Artist's Retreat

Artist of the Month: Mary Dauterman!


March Artist of the Month: Mary Dauterman

Director, multidisciplinary artist, art director, author/illustrator

Our Sparrow House NY March Artist of the Month is Mary Dauterman. A Brooklyn based director and multidisciplinary artist, Mary has worked at Droga5, Wieden+Kennedy, and CP+B , has been recognized as an ADC Young Gun and one of Business Insider’s most creative women in advertising. Mary is the author/illustrator of What Are We Even Doing With Our Lives? (Dey Street, 2017), and Dirty Library (Running Press, 2014). She was also invented in Texas. 

I first became acquainted in with Mary sometime in 2016 through mutual “Texas friends”, and happily discovered she was part of the collective who invented the Tortilla Towel, which, of course, immediately got me excited. Turns out, that was only the tip of the iceberg! Since that time, we screened her short film, OMW, here last summer, and she has used the house to shoot two more.

Mary!  You are the Sparrow House NY Artist of the Month!  Congrats! Since graduating from the University of Texas, you’ve worked as Art Director at a variety of top advertising agencies here in NYC, invented wonderfully strange products and written and illustrated two books.  You are constantly creating!  Since I’ve known you, you recently began directing short films.  When did you first start directing, and what led you to that medium?

I started directing some dumb experiments with my SLR in a makeshift tabletop studio I built with my friend Sarah. We eventually made a real piece when we were trying to sell a product called the Tortilla Towel and we thought a video might help (it did!). The scariest part at the time was taking footage and then turning it into something, but then I realized I had editing software through Adobe Creative Cloud. So it’s been one baby step at a time, learning all the pieces and lots of YouTube tutorials. Now I know my main passion is directing and writing, and I collaborate with DPs and editors who are much better at those parts of the process than I am!

What was the first film or art piece you saw that made you think, "Hey! I want to do this! "

The very very first thing I can remember being obsessed with as a kid was Garfield cartoons. I’d just draw Garfield and Jon over and over. I thought maybe I could be a cartoonist or a painter when I grew up. art.

How does creating fit into your daily life? (Personally and career-wise)

Career wise creating is a part of my job- I work as an art director/commercial director. Working in advertising forces you to have and kill ideas over and over, which has been good training for my personal work. I have a fairly long list of personal projects/half ideas going at all times, and try to stop and figure out the best ones when I have some time or get really excited about one in particular.

What’s your creative process like?  Where does your process begin?  Has it changed over time or from project to project?

Sometimes I give myself an assignment as a challenge (like- I want to shoot something at Sparrow House!). Or there’s certain subject matter I’m kind of obsessed with and want to explore. Most of the time I’m just feeling like I need to start or wish I had already... there’s a lot of stewing involved. Sometimes I carve out dedicated time to work or outline, other times I just wait til I’m in the mood. I’m trying to go easier on myself and practice the latter.

Who or what inspires you and your work these days?

 I guess I’ve been watching lots of austere Swedish stuff. I also love graphic novels (specifically poking around Desert Island), and very good animal videos Kirill sends me. Walking around the worst parts of Manhattan (aka Midtown) is kinda horrible but amazing. So many characters. Every outfit that could exist. I love how elderly Manhattanites dress.

Any influences at the moment?  Any artists or individuals you admire?  Any dream collaborators? 

I’m really into Urich Seidl and Roy Andersson right now, they are freaks. I’ve always really admired Mike Mills & Miranda July. I’d love to collaborate with Parker Posey or Steve Martin.

What’s your “escape to create”?  Do you have a particular coffee shop or spot in your neighborhood or in your apartment?  Do you travel somewhere exotic for inspiration?

My office nook or kitchen table are my #1 spots! Also sometimes after a long plane nap I have good or weird ideas.

Why NYC?  How has the City and the Brooklyn artistic community influenced your work?

NYC has been so important in figuring out what I want to do and finding the right community to create & collaborate with. Also some of the most important people in my life (both creatively and personally) live here/have been living here. It feels so nice to finally be close to them. The comedy and comedy/film scene is very active and inspiring, I’ve met so many people I admire just by living here. It really feels like you are part of something.  

We’re thrilled you’ve spent time at Sparrow House NY!  You even shot a couple shorts there.  What’s your favorite room and why?

Nothing beats snacks and beers around the kitchen table!

Also- the bathroom and claw foot tub are pretty epic. We shot in there for like 4 hours.

What’s next for you?  What can we look forward to in 2019 and beyond?

Hoping to shoot a bunch of stuff this summer! Some in NY, some in Texas. I’ve been kicking around a book idea but haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe 2020.


An early doodle of The Back Room renovation plan…Plan template courtesy of Brian Yudin.

