of strength and loving kindness.
Her mother who worked at Max Factor instilled in her work ethic and pride. When she was 17, De Larios worked for her one summer on the lipstick line. “I couldn’t keep up with it. I was Lucille Ball in that famous scene with the chocolates. I started throwing lipsticks over my shoulder. She was humiliated, and I was humbled.”
Her big-hearted grandmother, Mama Grande, had 12 children, shared dichos and always seemed to find food to feed others, De Larios said. With the light coming in through the blind shafts, her kitchen seemed like a sacred place. “I loved it all. It was so graphic.”
Irving Place Studio Today
Growing up with an artist becomes a lifestyle. “Artists don’t ever stop,” said De Larios’ daughter, Sabrina Judge who is also an artist, songwriter and mother of two. “It’s how their creativity works. My mother inspired me.”
Judge had a secret dream: for people to see and buy her mother’s work. “She’s been working for so long, and in her world travels, she has drawn from classical design elements in an honest way that people can relate to, that resonates. It’s all museum quality work.”
Collaborating with her husband, Aaron Glascock, they launched a new Irving Place Studio where De Larios’ work could be showcased all the time.
“I wanted to call it Irving Place Studio because that was a magical time in our lives,” Judge explained. “That was the name of her studio with only women artists there—with this energy that was incomparable. It’s reminiscent of times past and a tribute to my mother’s work.”
Now the three collaborate on a line of dinnerware, specializing in artisanal ceramics like bowls and plates hand-thrown on a potter’s wheel. De Larios formulates the glazes, and Judge oversees the glazing and firing.
De Larios Legacies
De Larios’ work was honored in 2009 in “Fifty Years of the Art of Dora de Larios,” a major retrospective at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibit, entitled “Sueños/Yume,” featured goddess and warrior sculptures and Mexican and Japanese inspired pieces.
In 2011, her work was in “Art Along the Hyphen: The Mexican-American Generation” at the Autry National Center, and “Common Ground” at the American Museum of Ceramic Art, both part of the J. Paul Getty “Pacific Standard Time” exhibitions on L.A. art from 1945-1980.
Executive Director of the USC Latino Alumni Association, Domenika Lynch, rallied to have the trailblazing Trojan recognized for her works at the 2015 Alumni Spotlight Ceremony. Even though De Larios was not pictured in the USC yearbook, Judge said, the Spotlight brought her home to where she started.
Judge introduced her mother that night as “fierce, a warrior who nurtures relationships like a garden.”
Diagnosed with cancer in 2014, De Larios reflects the fierce warrior of her works. “We’re all on borrowed time. No matter how bleak it looks, life is about spirituality. I’ve always been blessed. I love life even more. I’m going to persevere and be busy working.”
For now, Irving Place Studio is a sacred place where mother and daughter can create art—and perhaps try new traditions, leave a legacy. “It would be a waste to not try,” Judge said. “Keep trying. That’s her spirit. That’s my mom coming through me.” •