Earthly Passions

A Cape Ann home captures the longtime partnership of two globetrotting artists.

SINCE THEIR FIRST ENCOUNTER as students at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in the mid-’70s, Dana Salvo and Dawn Southworth have enjoyed what many of us would call an enviable life, distinguished by copious travel, creative exploration, and artistic collaboration. Consequently, everything in their North Shore home comes with a good story about faraway lands or artists they’ve met along the way.

[sidebar]Many objects in their home come from Mexico. Ask about them and you’ll hear about one of their first adventures together: In the mid-’80s, the couple visited the country to learn about alternative medicine. Their daughter Jahna was just an infant at the time, and traveling with the baby led to surprising experiences. The normally private Purepecha, Chamula, and Zinacantan Indians who lived in the area opened their homes to the new mother and child, protecting both from the sun and the elements. “These were people with stick and mud houses, animals walking in and out, and dirt floors, and they would take the baby out of our hands – because she was very fair – and take her into their houses,” says Salvo. “There we encountered these incredible collections of objects and altars that were quite beautiful.” Suddenly, Salvo realized there was a story to be told here, inside these rural homes.

A sensitive and accomplished large-format photographer, Salvo applied for and received grants to document these interiors over the next decade. Southworth would often accompany him on his photographic journeys and collect all kinds of folk pieces, including brightly painted ceramic figures, votives, and textiles. While her husband set up shots and waited hours for the perfect light, she would wander the site collecting pottery shards buried in the dirt, which she would then pack up and send back to Massachusetts. Southworth used these shards to create mosaic-covered vessels like those shown on page 46, one of which she gave to Salvo. “This is a piece made with love,” she says. After 12 years of travel and study, Salvo published his photographs in a book, Home Altars of Mexico, in 1997.

The couple built their 2,800-square-foot Cape Ann house 20 years ago to accommodate their growing family (they had a second daughter, Simone, in 1989; Yorkshire terrier Sophie joined them a few years later) and their growing contemporary art collection. Meanwhile, they continued to travel, collecting textiles, decorating ideas, and friends along the way. You can see the results in the home’s brightly painted interiors, which are “more Caribbean than New England,” says Southworth. But thanks to their global sensibility, the palette works well as the backdrop for the vibrant dolls, pillows, and sculpture they’ve acquired over time.

Two years ago, the couple bought the Lincoln-based Clark Gallery, an important institution in the Boston area. After decades spent working as artists, they could finally use what they’d learned about the business side of the art scene to connect contemporary artists with interested private collectors and museum curators. “We’ve traveled and exhibited outside of the region, and that’s how we’ve met other artists. Over time, we’ve developed a significant network,” says Salvo.