Yosemite's Ceramic Surprises

Dana Morton's strange and abstract plates—21st century art rooted in antique laces
Dana Morton Work
Antique lace takes on an astronomical perspective in some of
Dana Morton's work. (photos: courtesy Dana Morton)
Dana Morton Work
Dana Morton
Dana Morton Work

You wouldn't expect to find in Yosemite's Ahwanee Hotel, famed for Craftsman woodwork and Native American décor, artwork as abstract and strange as Dana Morton's plates. But they're center stage in the gift shop and worth the trip.

Dana, who grew up in the city of Orange and had a friend who lived in an Eichler there, doesn't claim her unique and wonderful plates are "modern."

"I don't really label my work," she says. "It's whatever people tell me it is. It's not traditional, so I suppose it would fit in the modern."

"It looks like so many things to so many different people," she says of her work. "It looks like something from under the ocean, or in a tide pool. Someone once said it looks like an armadillo. The different patterns speak differently to different people."

It's appropriate, perhaps, that while Dana has an Etsy page (but not an active website), she's not using it very much—so if you really want her art, a trip to the High Country or Foothills may be in order. You can find her work in downtown Sonora, Kings Canyon, the Mono Lake Committee store in Lee Vining.

No, Dana is no longer an Orange County girl. She's been living in the Yosemite vicinity for 30 years "and could not ever bring myself back to big city living," she told a local writer.

"If there were anywhere on the earth where one could get an idea of what it's like to be on the moon," she said in that interview, "I think it would be the Mono Basin. I especially enjoy the phenomena of the tufa towers. They look like something I made with silly sand as a child."

Her current work began a decade ago when she needed party favors for her upcoming wedding. She found some of her grandmother's old doilies and other textiles, pressed them into clay, turned on the kiln—then presented them to guests along with sweets.

She started out small, then began selling them in Etsy. Then she contacted Delaware North Companies, which runs the food, lodging, and gift business at Yosemite. They took her on, just a few at first. But her work sold and sold, "so the real estate in the store got better for my product."

Dana makes her ceramics entirely on her own, in batches of 150 to 200, and often Delaware North buys them all.

"I make so many of them, sometimes I dream of these dishes," Dana says. "These doilies and what not, nobody appreciates them anymore. For me, to be able to bring them into the 21st century, to find another use for them, that's what makes it really enjoyable."