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Vashon Summer Studio Tour

The Art of Craft
Gale Lurie, Dockton Pottery
Gale Lurie, Dockton Pottery

In 1986 the American Craft Museum opened its doors directly across from the Museum of Modern Art on W. 53rd St. in New York. For many artists, this celebration of the functional and less rarefied arts and crafts came as a welcome change from often tired theories of overblown 80s art. Crafts were finally getting their due in the art world, constructed and clothed without pretense as opposed to the Naked Emperors I saw in many galleries. That grandiose art was so pervasive from 1980-1988 I almost thought Hans Christian Anderson had NY Art in mind when he wrote that amazing story. Unfettered, functional beauty was a joy to behold, and I found respect for artists who eschewed Post-Modernism’s heady charms and simply threw pots, wove fabric or forged metal for functional use. It was a profound aesthetic statement of its own for this museum to open so close to MOMA. Soon enough, I moved west and the ACM moved to Columbus Circle and became the Museum of Arts and Design, becoming more of a blend of arts and crafts. But in my mind, it’s still there, providing a proximity and tension between “fine art” and “Craft’ within my own imagination.

The Vashon Island Summer Studio Tour finds me reveling in craft as I did three decades ago, visiting a potter, a jeweler, and two bona fide “outsider” artists who all love everyday lowbrow functionality in art and dispense their work accordingly. Within the exciting array of painters, mosaic artists, glass blowers, printmakers, photographers and multifaceted craftspeople from ferry dock to ferry dock, this June 25th and 26th is the 2nd and final weekend of our Summer Arts Tour, now in mid-June rather than early May. Most island establishments should have our handsome Art Studio Tour brochures and maps with Valerie Willson’s elegant “Tulips and Narcissus” on the cover. 12 of the 23 stops showcase multiple artists, giving you an even broader range of the Vashon muse.

Gale Lurie hosts stop number 19, Dockton Pottery, and is a master potter from Brooklyn. She escaped from New York three decades before Seinfeld whined about it, and has recently further immigrated from Wedgewood to set up her shop in Dockton. Well worth the country drive to her Dockton shop, (drop in on the family Reimnitz on the way!) she and five other artists will welcome you to view their gallery of earthenware, photography, paintings, sculptures, and mosaics.

“I love making things that people use. I love functional art work. I love seeing art in peoples’ everyday life. I like to make it affordable”, Gale says of her pottery. Gale has stuck with this one medium for her entire life and the exquisite warmth and beauty of her vessels show it. She is excited to now explore raku pottery in more depth and to also indulge in deeper, brighter colors in her other stoneware and porcelain. Raku pots are removed with tongs red hot from the kiln and placed in a burn barrel with dead leaves or newspaper or the like. The infernal flow of the flame and gases take their unpredictable course around the vessel giving it sublime textures and iridescent colorings that Gale might humbly attribute to luck and the whim of the furies, but we know better. A master is called such as they learn to find a range of control within that randomness. And oh, Raku’s randomness also includes a lot of shattered casualties, the percentage of which Gale has reduced over the years.

Art should need no justification, but I can’t resist: In addition to working with some superb Northwest potters like Regnor Reinholdtsen and Frank Boyden, Gale has recently been juried into the Northwest Designer Craftsmen.
Also appearing with Gale is Gretchen Hancock with her carefully composed but loosely painted landscapes and still lives, photography by Rondi Lightmark and Lori Kay, fused glass by Terry Lemmen, and steel sculptures by Chris Lemmen.

After I visited Gale who lives in Dockton, then I visited north ender Sheree Tomoson who was born in Dockton. Where Gale explores a range of high and low firings for her stoneware, Sheree Tomoson explores azurite, alexandrite, unachite, agates, and Labradorite that have been fired and tempered by the tectonic forces of the earth…and beach glass that gets tumbled by her son! The rustic and roughhewn glass jewelry hangs on one side of her studio and the more refined gemstone jewelry hangs on the other. Since she was four, family and friends have always delivered their scavenged island beach glass to her, and her father bequeathed to her his tumbler and polisher. These have given Sheree a lifelong fascination with colorful glass and stones, a skill that has been a healing agent through her life.  One necklace that I found particularly striking is her trio of silver spirals with colorful beach glass in the center of each Jungian spiral, symbolizing a trinity of creativeness. Sheree shapes the alexandrite into some lovely necklaces with very agreeable prices. “I price my work at what I’d be willing to pay” she says.

Sheree is a longtime Tour participant and a frequent vendor at the Saturday market. Joining her this year at The Empty Nest, stop # 4 is sculptor and welder David Erue and quilter and glass flower artist Margaret Bickel. Margaret makes glass flowers out of found glassware at rummage sales and Grannies. She paints the “stem” green and adds a pistol and stamen in the blossom. Her creations are a delight to see planted in flower gardens.

David Erue is a lot more than “the guy who made the big giraffe” Along with his signs, arbors, gates and trellises, I have seen David’s countless whimsical and elegant work at the Blue Heron and around our island: The Baby Elephant at Kathy’s Corner, the Cowboy and Indian at the Youth Hostel, the Stegosaurus at Barnworks, and other creations in many island yards. His sculptures immediately struck me as the ad-hoc authenticity of an “outsider” artist- a visionary and hardscrabble artist who operates on the fringes of the art world, avoiding the urbane and unfettered by an Art School Education! Art school can purge the childlike whimsy out of an artist like David, and his lifelong commitment to his craft prove that was the right choice. David has had a range of artistic outlets through his years: Ceramics, photography, the owner of “The Mad Hatter” in Bellevue where he peddled “Felt, Feathers, Leathers, Furs & Fabrics”. He was even a chef on Alki. But now it’s all welded steel. His magnificent animals come to a weighty and rusty completion, but begin with a light and simple visual riddle- with two disparate elements coming together to suggest some sort of creature. His creations often depend on what kind of steel he finds- or that people drop off at his house! (No junky stuff please!) His “ShovelBird” is a combination of a shovel, fireplace tongs, nuts and bolts and the actual bars from the old Vashon jail! David’s M.O.: “My yard gets full, my mind gets full, there’s no room for anything new, so I price to keep things moving down the road.”

And right down that road I find a “Tribal Gum Ball Machine”, a “Baby Doll Rocket Girl”, “Satellite Bugs” and “Fourplay”. These titles are a taste of the playful world and constructions of another bonafide outsider, Ken Judd, stop # 3 on the tour. Where David is a welder, Ken is bolter, drilling and screwing together his quirky and sometimes provocative “toys” that would waltz well through a Tim Burton film. Earlier in life, Ken made jewelry, painted, had a job moving furniture and made sets & set up mannequins for department store displays. Being orphaned at five, Ken has navigated enough gauntlets and crucibles to truly qualify as a fringe Outsider artist, with a short gap between his creations and his own quintessence. “I like to make bugs out of pool balls.” “I used to collect taxidermists eyes but I can’t afford ‘em anymore- better off bolting and painting a wooden eye.”  I ask, “Were any of these toys born out a desire to make toys for your son?” “No, if anything I want my son’s toys!” Ken’s latest creation is a big house fly made out of spatulas, brass coat hangers, bolts and widgets and wood. No particle board allowed! I recommend a visit to this eccentric Vashon Original, Stop # 3, Ken Judd.

So that’s a small taste of the weekend’s Arts Tour. Try to make it out, either Saturday or Sunday, June 25th and 26th.