Al Erikson is the owner of the new art gallery called Dancing Dogs Pottery & Art, located in the Greenhouse Marketplace at the north end of town alongside Earthworks, Wave, and Touchstone galleries.
|Dancing Dogs Pottery & Art|
TYG: What gave you the idea to start Dancing Dogs?
Al: Well, my wife and I rescue dogs. To make a long story short, her father was a vet, and he would not put dogs to sleep unless they were in pain. So she ended up, at one time when she was growing up, with 36 dogs. They lived on a farm. So she’s always had dogs, I love dogs; so we rescue dogs from bad situations. We have five dogs now at home. So that’s why we called it Dancing Dogs Pottery, because they dance!
TYG: I’m surprised you don’t have it written in your lease that they can be in here, like gallery dogs. Jacquee (at Touchstone) has the gallery cats…
Al: Well, I don’t know. Ours are little dogs, and they run around, and they’d probably mess the carpet, zoom out on the street… [laughter]
TYG: Oh. I meant the more heavily trained ones, I guess.
Al: Well we’re not great on training, that’s the thing. [laughter] Dogs train us!
TYG: What did you do before Dancing Dogs?
Al: I was a school teacher. I taught art for 35 years in Seattle, mostly. I enjoyed it very much, retired in 2001, and opened a gallery. Then we moved to Maine. We lived there about eight to ten years, but it was too cold. Way too cold. Came back to the Northwest in October, and love it. […] Maine is hot in the summer, and humid, and extremely cold in the winter. Tonight, where we lived in Newport, ME, it’ll probably be -5F. The clay froze [in Maine] November 1st, and all my glazes froze November 1st, so I couldn’t throw pots.
TYG-Graphic Design: Were they outside?
Al: They were inside! It would be really expensive to keep the place heated. It was a big studio—twice the size of this gallery. And to heat it… you just wouldn’t make any money. So everything froze. And if you take pottery outside before it’s cooked in the kiln, and it’s that cold, they disintegrate. They freeze, and break. So what happened was, you’d just stay in in the winter and bide your time. I’d do paintings during the winter. So to make a long story short, we came back to the Northwest.
|Dancing Dogs Pottery & Art|
TYG-GD: So this winter, are you painting, or throwing pots?
Al: Oh, I’m doing both! I go with the flow… what happened in Maine was that you’d spend the whole summer throwing, because you had to. Throw, throw, throw, throw, throw… 50 to 75 pots a day. Then it became like a job. I was like, “Gee, I’m retired, I want to enjoy this! If I wanted to work somewhere and get a salary, I’d do that!”
TYG-GD: Plus, the summer [in Maine] is when you get your sales…
Al: Yes, and so one of us would have to sit at the gallery all summer. […] We’re very happy here: it will allow us to even things out and keep [production] at a more reasonable rate.
TYG: When did you open Dancing Dogs?
Al: We opened Dancing Dogs in 2001 in the Seattle area.
TYG-GD: You started the store here after Thanksgiving?
Al: Yes, it was basically Thanksgiving weekend. So we’ve been open just about a month.
TYG: How has business been since you opened?
Al: It’s been fine! We’re not losing money [laughter]—we’ve made the rent, and then some. So we’re anticipating a good year.
TYG: [Gesturing at the large display of earthenware] This kind of style is really popular in Yachats.
Al: I specialize in functional pottery—pottery you can use, in the kitchen or whatever.
TYG: That’s going to work great here. The only other place you can get functional pottery that actually has an aesthetic value as well, is just next door to here.
Al: Well, there are a few potters here and there, but in terms of my business, functional sells easier than anything. Jewelry and functional pottery are your biggest sellers. The hardest thing to sell is non-functional: paintings, and large pieces especially. Because number one, it’s a big price, and number two, it’s not functional. It’s a real luxury item. And that’s a huge thing in marketing: how do you sell a luxury item. You have to have a good economy, and people with a lot of disposable income.
TYG-GD: I like how the sign on your wall makes the art functional after all: “Our art will make your sofa look new again.”
