Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sonya Ann Magill -- Artist, Mentor, Businesswoman, Friend

A great artist and personal friend, Sonya Magill, died in her home due to lung cancer on July 23, 2009. She had a very short while of knowing about the cancer.

She was still working in her ceramics studio, and getting settled into her country place on Last Chance Road, Santa Cruz County, California, when she learned the cause of her constant coughing and throat irritation would soon be lethal.

Her ceramics studio had begun, she told me, right here on Last Chance Road over thirty years earlier. She said of her new place, “It feels like coming home.” She had lived many creative, artistic lives between her birth in Texas over five and a half decade ago, and The Studio where so many different ceramic delights were conceived and created and marketed.

I met Sonya over thirty years ago, when suddenly her early line: a honey-bear honey jar and her famous piggie with personality blossomed into a whole Studio Menagerie line of critters. In practically no time and much work, these ceramic sculptures were being sold in both cutie retail shops and marketing giants like Macy’s and Bloomingdale's. It seemed like everyone loved her work. For me, they were charming and elegant and yet accessible.

She engaged me to help her establish accounting systems to handle the growing workload, and then to file her first Federal Income Taxes as a sole proprietor business – this, after years of smaller scale distribution as individual. (Yes folks, long ago I “did numbers”.)

I got to peek into Sonya the Creative Dynamo and to watch Studio Menagerie’s growth. Other friends worked with her in production. It was inspiring as a business alone, yet was much more than a business. I will skip those adventures for now, except to share that Sonya was a “Warrior in service to the Queen.” Another time, so many stories! She's my favorite personally known feminist.

One time many years between then and now, Sonya called me in to help draft a short biography for sales work, about her artistic background. It was fun to learn her stories: of Vashon Island and silk screening; of much Beat Era San Francisco glory and mornings-after; of rooming with Janis; of working with developmentally disabled youth; of her glamorous modeling days; of her many roles in Hip consciousness, including the Diggers; and so much more.

Sonya’s ability to stagecraft and to create fashion trends in the ‘60s -'70s is legend. From a look at her scarf and hat collection, I have to believe she never quit those forms of artistic creativity, carrying this gift from stage and street theater troupes and through her personal style.

Sonya was very serious about her work -- both as artist and as a woman who became a success. She spoke of the losses in knowledge as crafts and artisan skills from her generation will be lost in death.

Sonya also left a body of commissioned works, mostly intricate sculpture, and many more popular ceramic pieces than I’ve described above. I heard her describing her three foot tall garden angels to her grand-niece with pride, just a week before she passed on. A friend has one of her “Three Faces of Woman” hanging garden figures. My daughter and I each have one of her round-belly pitchers from the early ‘80’s she made – I love it.

She inspires others more than she

probably could know while alive. But this is merely one old gal’s point of view. I can hardly wait to see who shares the stories about Sonya’s “political” art, as if anything in her universe wasn’t.

Sonya’s nephew, Alec Tsongas, is collecting stories about her, talking memoir. I’m launching this blog “early”, in hopes of helping him find those stories, because we who care about aesthetics may want to keep Sonya’s memories alive. For the brightening of our own lives.

If you know Sonya, or treasure any of her works, I hope you'll want to add to this page about Sonya Ann Magill. I will promptly share with Alec. If you leave contact info I will send it his way, too.

A memorial celebration for Sonya will be held at a future time: friends and family anticipate gathering somewhere near her incredible Studio and the Pacific Ocean she loved. I can post details as they emerge.


  1. My article about Sonya lacks picture credits. Sorry, folks - found most among Studio Menagerie files, without such labels. The top one, her colorful smile and red hat, is dated 1984 on back. I took the one where Sonya is working on her famed flower pot in her Studio, April 2009, during a session of our tentatively-named "Women Artists Co-op" gathering she was sponsoring. My deep thanks to Becky Johnson for convincing me I can do this(blogging), and to my generous tech-magician, aka Web Master.

  2. You have done so much with this! Great!

  3. Hi Linda,

    I just posted a picture of a Studio Menagerie' "Unicorn" ceramic wall hanging, c. 1980 on my blog page. I am sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. Here is a link to my posting:



    Karen Scott
    Karen's Little Red Wagon

  4. Hi Linda,

    It's Karen Scott from Karen's Little Red Wagon at Blogspot. I hope that all is well when you get this message. I just wanted to point out a small deail in the name of my business. The 'Karen's' in my business' name, "Karen's Little Red Wagon" is missing in your post about Sonja's unicorn sculpture. Okay, take care!


    Karen Scott

  5. Hello Linda,
    I have one of Sonya's pigs. I received it when my sister passed. Margo was a big fan of Gump's in San Francisco and I assume that is where she bought the pig. Margo only bought clothes and fragrances at Macy's--I never knew her to go into other departments. At any rate, the pig I have is a standing pig and not a wall hanging pig. It's basically white with black spots and a whimsical face with pink in the ears and a tiny bit on the hooves. The copyright mark is 88 (1988). It's a piece that generally makes people smile! Margo passed 19 years ago come the end of March. The pig is still standing proud. It has always reminded me of my sister. Only tonight did I look up Sonya Magill out of curiosity and I see she, too, has passed.
    You mention Vashon Island in talking about Sonya. Was she from Vashon Island? I grew up for my first 15 years in Tacoma and then found my way to San Francisco where I lived for the next 40 years. I retired at 55 four years ago and at that time I returned to Tacoma to be close to remaining family. Vashon Island lay right off Pt Defiance in Tacoma and reaches nearly to Seattle. Your blog was quite a treat to read--you even mention Janis! That took me back to when I saw her at Winterland when I was 16, 43 years ago. Sweet memories! Thanks for sharing sweet memories of your friend Sonya. She must have been quite a gal!
    LC Riser


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