A sprawling collection of hundreds of shades of pastels covers the desk in artist Mary Jean Davis’ Longview studio.
Davis uses the pastels as her primary medium to create her artwork, which ranges from people and landscapes to still life. For Davis, art is a continuous process of trying new techniques, perfecting skills, finding a style and experimenting — but she never lets herself be confined to one particular style.
“We're not just one person, we're layers,” she said.
For Davis, art has been a lifelong passion. She was interested in drawing from a young age and took art classes in high school. Davis, 62, grew up in Shreveport before attending Louisiana Tech University where she began studying education.
While Davis didn’t start out majoring in art in college because her father wouldn’t pay for it, she quickly switched her major to art education.
“I was missing art so much,” she recalled. “I just realized I could take art classes and still come out with a degree that maybe I could make some money.”
Art and teaching went hand in hand for Davis, teaching art in school and at a museum. Davis worked as an art teacher in elementary through high schools throughout her 33-year career. Taking a teaching position at Hallsville ISD brought her to the Longview area. She also began teaching art classes at Longview Museum of Fine Arts in 1981, and continues to teach there today.
As a public school educator, Davis strived to balance teaching artistic techniques while also fostering each child’s creativity.
“It was kind of scary at times,” she said. “When you realize they have those creative thoughts, I didn't want to squelch them by making them have to fit a formula."
Throughout Davis’ career, many students made an impact on her.
“I’m going to say that they had more of an impact on me than I probably did on them,” she said, smiling.
She left school teaching in 2015 and has dedicated her time to drawing in her home studio.
In college she was drawn to watercolor, but Davis became interested in soft pastels a few years into her teaching career when the school district allowed her to take a workshop at LMFA, working under pastel artist Judy Pelt, who has since passed away.
“I mainly signed up for that because that was the only week in the summer I could take any kind of workshop because I had a young son at the time,” Davis said, laughing. “When I started taking that workshop, I fell in love with pastels.”
Davis works mostly with soft pastels and more recently, she’s focused her drawing subjects on time and the past. She also uses bottles, mason jars, Tinkertoys and more in some of artwork. She pointed to a drawing of life jackets hanging lined up on a wall that she saw during a summer vacation on a lake.
“A lot of times, it might just be the way the light’s hitting certain objects or certain people,” Davis said. “If a person has an interesting characteristic about them, I want to draw them.”
Davis also enjoys landscapes and hiking.
“I love to get out and hike and see things and take a lot of pictures with my cellphone and come back with little vignettes and drawings,” she said.
While she doesn’t let herself become confined to one particular style, drawings in various forms line her walls. In contrast to a realistic looking sewing machine drawing or a slightly impressionistic piece depicting sunflowers in mason jars, there is a more experiential and abstract drawing of feathers. From the drawing, layers of detail can be seen that make the feather look light and as if it’s floating.
“The older you get, the more layers you have and the deeper,” Davis said.”I think that's why I enjoyed the feathers so much because it started with a white, new fresh beginning and then I built it up and I've enjoyed that approach.”
Davis' work has been accepted and displayed in national and international shows including in Cape Cod; New York City; Sedona, Texas; Santa Fe and more. She has sent her pieces as far as India. One brightly colored drawing of Texas wildflowers has been to New York twice.
Art is in Davis’ blood as she comes from an artistic family. One sister is a cellist in Boston; another sister is a photographer in Conroe; and her brother plays the dulcimer and builds his instruments. Her great-grandmother Carrie Ellen Montgomery attended the Stone City Art Colony in Chicago, studying under Grant Wood.
Davis said her husband, Brian, an architect, is supportive of her work. She uses the front living room of their house as a studio.
“We never really used this room for what it's intended and it has perfect north light in the windows,” she said. “I am a Christian so, obviously, I give God all the glory. I'm very thankful. I'm very blessed that I have this place to be able to create.”
Davis has one son, who served in the U.S. Army after graduating from Texas A&M University. Her son is married and has a 3-year-old son. On Fridays, Davis and her grandson have “GG time” where they paint together over video chat. She believes it's important to cultivate creativity at a young age.
For creators who want to pick up art again or those who hope to try it for the first time, David said they should not be afraid of making something that’s bad.
“You can always improve,” she said. “Get over thinking that everything that needs to be put on paper has to be a masterpiece. I have so many things that, you know, I just trash. You just have to practice.”
Davis' work can be viewed at www.maryjeandavisstudio.com.