Al: I have a friend who was a Steinway technician, and he built Steinway pianos. He was a painter too—he made that sign for us. I’ve had people ask me—I had a lady in Maine a few years ago, she said, “I really like the painting, but my couch is purple. Can you change the purples in that, to fit with the couch?” I sort of looked at her—I kind of didn’t know what to say, other than “not really.” She never bought the painting, obviously.
TYG-GD: I see you’ve got a new one there [pictured below]!
Al: Well, this is the process! A lot of times I make my own canvases, or panels. Because it’s cost-effective, number one, and number two, it’s indestructible. Canvas will be lighter, but you can break it, or tear it; even if you push something heavy into it and put a dimple in it, you’ll never get it out. I’ve had to try and repair canvases for people. So that’s one reason I paint on panels.
|"Alsea Bridge," by Al Erikson, 2014.|
TYG-Editorial Assistant: What do you think about when you paint?
Al: Uh, I don’t know. I usually react to some kind of color—I like color. It’s usually a color and a contrast, and I’m building on that. […] A lot of times paintings just reach a point where I don’t think of them—it just happens. That’s part of the process, the creative part. You can always take a picture, but I’m one of those painters where if you really want a picture, that’s not what I do. You start that way—all painters usually start being fairly realistic, because it’s easier. […] My big influence is a group of artists called the Canadian Seven, the Group of Seven. They lived in the early 1900’s, and they got really bold colors, dramatic shapes, and if you had one of them [their paintings], even just one, you’d be an instant millionaire.
Al: Well, the last one of Tom Thompson that came up for sale was a little 9x12”: $485,000 Canadian.
TYG: Wow! No way!
Al: Yeah! The big one that he did is in the Toronto Museum of Art. I remember they interviewed the curator of the museum once. He said, “My greatest mistake was that I could have bought the original Tom Thompson painting, The Jack Pine.” It’s a large painting, probably four feet by four feet. He could have paid—I think it was $2,000 Canadian. But that was in 1920 or ’21—that was a lot of money then! But now, it’s probably worth $2-300,000,000 Canadian. For Canadians, it’s an icon—it would be like selling the Mona Lisa.
TYG: So why Yachats?
Al: I love Yachats! We came here on vacation all the time; we’d stay at the Fireside, walk the beaches… We love the people around here, love the community.
TYG-GD: Oh, we never talked about your wife’s jewelry! Can we talk about that a little bit?
Al: Sure! Her jewelry is meant for women who don’t take themselves too seriously. You’re not going to see diamonds and rubies and expensive gems. She’s recycling things, she likes to be creative and does almost collage-type jewelry using found objects. Her latest thing is that she’s taking old tin cans and re-designing them into jewelry. My favorite one over here is “The Raven.”
|"The Raven," Kelle Bates Erikson. Mixed Media.|
One thing about my pottery… [takes out a penknife and knocks on the edge of a bowl] … you don’t worry about breaking it. It’s cone 10 porcelain, which means it’s very high-fired, almost 2400°F in the kiln. It’s dinnerware, it’s meant to be used. [knocks on it some more] It’ll last. It’s dinnerware, microwave and dishwasher safe. That’s a great selling point. And I used Oriental glazes that are reduction fired.
TYG-GD: What does that mean, “reduction fired”?
Al: That means you’re starving the kiln of oxygen. It’s actually a very scheduled firing over 12 hours. I actually graph it out and take notes on it—you have to, to get the color. I fire it to the degree: 2245°F over about a 12 hour period. You have to do that to get the colors. That’s why the reds are so expensive, because you’re not going to find them around much. They’re very difficult to get.
TYG: Yes, but yours are pretty reasonably priced.
Al: Well I think so! [laughter]
TYG: Well, thank you so much!
Al: Thank you! Very nice meeting you!
Steve Dennis is the owner of Earthworks Galleries, located at 2222 Hwy 101 N., on the outskirts of Yachats.
|"Dunescape," by Steve Dennis.|
TYG: What kinds of art do you have at Earthworks?
Steve: We have all kinds of artwork and media. We have clay, ceramics, glass, metal, fiber, and painting.
TYG: What pieces do you like the most?