An early doodle of The Back Room renovation plan…Plan template courtesy of Brian Yudin.

For many, the first month of the New Year is both a time of reflection and renewed intention for the year ahead.

Here’s a reflection for you:

Renovating a 160-year-old house is hard.

Even for an unflinchingly optimistic, glass half-full, everything is possible!!!! kinda gal. Progress is always slower than you imagined, things rarely go to plan, and for every problem you solve, four more pop up.

Renovations may be a forever wack-a-mole here at the Sparrow House compound, but we FIRST need to acknowledge just how far we’ve come in 9 short months! Nevermind that we painted, cleaned, decorated and furnished a 2300 square foot, 8-bedroom house. We also updated the electrical on all three floors, fixed the staircase & 1st floor, removed a couple of wood stoves the weight of two dying suns, built a new fire pit, replaced the washer and dryer, updated the heating system for the 21st century, added a security system and wifi activated locks, transformed a scary-looking room into a gorgeous library, completed steps 1 and 2 in solving the dreaded “basement problem”, PLUS, I even replaced that kitchen faucet that one time. We accomplished a lot and, more importantly, we did it together.

But the time has come now, boys and girls! The Renovation of The Back Room must commence! Our most audacious and challenging project to date, I’ve been fantasizing about this project since Day 1. It has always been my goal to complete The Back Room renovation by May 1st of this year, and I am tackling the project the only way I know how: take the leap and figure it out as we go.

What we at Sparrow House have always called “The Back Room” was actually the original, 1850s kitchen. Back then, kitchens were designed as an indoor/outdoor space separated from the house by a firewall and connected to a coal or wood shed for the stove. According to the previous owners, the room continued to serve as the kitchen for over 120 years, well in the 1970s and 80s. To this day, you can see remnants of the kitchen’s history here and there with quirky lil updates from just about every decade.

Originally, this room was the workspace for the Irish family who cooked and kept the home running for the Clark family at the turn of the century. (According to census records, they lived in the home with the Clarks and their children.) In the 1920s, the Clark Family added electricity to their home (they published an ad about it in the local paper to prove it!) and subsequent owners later added pipes for a gas stove, a kitchen sink and a bathroom above on the 2nd floor. Later on, someone else added pipes for a washer/dryer and electrical wires for some rudimentary lighting back there. Best of all, you can still see where the kitchen phone once hung on the wall; all the local, 7-digit phone numbers scrawled in multi-colored ink across the shiplap walls.

I’ve investigated every nook and cranny of this room, and here is what I know for sure:

  • The east and west walls are both made out of brick; probably to act as a firewall.

  • While the house has a small, stone basement beneath the living room, both The Back Room and present-day kitchen were built over separate crawl spaces.

  • The crawl space beneath The Back Room floor is shallow, probably 6” or so. It seems that the original raised floor has been undisturbed over the years which is pretty miraculous. Above the original floor joists and beams, is a decoupage sandwich from the past 150 years-worth of materials including a small section of poorly poured concrete at one end. All of this definitely has to go.

  • The East, North and South walls all still have the original, 1850s shiplap of varying widths which I want to preserve at all costs.

  • The exposed joist and beam ceiling has electrical wires threaded through them which is unfortunate. Even worse, there is only a single layer of sub-floor separating The Back Room ceiling from the 2nd floor so sound carries like crazy.

As you can probably tell, I am head over heels in love with this space, and it’s important to me that we preserve as much of the room’s history as possible. Adding a second bathroom is pretty much a no-brainer- it’s incredible that this 8-bedroom house has existed with a single bathroom for this long. I’ve also decided to convert the rest of The Back Room into a studio space for future artists-in-residence.

Of course, any renovation is a ton of work, but Sparrow House’s curious 1850s construction and subsequent updates have presented a number of challenges, further complicated by the fact that winter has been our busiest season yet! (Who knew?)  So I’ve broken the project down three phases to complete between all our wonderful guests check in and out.


  • Pull permits & clear room

  • Demo the existing floor & concrete steps

  • Preserve original wood floor if still good

  • Re-route wonky water and gas pipes

  • Rough in the bathroom and kitchenette plumbing

  • Bring in the gravel & pour the concrete slab

  • Source (2) antique, tombstone door & other fun materials


  • Move the exterior door on the south-facing wall

  • Re-frame north-facing wall and replace exterior door & frame

  • Insulate south, north and western walls

  • Frame bathroom and studio walls


  • Sheetrock walls & ceiling

  • Add shower plate, toilet, sink

  • Tile bathroom & mudroom/hall

  • Reuse the original wood floor for studio

  • Add shiplap in the mudroom/hall

That’s all folks! Tune in the next three months to hear all about our misadventures, discoveries & see how this project shapes up!