Meet the Makers– May Ann Villanueva
In the third installment of our Meet the Makers series, we met and photographed May Ann, the founder & creative director of Studio Fundamentals, a Vancouver-based ceramics studio.
To be skilled at something and be a good teacher is rare and something that should be applauded. When asked what May Ann's favourite part of her work is, she said “teaching– I love being able to empathize with someone not knowing something, then developing the confidence to do it, and having an object reflect the skills that they’ve learned.” For May Ann, her career started as a hobby. She was studying Communications Design and was introduced to ceramics as a form of relaxation and a break from her degree. But she quickly realized there’s so much more to it than she originally thought, so many technicalities and techniques like glaze making and beyond. Her skill and love for the craft was noticed, and she was offered a ceramics teaching position. With that, she says things changed “incrementally, but very fast’ and she soon went from teaching to running her own studio.
Though ceramics fell naturally into May Ann’s life, it’s clear that she truly loves what she does. How many people can say that their work can also be a form of relaxation? When we asked her how she unwinds after a long day, she said “when I'm stressed out, I just make vases.” She enjoys making intricate shapes and says that there’s something very cathartic about slapping the clay, creating something, and then breaking down the piece in the end (before it gets fired). She says that vases are her favourite piece to make because she freestyles them; “I don’t sketch out a collection. They’re being made in a moment when I need to relax or ease my mind.”
Regarding inspiration, she finds it through the observation of people, the environment, and social circumstances. She places an emphasis on what’s needed in today’s world and aims to apply that in her work. Furthermore, she creates intentionally. She has a rule in her workshops: you don’t keep anything that isn’t properly made because once it’s fired, it has a permanent place in the world; you only want to create things that you’re proud of, that you’ll want to keep for a long time. We asked her how she balances function and aesthetics and she said she holds them on the same level, but if she had to choose, function takes priority. When making an item, she thinks about the colour, the shape, and what kinds of things someone would want in their home all year around, not just seasonally. She jokes, “Do you really want your food in a bold, patterned plate? When you think about someone’s experience with food, they’re trying to relax, and you don’t want some crazy coloured plate screaming at you.”
As a BIPOC business owner, May Ann feels a responsibility toward her community, especially since her studio is in the downtown east side of Vancouver. She says, “if you’re going to climb up the ladder, you have to elevate people or take them with you.” She says that she constantly asks herself questions like– how do I help? Am I doing enough? One thing she feels strongly about is giving those who wouldn’t normally have it access to new skills and capabilities. She explains that as a maker, many are still expected to have a degree, and that it’s unnecessary for what she does. By changing those paths and expectations, more people could follow in her footsteps and become successful in creative areas. She also gives back by donating a portion of her sales to various initiatives, including The Kettle Society, which empowers people living with mental illness, substance use, poverty & homelessness. On the topic of elevating others, she says: “I want to give someone that skill, motivate them, elevate them to grow and achieve. The people who made an influence on me were the people who were passionate about what they were doing.”