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Ebby Malmgren

Mar 28, 2011 05:14PM ● By Anonymous


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“I went back to school, to American U., studying language and linguistics and met a woman through a French class. She was a potter and asked me to attend a pottery show. I did and said to myself, ‘Hey, this is for me,’” fondly recalls Malmgren with a gentle smile. Decades later, Malmgren is one of the most celebrated potters in the mid-Atlantic.

Artist Ebby Malmgren’s home and studio, on one-and-a-half-acres of woodland, is a testament to her decades-long wanderlust. The aspirations and accomplishments of the 90-year-old artist are not only on display in every nook, cranny, and wall of the Sherwood Forest property, they are voiced ever-so-humbly by the woman who has made the greater Annapolis area her home and inspiration for the better part of 40 years.
“This represents, oh, the ocean to me,” says Malmgren as she points to a modest 4” x 6” clay tile in her studio, glazed in horizontal strokes of bright azure, bronze, and onyx. “And this would be sand,” she surmises with a quizzical look. “The black in the middle, I have no idea,” she says laughing, “But altogether this piece says ‘sailing in the Bahamas’ to me.”

Malmgren and her husband of 65 years, Dick, were avid sailors during their more limber years, wintering for several months and “beachcombing” the sugar-white Bahamian sands. This being the early 1980s, the Malmgrens were enjoying retirement from illustrious careers as a medical researcher (Dick) and hospital dietician (Ebby). It was a very creative period for Ebby, who aggressively tapped into her artistic side years earlier while living on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., in the 1960s.

“I went back to school, to American U., studying language and linguistics and met a woman through a French class. She was a potter and asked me to attend a pottery show. I did and said to myself, ‘Hey, this is for me,’” fondly recalls Malmgren with a gentle smile. Decades later, Malmgren is one of the most celebrated potters in the mid-Atlantic.
Her artistic side—actually several sides, which include potter, poet, printer, bookbinder, painter, and teacher—thrives to this day and will likely influence generations hence.

The 2006 Annie Award-winner for Lifetime Achievement has concocted thousands of one-of-kind pieces of artwork, taught and inspired hundreds of
regional and national artists, and exhibited at dozens of galleries—from Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Taos, New Mexico, where she and Dick continue to seasonally reside a month or two—sometimes three—each year.

Though she is an accomplished potter—having been a founding member of the Annapolis Potters’ Guild and winner of numerous “Best in Show” awards—Malmgren’s artistic instincts leaned toward the written word early in life. “I wrote my first poem when I was six. It was very forgettable,” she says laughing. Having grown up in the plains of Plymouth, Iowa, Malmgren relied heavily on her imagination. “It was hard not to be influenced by the countryside; the ‘big flat,’” she says. “You had to be imaginative there. I read a lot. And I’ve always loved poetry.” Malmgren, born February 14, 1921 (a Valentine’s baby) to German and Norwegian immigrants Julius and Geneva, was a sharp grade-school student and would move to the big city of Ames to attend Iowa State University, where she studied to be a hospital dietician. After graduation she moved to New York City, where she met husband-to-be Dick, then made several work-related moves (Cleveland, followed by D.C.) before settling down in the outskirts of Annapolis within the Saefern community.

The year was 1973, and the Malmgrens were adjusting to life post-raising their two children, daughter Betty and son Rick, both of whom were profoundly influenced by the artistic and scientific synergy of their parents. “My dad is a scientist and my mother has always been interested in reading, writing, and making things,” says Rick, a professor of visual arts at Anne Arundel Community College. “In some sense I would say that what was best about it all was the seamless quality. There was no separation between what they did and what they wanted to encourage us to do.

There was no distinction between the arts and the sciences. Creative work was interlaced with critical thought.” While it was during her child-rearing years that Malmgren developed her style of throwing pottery, by 1980 the empty-nester’s thirst to create grew to the point of the Malmgrens building an art studio on their property; the same studio in which she continues her artistic quest, which now includes printmaking and bookbinding.

As the years progressed, Malmgren’s work matured as she attended numerous workshops offered by the “who’s who” of clay artists, among them Alex Giampietro and Vally Possony, who she credits as major influences. Word of her own, natural talent spread within the community and Malmgren began showing her work at numerous arts and craft festivals, often as a member of the Annapolis Potters’ Guild, Kiln Club of Washington, New Mexico Potters’ Guild, and Maryland Printmakers.

Today, her pieces are some of the most sought after in the region (and in New Mexico). Carla Massoni, owner of Carla Massoni Gallery in Chestertown, Maryland, says “The most exciting thing about Ebby’s work is its sheer diversity and, yet, consistent integrity. I refer to her as ‘a potter, poet, philosopher, and printmaker’ who utilizes aspects of all her interests in her creations. She is so highly intelligent and curious herself, and her work demands a similar response from her audience—you find yourself stretching to encompass all the ideas she floats.

“When new work by Ebby arrives in the gallery, the diehard collectors usually swoop in and take everything!”
Malmgren is very thankful for such accolades and notes, “It’s nice. But I think my real pleasure comes from the doing.” And a big part of Malmgren’s artistic career has been giving back and sharing her knowledge with others. In addition to conducting many pottery, printmaking, and creative writing workshops over the years—many of which were pro bono—Malmgren was a member of the Founding Committee for Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts; founding and current member of the Mitchell Art Gallery Advisory Board at St. John’s College; and has served as Vice President of the Maryland Federation of Art.

Malmgren has also been very engaged in co-leading seminars at St. John’s College, the most recent of which explored Japanese prints and haiku. “I like to invite the viewer to look for his or her own meaning,” she says. “In the best of all worlds, we discover a shared awareness neither of us could have reached independently.”
“The two things that I admire most about my mother,” says son Rick, “Are the breadth of forms of expression that she has mastered, and the way that she continues to grow impressively each year. She explores new ideas which she reflects through her art. It is what draws us all to her words and images, and to spending time learning from her.”

“Ebby has mentored too many artists for me to count,” says Carla Massoni. “She is unfailingly supportive of other artists. Ebby is one of the finest women I have known—actually, Ebby is one of the finest human beings I have ever known. She makes a difference every day of her life.”

On the day of our visit to Malmgren’s studio, she is readying herself for a drive to the Academy Art Museum in Easton, on the Eastern Shore, where she’ll be teaching a six-week course in book making (Japanese and accordion binding). “I like to think it [the workshops] encourages people to discover what they can do,” says Malmgren, “Too many people say, ‘Oh, I can’t do that, I’m not an artist.’ That’s not important. Everybody is creative. If you make a pie, that’s creative.

“We’re only here for a visit; we might as well enjoy it.”