Olympic Peninsula Art Association: Point Defiance Pottery Artist Spotlight
August 1, 2021
August OPAA ArtWALKS column, 2021, Suzan Noyes (Part One:)
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” Steve Jobs
I’ve always tried that road less traveled. I know this because my parents complained a lot about my offbeat lifestyle. To be happy, artists must do what they do best and much exploration is involved in our personal artistic journeys.
Point Defiance Pottery is a true family enterprise very interconnected with their community. They deliver skillful and imaginative crafting with break-the-mold concepts. Not to mention lots of fun and whimsy, interspersed with ecological concerns. (Their children bestowed this title in reference to their home and craft. From the mouths of babes...)
Mother and artist Lark Sundsmo says inspiration comes from their environment, nature, experience and loved ones...for example, work envisioned on a family hike along Owen’s Beach, exploring along tide pools with small kidlets and their dogs.
“Our Sailor & Siren’s sculptures were inspired on how Tyler and I met – a twist to Homer’s “Odyssey”, the first truly collaborative sculpture we’d done. After experimenting and working together on ceramics for six years, this was the first piece Tyler made after a serious accident and we tag-teamed it to completion.”
Truly, the Sundsmo family tag-team everything together, kids, chores, home, their business. Much thought, heart and exercise flow into their projects.
“Our flora and fauna creations truly result from our explorations with intellectual and environmental fascinations. We’ve gone home to create whale art after listening to them sing at the beach while walking our dogs! We created “Pleasant Day in Tampa Bay” after a trip we had taken, time
spent snorkeling in the gulf, diving for scallops, swimming with dolphins, sea turtles and manatees in their home space.”
“Our many octopus-styled pieces focus on the Pacific Northwest Giant Octopus native to Puget Sound, also, many whale pieces highlighting oceanic mammals migrating through these waters – most specifically, “Tallequah’s Grief”, based on the aggrieved Orca from the Puget Sound J-Pod, which we found to be heart- breaking.”
Tyler is a potter but also clearly a sculptor using much detail in his work. I asked if he had modeled in clay as a youngster - or how else was he directed to this medium?
“I was lucky to be introduced to ceramics early on at Peninsula High School. Christine Tabor-Buchanan, my pottery instructor influenced me big-time.”
Christine still teaches at this school. (YAY for our art teachers.)
Tyler traded his pottery for a kiln, his wheel was a gift from his mother after high school graduation. Then he traded his apron for a uniform during the 9/11 disaster and joined the U.S. Navy as a Hospital Corpsman. Tyler spent five years overseas. Upon his return to Tacoma, he enrolled at Tacoma Community College on the G.I. Bill. There, he took another elective – pottery was available. Under tutelage of T.C.C. teachers Rick Mcafee and Reid Ozaka, Tyler rediscovered his love for working with clay.
His potter’s wheel remains in use today, but the old trusty ’63 Crest Manual Cone Sitter kiln lay down and died last year. Tyler turned an old shed into a workspace to help handle his stress, putting in as much time as possible, self-teaching and honing his skills between work, school, and family. Tyler had little patience with glazing, rushing through it, so Lark picked up on glazing skills. They quickly began producing artwork devoured by their artistic community, while melding the couple as an artistic power-force.
“My very first project with Tyler was a lovely smooth bowl he threw. On this I painted a scene of our four-year-old daughter as a cherub with some clouds and gardens as a Christmas gift. I was curious to see how the colors played together and fired out. This was not my first-time painting pottery, though...”
Years ago, her grandmother had taken her to ceramic painting shops where Lark created things for her mother. Meanwhile, Mom brought home boxes of bisque ornaments to glaze as gifts for relatives. Lark learned early on that good color requires a good bit of glaze. When in doubt, add more, she states.
Lark had painted prior to this stage of her life. Her biggest mediums growing up were paper collages, polymer clay sculpting and painting – and watercolor evolved into acrylics. “I still paint in my non-existent spare time between raising three kids, homeschooling, and their activities, while running a household, business and studio. Our collaborative vase series, “Circe’s Sirens” and the “Anchors Aweigh” (with mermaids and sailors) were my first truly collaborative sculpture pieces with Tyler. He is incredibly talented with creatures and textures and movement. I’m better with forms, faces, and details. Between us, we’ve spent twenty-two hours taking turns entertaining kids and sculpting a project. (SN’s note, take in the lovely glazes in the attached photographs of Anchors Aweigh... wowza.) Since then, we’ve worked on several more together, as well as independent creations. We strive to create results that seamlessly blend our separate talents together.” Truly a creative and dynamic duet.
A year after collaboration on projects, they were invited to the Seattle Home and Garden Show, and the following year to the Coos Bay Maritime Art Museum’s Annual National Juried Art Show, where they’ve exhibited seven years running.
