Art

The Legacy of Dora De Larios, Who Chronicled LA’s Diverse Heritage in Clay

Born in Boyle Heights, De Larios left behind a significant legacy of clay sculptures, ceramic works, and civic art installations that reflect her Mexican heritage and worldly perspectives.

Installation view, Dora De Larios: Other Worlds at Beta Main (all photos courtesy of the Main Museum, photo by Chris Wormald)

LOS ANGELES — The late Dora De Larios, who passed away at the age of 84 in January, devoted her lifetime to the medium of clay and ceramics. An exhibition at Beta Main, Dora De Larios: Other Worlds, features a comprehensive collection of the vast body of work produced by the artist during her six-decade career. A native Angeleno born in Boyle Heights, De Larios left behind a significant legacy of clay sculptures, ceramic works, and civic art installations that reflect her Mexican heritage and worldly perspectives.

In “Porcelain Goddess,” a stately female face, mounted atop a wall of abstract porcelain tiles, greets visitors as they enter the exhibition. Throughout her lifetime, De Larios created works depicting women as powerful mythological figures as a response to being in a creative field dominated by men. These goddess figures, sometimes colored with gold leaf and stoneware, resemble ancient totems from a matriarchal civilization.

Installation view, Dora De Larios: Other Worlds

A childhood trip to the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City made a strong impression on the artist, particularly the museum’s Aztec calendar that later inspired her series of patterned porcelain mandalas. As evidenced by her warrior and dog figurines, De Larios drew inspiration not just from pre-Columbian art, but also Haniwa terracotta figures from ancient Japan. Her ability to create work that ties in motifs and visual styles from multiple cultures made her a particularly astute chronicler of the diverse communities and cultural heritages of Los Angeles. This unique perspective as well as her considerable talents landed her several commissions for civic art. Several of her ceramic tile murals are in the region’s public libraries.

Dora De Larios, “White House Plates” (1977), majolica glazed porcelain

One of the standout pieces in the exhibition are blue and white majolica plates commissioned by the Craft and Folk Art Museum in 1977. Initially unbeknownst to the artist, the plates ended up at a White House luncheon honoring the spouses of US senators. In addition to institutional recognition, De Larios found commercial success through a business she ran with other women, called Irving Place Studio. Other Worlds features several unique posters from the ’70s and ’80s advertising sales of pottery, prints, and paintings at the Culver City studio. One poster refers to the age-old challenges of gentrification: “Dear Friends, Irving Place Studio is scheduled to be torn down in 1983 because of Urban Renewal. Please join us for the last Christmas sale at this location.”

Installation view of Irving Place Studio posters

According to the museum, Dora De Larios continued to create paintings and illustrations through the final months of her battle with cancer. As ceramics continue to experience a surge in popularity across both fine art and commercial settings, she is likely to be remembered as a pioneer in the form whose work now lives on in private homes, public spaces, and museum collections.

Installation view, Dora De Larios: Other Worlds
Installation view, Dora De Larios: Other Worlds

Dora De Larios: Other Worlds continues at Beta Main (114 W 4th Street, Los Angeles) through May 13.

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