Artist carves a good life on the island
Walking through Maggie Fuller’s island house is a visual adventure. It’s filled with hundreds of books, paintings and ceramics in multiple colors and interesting shapes.
The ample studio she shares with her husband, Michael, sits behind their two-story Victorian house in the northeast corner of the family’s compound on Avenue K. To reach it, you walk through a long, homey kitchen with three dogs — Kamea, Precious and the visiting Bogart — as attentive escorts. The 14-foot ceilings are ringed in windows that wash the room with natural light and illuminate high shelves lined with favorite ceramic works by both Fullers.
From the kitchen, the back stairs join a path that winds through a sprawling garden with chickens clucking and scratching and rabbits sleeping in the sun. It loops around a substantial kiln and a potter’s wheel and into an open-air studio stuffed with works in progress. Peeking out from the far corner are shelves of voluptuous white, wheel-thrown porcelain pieces that define Fuller’s current work.
“I began working in porcelain, initially carving it,” she said. “To make it stronger, I added paper fiber to the clay body and experimented building and throwing it. I like how it looks without a glaze; I like the form of it.”
The sculptured vessels are inspired by plants, most recently succulents, and microscopic cells and patterns. She was moved by a series of 19th century photographs that depicted ocean debris under a microscope.
“I take what is microscopic and make it bigger,” she said.
Her process begins with mixing a bag of cut-up porcelain clay into a bucket of water to form a slurry. She adds toilet paper, which has been soaked in water and ground in a blender.
“This creates more strength in the clay body and allows for better drying,” she said. “The paper parts burn away in the kiln at a high fire of 2300.”
Fuller, 50, is tall and lithe with deep brown eyes and an abundance of wavy dark hair with sprinkles of white. She smiles a lot when she talks about her life in Galveston.
“I love that Galveston is an island surrounded by water,” she said. “I love the old architecture and my big old drafty house.”
The island has much to offer, she said.
“Galveston has a nice arts community, true cultural diversity, and living here is like living in a city and a small town,” she said.
Fuller’s past work includes whimsical, hand-painted house sculptures that enclose symbols and secrets; Roman and Greek-inspired works that might have come from an archaeological dig; and a deck of 76 exquisite ceramic tarot cards hand-painted with Fuller’s own symbols — boats, roses, ladders and houses.
“Art making is a long journey,” she said. “It encompasses one’s whole life lived up to the present moment. Even those bits and pieces that translate themselves into one’s work when we aren’t even looking.”
Her work is a reminder that we are all connected through love, hurt, laughter, searching and all that has happened to us at any time through our history, she said.
Like many artists, she works intensely for a time, then has fallow periods.
“I sit and read and wait for inspiration,” she said.
A recent trip to Europe with her husband left her feeling renewed and ready to work. She has at least 20 new pieces ready to show.
Born in Peekskill, N.Y., Fuller is the daughter of a management consultant and an artist. She was raised in the rural areas of Maine and New Hampshire with parents who eschewed television and anything with sugar, and encouraged their three children to appreciate art, museums and travel.
As a child, she was determined to become an archaeologist, poring over books that depicted the artistic finds from Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilizations.
“My dad took me to the Pompeii exhibit in Boston, and later I got to go to Pompeii and see that amazing place,” she said.
She also conducted her own digs in the woods near the foundations of 18th century houses, finding old bottles and pieces of dishes.
Fuller attended the prestigious Chicago Art Institute from 1985 to 1988, doing major works in painting and sculpture. She married a fellow art student and the couple moved to a small town in Iowa.
When that marriage ended, she accepted a teaching job in the arts program at Hutsell Elementary in Katy.
“I remember looking at a map of Texas and thinking, ‘Oh God, never,’ but I love it here in Galveston,” she said. “I’m grateful for the life I have here.”
In the very beginning of the millennium, she met Michael, an artist and psychiatrist living on the island. Two weeks later, he proposed.
“I didn’t tell my mother right away because I knew she’d say it was too fast, but we’ve been together 15 years, and it gets better every day,” Fuller said.
The white work will debut in Fuller’s upcoming show, “What Emerges,” which opens Feb. 21 at DesignWorks Gallery, 2119 Postoffice St. in Galveston’s downtown. DesignWorks Gallery represents Fuller and has Fuller’s pottery, jewelry and paintings in its permanent gallery collection.
What are you reading right now? I’m reading a Donna Leon book, which is part of a series about a Venetian detective.
Favorite island haunt? Mod Coffeehouse.
Most fun Galveston activity? Walking on the beach and poking around at Saturday yard sales.
Favorite time of the day? Right now, it’s the morning. I like to sip a cup of tea and do some reading.
Planning a trip to …? I want to go back to France and to Turkey.
Favorite food? Mediterranean. French and Italian. My favorite dish is bouillabaisse, a fish soup.
Family? I have a 21-year-old daughter, and Mike has a 25-year-old son and a 30-year-old daughter.
Plans for 2015? Read more; do more art; travel.