Dockton potter knows how to play with fire

“You put the piece into the kiln, fire it, then take it out and see what you got.”

At the outer reaches of the upcoming Vashon Island Visual Artists (VIVA) Studio Tour, you’ll find Dockton Pottery, Gale Lurie’s Maury Island studio and gallery which features her distinctive raku ware and more traditional pottery, together with five other artists working in various media.

Lurie noted during an interview that she didn’t start out as a potter, but at the age of 22 she took a pottery class at a community center and was, she said, “instantly hooked.” Born in Brooklyn, she set out to be a teacher and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education from Brooklyn College. When her husband was offered a Master’s program scholarship at the University of Washington (UW), she applied for teaching jobs in Seattle and, as she put it, “I was hired by mail.”

Her first job here was teaching first grade in Columbia City.

“I think the school thought they were getting this tough girl from Brooklyn,” Lurie said with a laugh. “That wasn’t me, and it was kind of sink or swim when I began.”

Lurie worked for many years at Summit K-12, a public alternative school, and went on to graduate from the UW with a Master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.

From 1993-94 she took a sabbatical from teaching and spent time exploring the pottery of the southwestern United States. When she returned, she applied to study at the UW Ceramics Department, and the application required her to submit a portfolio.

“Well, I didn’t exactly have a portfolio, so I turned up with a box of pots to show them,” Lurie said.

Evidently, they liked what they saw in the box, and she was accepted.

It was during those five semesters at the Ceramics Department that she realized she wanted to be a potter full-time.

“I was working with these three internationally famous people,” she said. “Jamie Walker, Patti Warashina and Akio Takamori were amazing artists, and I decided that creating with clay was what I wanted to do thereafter.”

Accordingly, as soon as she was eligible for early retirement, she quit the school system and moved to Vashon in 2015.

Although Lurie makes more conventional, “functional” pottery, much of her work focuses on raku, which is quite different from other methods. It requires a special kiln, special glazes, and a type of clay that can handle being subjected to up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and then being immediately exposed to ambient temperature (most pottery techniques require the clay to cool down in the kiln over a period of hours or days).

Raku — the word comes from the Chinese character for “enjoyment”— is widely described as being a Japanese technique, but Lurie notes that it probably originated in Korea. “Western raku,” which she practices, differs from the traditional 16th-century Japanese method by being fired at higher temperatures, with pieces being placed in an open-air container filled with combustible material. The Western process yields a greater range of colors than is typically found in Japan.

Lurie’s resumé as an artist is impressive. She has taught extensively, including for many years at the Northwest School. She founded “Claystation 2”, an activity center for children at the Seattle International Children’s Festival where around 2,000 kids participated during the weeks of the event. She also founded the Wedgwood Art Festival, which now attracts thousands of people each summer. She’s also served on the board of the prestigious Northwest Designer Craftartists.

During the VIVA Studio Tour, Lurie generously makes space available for five other artists to show their work, so visitors who make the trip to her Dockton studio can see not just her work, but also a variety of other art. This includes Alice Larson’s origami, Ralph Moore’s cutting boards, Gale Hapeman’s glasswork, Peter Hapeman’s photography, and Yulia Ivashchenko’s felted clothing and shoes.

As an artist, Lurie is drawn to the beauty of raku, but also to its unpredictable spontaneity. As she puts it with a smile, “You put the piece into the kiln, fire it, then take it out and see what you got.”

Dockton Pottery is located at 25913 99th Ave SW in Dockton. It will be open during the VIVA Holiday 2023 Studio Tour on the weekends of December 2, 3, 9, and 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (and also at other times).

There are five other studios on Maury Island, of which two are within walking distance of Dockton Pottery: Rose Belknap’s oil paintings together with Kathy Raines’ jewelry, and Lisa Witherspoon’s Jewel Box Studio.