Surrounded by fame and good fortune
Dora De Larios has led a charmed life, one filled with famous people and only-in-L.A. experiences. De Larios, born to Mexican immigrants in 1933, decided to become an artist at age 6, when her family visited a Mexico City museum and she gazed on a spectacular Aztec stone calendar.
After studying art in college, De Larios married architect Bernard Judge (they divorced in 1989) and shared a studio with several artists, including actor Gilbert Roland’s wife, Guillermina “Gia” Roland. “Through Gia, I met Nina Simone, Carmen McRae, Odetta, Alvin Ailey,” De Larios says. “I had no idea how important they were, so I was not overwhelmed by their fame.”
In 1959, De Larios was commissioned to make a ceramic piece for a Case Study House. The piece was too large to fit in her kiln, so pioneering ceramist Peter Voulkos fired it for her at his Glendale studio.
Her big break came the same year when her stylized pots and sculptures sold out in a show at Gump’s in San Francisco. “Then I started sending them stuff on consignment,” she says. “The receipts showed pieces had been shipped to Finland, Sweden and Japan.”
When she was 30, De Larios and Judge returned from a 13-month trip around the world, looking for a place to live. They wound up at the Schindler House, with architect Rudolph Schindler’s widow, Pauline, as their landlord. “Even then, people came from all over to see the house,” De Larios says. “I’d wake up, and people were pressing their noses against our windows. One day an architect from England walked in while I was sitting on the toilet!”
At the suggestion of Susan Peterson, one of De Larios’ former teachers, ceramics manufacturer Interpace hired her to design architectural tile. She supervised tile colors, textures and glazes for landmark murals such as the 90-foot-tall installation at Disney World Contemporary Resort.
In the early 1970s, Marlon Brando called on Judge to build a runway on the actor’s private island, so De Larios and daughter Sabrina headed to Tahiti. “Brando met us when we arrived and asked if he could get us anything to eat or drink,” De Larios says. “I was holding a copy of Time magazine with him on the cover. It was surreal.”
During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, she was one of 14 American potters selected to design dinnerware for the White House. She also made a mural that L.A. presented as a gift to its sister city, Nagoya, Japan. In 2011, De Larios’ work was part of “Art Along the Hyphen: The Mexican-American Generation” at the Autry National Center, “Common Ground” at the American Museum of Ceramic Art and two of the Getty’s “Pacific Standard Time” exhibitions on L.A. art from 1945 to 1980.