The Island Gallery
milo mirabelli

On beautifully forested Harstine Island in Puget Sound, south of Seattle, John and Colleen fire in two wood burning kilns: a salt kiln with a Bourry-style firebox and a 25 foot long Noborigama/train kiln. John and Colleen have been professional studio potters for 27 years. John (MFA, Art Institute of Chicago) has been a Studio Potter in Washington since 1979. Colleen studied ceramics with Ka Kwong Hui at Rutgers University and studio art in the MFA Program at Pratt Institute in New York (MFA, University of Puget Sound). Their work has won awards in the United States and internationally and can be seen in private collections, museums and public art projects. Their commitment to woodfiring is obsessive.

In a converted boat-building workshop on Harstine Island in Puget Sound, I make woodfired pottery. I dig several local stoneware clays and fire a wood kiln longer and hotter than is considered wise. The compulsive and inefficient nature of the woodfire process connects me closely to the earth. I dig local clays. I fire using trees from our forest. I submit the work to the kiln to be reborn as a permanent object that records the touch of my hands and the fire and ash that have transformed it. I control choices of clays, shapes, glazes, kiln structure, type of wood, stacking method, duration and temperature of the firing. But I must also give up control to violent forces of nature. The wood kiln is not a tame beast. It gives me accidents and blessings. I find beauty in imperfection. My commitment to woodfiring is obsessive and non-intellectual. I discover my pots in addition to creating them.
John Benn

I live and work in a specific place. The cycle of my life here – my marriage, the growth of our daughter, the unfolding of my creative efforts – takes place within the natural cycles of sky, seasons, weather, migrations, growth and death. The nature enfolding my home is my work’s reference and origin. The nature imagery on my ceramic pieces is both a result of and a memory of the ways I encounter and use my landscape. Digging and forming clay, gathering wood and burning wood all reinforce these connections to the earth. I control what I can in decisions of forming, stacking and firing but the ash deposits and flashes of color are always to some degree a hybrid of physics and serendipity. The most successful pieces for me seem like an effortless melding of imagery, form, color and timeless geologic surfaces. They seem comfortable and familiar and yet as mysterious and surprising as a leaf or a feather.
Colleen Gallagher


John Benn