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May 5, 2015

A Family Shaped By Art

Turn left at the heads and follow the driveway to a large clearing.

Story by Alexandra Kocik | Photos by Aaron Lavinsky

Faces peer from along the route that passes by a studio. Inside, Robin and John Gumaelius create sculptures that meld realism and fancy. A flood of soft light diffused by the forest enters through large windows. John stands at a heavy, metal table, molding the basic shape of a large head set onto metal wheels. On the other side of the room, Robin etches curling patterns onto a clay antelope springing from a pedestal.

Their work is a mixture of dreams and children’s imagination come to life. It can be found in galleries around the Northwest, prices ranging up to several thousand dollars for some pieces.

Their 15 acres are right on the North River, not too far southeast of Aberdeen as the crow flies, but another matter when factoring in the many twists and turns of the bucolic country road. The natural environment seeps into many of their fantastical pieces, and their artistic sensibility seeps into the place they have cut into the forest.

The presence of their four children can be felt all over, from drawings hanging in the workshop to small “shrines” placed throughout the many miles of woods the family owns. In the shop, tiny yellow galoshes hang over a fireplace, a telltale sign of 4­year­old Cecil’s adventures in and near the river the previous day. “Our kids are what make this place feel alive,” says Robin.

From the ground up

A small, 200­square­foot building set against trees, a real­life “tree house,” is where the then four­person family lived the first year on their property.

The 700 or so square foot house they now live in was put together quickly after Robin’s realization she was pregnant with Cecil. The stairs are polished and carved with designs. Paintings of figures lay below each of the high lofts. “I’ve always been good with my hands. I like to just put things together,” John says. “I got a lot of help from friends to put the house together.”

The ceramic tiles set into the large shower of the bathroom were also the family’s handwork, put together by Robin and the four kids. The children’s imaginations play a large part in their parents’ work. Some of the curly designs carved into the sculptures are based on the kids’ crayon scribbles, many hung around the shop.

Robin and John met at Brigham Young University while Robin was working on her masters and John an undergraduate degree. He used his welding skills to help her with a piece and they began collaborating more. She taught John the secrets of ceramics.

They married and soon found themselves with three children and a residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, a creative refuge in Oregon for musicians, writers and artists. They stay connected to that community and the layout of their current home was inspired greatly by Sitka, with buildings made of native wood and large open forest to explore in between.

Galleries

Their work ranges from small birds to large elaborate heads to even movable puppets. Many of their pieces begin with Robin crafting in ceramic clay. Small ceramic birds set on steel legs and feet, with intricate pictures or patterns on their wings are their most popular pieces. Each piece is unique and made by hand.

The galleries set the prices for their work and take 50 percent on all sales. “We appreciate them all so much because we can do what we do best and know our work is in good hands,” Robin said.

Close to the earth

Over five miles of trails were created throughout the property. The kids walk to school on one of them. And an orchard was planted in a forest clearing last summer. Throughout the property are stacks of logs, waiting to be added to the firewood, which is the family’s only source of heat and fuel at home and in the shop.

An expansive garden is surrounded by wire holding up berry bushes that will eventually grow to form a natural fence. Chickens stay in a coop that is movable so the poop they leave behind is always fertilizing a fresh patch of grass.

The children’s playhouse is suspended in the air between four trees. All together it was about $100 for the hardware and a long tube that acts as a slide. The rest of it was made from trees off their own land. Eventually the trees will be thinned out further to allow grass to grow to give the children a place to play.

Back in the shop, the Gumaelius’ visions are taking shape. Robin will soon be painting the creations using traditional methods that have been around for thousands of years in Danish culture. Once the piece is finished, it will be driven to a gallery, where it will stay until finding a permanent home. With prices ranging from $100 to $4,000, it can take time to find the perfect owner looking for a piece that really turns heads.

Their Work Can be Found Inside and Online at:

Childhood’s End Gallery
childhoods­end­gallery.com
222 4th Ave W., Olympia

Patricia Rovzar Gallery
rovzargallery.com
1225 Second Avenue, Seattle

WaterWorks Gallery
waterworksgallery.com
315 Argyle St., Friday Harbor

Museum of Contemporary Craft
museumofcontemporarycraft.org
724 Northwest Davis Street, Portland, Ore.

Mary Lou Zeek Gallery
marylouzeekgallery.com
1730 Fairmount Avenue South, Salem, Ore.

White Bird Gallery
www.whitebirdgallery.com
251 N. Hemlock St., Cannon Beach, Ore.

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Art, Features, People