Steve: One of the reasons we’re here—we’re all here—is because of the beauty of the environment. We like to have work that reflects that beauty. We don’t have a lot of cityscapes, or portraits of people, because people come here for the beauty of the environment. So that’s the work that we like best in the gallery. […] We’re not specific to style—it can be very representational, realistic, or it can be impressionistic. It’s what moves the viewer.
TYG: What kinds of artists do you feature?
Steve: We feature all kinds of different artists. We’re mainly known for crafts and painting and jewelry. We have a lot of jewelry in the gallery—it’s an art form that people can actually take with them. And women can never have enough jewelry.
TYG: Well, some women. So, where did you get the idea to open Earthworks?
Steve: I opened it 25 years ago. I had a partner who needed a job, and I had lots of friends who were artists. So I came up with the idea of moving here and opening a gallery. That would be employment for my partner, and help my friends out as well. It took off from the beginning, and it’s worked well.
TYG-Graphic Design: When was that?
Steve: That was in 1989, 25 years ago.
TYG: In literally two days, it’s going to be 26 years ago.
Steve: Pretty close, yep.
TYG: Because it’s going to be the new year. Although I doubt you opened New Year’s Day.
Steve: No, but we moved down here during the winter, and it was below zero when we first arrived.
TYG: Below zero, C?
TYG: Below zero, F[ahrenheit]? Wow!
Steve: Yes, it was like -16°F when we first got here.
TYG: I assume you quickly figured out that is not usual for here!
Steve: That is true! From there, the gallery kept expanding. I started in a small space here, and had my studio in the back. Eventually, the gallery took over the whole building and we built an addition on one end. People come in and say, “Oh, it’s much larger than it appears from the highway!” We’ve established a reputation for having great quality crafts from around the Northwest, and people, when they come to this area, always make it a point of coming by and seeing what we have, because we always get new things in.
TYG-GD: You mentioned your studio; what kind of art do you do?
Steve: I was a potter for 15 years before I came here. I still do pots; normally I do them now as donations for charitable endeavors. I also paint and do sculpture. We sell my work here in the gallery as well.
|by Steve Dennis|
TYG-GD: And where did you move from, by the way?
Steve: I was in Spokane, WA, and north Idaho. We looked for a spot that was as beautiful as north Idaho, and this was it. And where espresso coffee didn’t just mean fast coffee. [laughter] And then Robin Matthews and I—she started Touchstone Gallery—built the Greenhouse Marketplace together. We went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and there were 400 galleries. We thought, “Wow! We could make a destination here on the Oregon Coast!” So that’s what we’ve done. All our shops are full now, and we have summer classes in Bloom!, and three other galleries as you know. Jacquee does a great job at Touchstone.
TYG: What was here before Earthworks?
Steve: This was a myrtle wood shop here, before I purchased it. The couple were retiring and they tried to sell it as a myrtle wood shop, but nobody was interested in doing that. I looked for a spot that was on the highway and had a nice living location in Yachats. It’s a great little coastal village, and I felt very comfortable here. It’s neat to see how Yachats is growing, in positive ways.
TYG: What did you do before you got to Yachats?
Steve: I was a studio artist, and also I taught ceramics at various universities.
TYG-GD: Are you initially from Washington?
Steve: Originally from Washington, then I did my Master’s at the University of Minnesota. I worked at a private foundation set up by a brick manufacturer in Helena, Montana, that became internationally known for ceramic artists. I did that for about five years.
TYG-GD: So why did you go out to the University of Minnesota?
Steve: There was a very good, internationally-known, ceramics teacher there, by the name of Warren MacKenzie. He has influenced more potters in the United States than probably anybody, insofar as making good pots for people to use. In the Portland area, there are probably five or six different students who came from the University of Minnesota and are making pots there.
TYG-GD: Where do you see [Earthworks] going in ten years?
Steve: I have no idea! It’s sort of like a speeding train: just keep stoking the firebox, and try to keep it on the tracks. It’s become an institution, which is very exciting for us to think about, the fact that after 25 years, it has [become an institution], and plans are to just keep on enjoying dealing with the public here. We have a great group of clientele who come in here and appreciate the gallery. It’s a great thing to have people come in here and bond with a piece of work that they want to take home to enjoy.
TYG: Well, thank you so much for your time!