This is a Public Service Announcement featuring Cute Baby Animals: Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday, May 13! If you’ve got a special mother or caregiver in your life, take the opportunity to shower her with kindness and show her how much you care. Forgetting the date is not an option.
And now back to our originally scheduled blog post …
Margaret Hudson’s Earth Arts Studio has come up with a perfect way to pay tribute to the mother figure in your life while supporting a worthy cause. Throughout May, the studio is splitting the proceeds from sales of its “Mama Bear with Cubs” sculpture with the Marjaree Mason Center, Fresno’s only dedicated provider of safe housing and support services for people—mostly women and children—escaping domestic abuse.
While putting a smile on your own favorite mom’s face, you could be helping to save the life of a mother you’ll never meet. This seems appropriate, given the philosophy that’s guided Margaret Hudson’s lifetime of work and continues to pervade her studio in spite of her retirement: “We are all of the same earth, merely given different shape.”
A gentle bear encounter sets a life’s course
Visiting the studio for the first time recently, I met Lydia Buciok, who, along with the Hudson family, is part-owner of the studio. Having been Margaret’s right-hand lady for 30 years, she took over running the studio when Margaret retired.
Lydia generously took a break from sculpting a playful-looking bulldog to show me around the space. Lately she’s been busy baking these Mama Bear with Cubs sculptures, which are flying off the shelves in recent days. This is thanks in part to Margaret’s grandson Soren, who’s brought his youthful perspective and 21st century savvy to the family business, updating the Earth Arts Studio website and recently unveiling a fully functional online store, which is as delightful to ramble through as a walk in the forest.
Stemming from the artist’s love of nature, Margaret Hudson’s works mainly pay tribute to the critters that Hudson enjoyed observing as a child and, later as an adult, on her parents’ beloved plot of land in Fresno’s old Fig Garden (the original homestead which Hudson lovingly referred to as The Acre) and in the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. Soren relates the story of how his grandmother, who used to love camping with her family, once had a life-changing encounter with a bear. The animal reached through her tent and, to her surprise, gently ran its paw through her hair. The blessing was life-affirming for Margaret and it sealed her compassionate outlook toward nature and all living beings, a philosophy central to her life and her work.
Studio welcomes and inspires children
Margaret Hudson’s Earth Arts Studio was born in 1972. Upon inception, it had the distinction of being one of the few woman-owned art businesses in Fresno. While raising her four boys, Margaret began opening her home studio, as well as The Acre, to waves of school children. In 1977, she’d met school teacher Sue Bissel, who first suggested the idea of bringing a group of children to the studio for a field trip.
The initial trip was a great success. Students saw drawing and printmaking demonstrations and had the joy of getting their hands dirty with clay. In addition, they were able to play and roam on The Acre, which contained a grove of 100-year-old fig trees. Into her 70s Margaret continued opening her home to groups of local students, hosting upwards of 2,000 a year.
In 1980, she opened the current storefront/studio on East Swift Avenue (just off the Ashlan exit of Highway 41), where she continued to host children, as well as nurture and involve other women in the business. Over the years, she amassed a community of grateful devotees and a reputation for generosity. “She loves people, she loves animals, she loves nature, and she was very generous. She helped a lot of people around the world,” Lydia says, eyes full of admiration.
Generosity and an eye for detail
Lydia’s was one of many lives touched by Margaret Hudson’s kindness. Arriving here from the Ukraine 30 years ago, she didn’t know a word of English. She had no idea how she’d make a living in Fresno with her background, which included working in clay. She saw Margaret advertising her figures on TV one night and, although she couldn’t write her name down, Lydia sought her out and asked for a job. Aware that Lydia couldn’t speak English, Margaret wasted no words. “She gave me a piece of clay, and some of her old figures, and she said, ‘Do it.’ ”
Margaret was impressed with Lydia’s work. “She saw my hands could work on clay, and she said, ‘You got the job.’” Later, Margaret would send Lydia to City College for four years of night school to finesse her skills.
For 30 years Lydia worked side-by-side with Margaret, who she says was quite adamant about getting all of the details of her figures just right—right down to the degree of a head tilt or the way an ear flopped. Everything had to meet Margaret’s rigid specifications. Now Lydia has four apprentices of her own, and she’s following Margaret’s example right down to her teaching style, ensuring that her apprentices don’t deviate from Margaret’s and Lydia’s original designs.
Sculptures for every milestone
Lydia says people who come to the studio get happy when they see these figures, which make perfect gifts for all of life’s occasions. They come for “all the reasons,” she tells me, seeking these iconic Margaret Hudson figures to commemorate milestones from births to deaths and everything in between. She shows me some custom-made sculptures which are designed to contain urns. Customers can bring in photos of their family members or pets and commission Lydia to design unique sculptures of the individuals. The sculptures have an opening in the back into which the urn can be deposited.
Out back, there’s a fantastic garden, where groupings of Margaret Hudson’s signature critters seem to play and beckon and come alive amongst the trees and birdsong. I’m surprised to find out that the California bears that I so associate with the artist are not considered her most recognizable work. Rather, her California quail was Margaret’s original hot design, I’m told. Here in the garden, they’re all assembled, in the ultimate wild critter garden party.
Lydia flips some switches and soon Margaret Hudson-designed fountains are springing and spraying all around me as I pass beneath elaborate sculpted archways that also attest to its creator’s love of natural wonders.
From the fertile beauty of the garden, we pass into what seem to be the flames of Hell. Lydia leads me into the kiln room, where each piece has to bake, over the course of a day, at steadily rising temperatures reaching 2,400 degrees, at which point she shuts down the oven and lets them cool for another half day. Each objet d’art that comes out of the studio endures this processing in the kiln for 24 hours. After that, Lydia tells me, the clay emerges as hard as a rock. “Everything is like a stone. You can throw it on the ground; it’s not gonna break it.”
That’s largely because of the unique formula that Margaret cooked up, which involves 50 minerals mixed together to meet her specifications for her clay, the first of which was that it would not explode in the kiln. Secondly, Margaret experimented relentlessly until she got that perfect brown, earthy color that looks almost like mud. “When she saw it, she said, ‘That’s it,’ because it looks like earth,” Lydia explains.
Visiting the studio and shopping for Mother’s Day
Margaret Hudson’s Earth Arts Studio is open every day (except Sunday), from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It’s a magical spot every Fresnan ought to know about; it’s always been one of Fresno’s best-loved treasures, having inspired generations of Fresno children over the past 45 years. Its matriarch has every reason to look back on her life with great joy and satisfaction knowing she’s touched so many lives and left such a legacy of beautiful art in her wake.
On the website, visitors can shop by categories such as “All This and Heaven Too: The Angels and Saints Collection,” which features such divine visions as “Kneeling Angel Girls” and “Angel Boys” and even ol’ nature lover St. Francis himself. Other sections are titled “My Backyard” (featuring every imaginable breed of dog, along with pigs, chickens, raccoons, etc.). “The Great Valley” and “The Sierra Nevada” (featuring an even more expanded array of regionally specific animalia), and “The Valley Quail,” which gets a whole section to itself.
About Marjaree Mason Center
The Marjaree Mason Center provides legal assistance, safe housing, counseling, and crisis support for survivors of domestic violence in Fresno. One in four women are victims of domestic violence. If you or someone you know is facing abuse in the home, know that the Marjaree Mason Center is standing by to help. Their crisis hotline number is 559-233-HELP (4357).