Tyler says his job as a specialized home infusion nurse allows him to balance between home, work and studio. This includes visiting and viewing shows
and galleries while traveling to see patients. “When I’m not working my tail end off, I’m in my happy place with my best friend, our clay and our imaginations...and yes, maybe a bit of chaos
(inspiration?). Three kids, two dogs, a cat and a variety of birds contribute to the pandemonium that is our Sundsmo Household.”
Lark reflects that their work has taken much trial and error, but each piece is equally contrived with passion, shared debate and painfully specific execution. They appreciate what it has taken to get to this point, to create together as a team. They’ve struggled, questioning their very purpose, foundations, and drive because their art is very much part of who
they are. They question if such focus detracts from or bolsters their
family base - but to quit creating is about as easy as not breathing
for the Sundsmos.
I’d insist: You’re passing a loving baton to your children, much as
art was passed on to each of you.
After eight years, they’ve established a foundation, “forged in the fire of adversity and tempered into a state of flawed perfection,” adds Lark.
Like Steve Jobs said, “As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
Part Two continues in September with the Sundsmo family of five, their imaginative design concepts and projects... love of ecology and nature.
www.pointdefiancepottery.com Etsy Shop: PortDefiancePottery
Work displayed in the PNW:
Todd Fischer Gallery 115 W. Railroad Ave. #112, Port Angeles, WA 98362
The Laughing Crab Gallery 1341 Bay Street, Florence, OR 97439
Seattle Times, article: Tallequah’s Grief: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/i-am-sobbing-mother-orca-still- carrying-her-dead-calf-16-days-later/
Christine Tabor-Buchanan: http://www.buchananfineart.com/
1&2) "Tallequah's Grief" (Mother Orca carried her deceased babe for over two weeks)
Point Defiance Pottery: Creating with Kids
Olympic Peninsula Art Association September Profile By Suzan Noyes
Point Defiance Pottery Pt. 2 By Suzan Noyes
September OPAA ArtWALKS Column, Suzan Noyes 2021
“Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.” Stephen Sondheim Point Defiance Pottery, Part Two:
Lately, the world leaves me feeling much like Alice in Wonderland, “We’re all mad here.” While a certain amount of chaos is healthy for creative thought, we receive a typical amount of wackiness at home and work even without global crisis. Staying focused on positive things like our creativity is a saving grace.
Take time out, turn off your TV and your phones. Ditch social media for several hours. Retreat to your studio or go take a walk in the woods. Berry picking is good for the soul – and tasty. On difficult days, I recite a microcosm/macrocosm mantra: “I’m a small blip in time, inside an immense universe.” For some reason, this calms me.
On that note, I return to Tyler & Lark Sundsmo of Point Defiance Pottery, who state, “We wouldn’t be here without the love and support of our friends, family and community. Each time we’ve wavered about shutting down shop, our community rallied around, encouraging us to keep creating and to achieve our potential.” Very calming, as Covid-19 cast a long shadow over their efforts to persist in their goal and artistic journey. They are grateful for support of galleries such as Todd Fischer’s in Port Angeles, which encouraged and represented them throughout the pandemic.
Like other artists, the chaos of shutdown offered time to experiment with new methods of creative projects. Fountains and planters… along with experiments in home-gardening, family activities like old movie night with too much popcorn, and sourdough starter and a new website.
While revisiting Tyler and Lark’s coping mechanisms (available to a
family of five), I confess to curiosity over how much of their children’s
input and ideas take root in their parent’s approach to pottery.
Tyler shares some thoughts: “When we first began, whatever we did
they wanted to be part of. For small kids, it was a matter of giving them
a job they could do without it becoming disastrous. We can’t even
explain how many times our projects were thwarted by childlike curiosity or glee for sensory play. Fingers poked through drying pieces. Finished pottery on the wheel, launched across the
room. Chocolate-chip ice cream painted across a glazed masterpiece. (And one confused kid over why the treat was no longer edible.) We survived.”
They never targeted their children’s creative efforts, even in the heat of frustrated moments.
Their personal motto is: “We’ll make it better next time…it’s just time logged in the saddle; we’ll be better for it.” Lark touts a book about Jim Henson’s art titled, “Make Art, Make Money”, by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens, which does a great job explaining this theory.
A framed corkboard wall displays their children’s artwork,
along with Pablo Picasso’s quote, “Every child is an artist,
(The rest of the quote says, “…until they’re told otherwise.”
Early on, Lark took a position as a painting instructor at a local
gallery, teaching adults to copy paintings step by step. The
biggest take-away from this experience for her was about
giving permission to create. “So many adults are scarred by past comments that merit alone is the point of creating – which revokes permission to ever set paint to canvas.” She stresses the importance of taking the journey, not fixating on the outcome. “When you view art, you’re looking at hours and days and weeks of failure, emotional breakdowns, also triumphs - resulting in a finished work.”
Tyler describes the fun helping the children’s creativity come to life.
“When they were just tiny, beginning to use crayons and markers, Lark
would draw outlines of their favorite cartoon characters or dragons or
mermaids for them to color in. These ended up on their gallery wall. Then they’d ask me to make a clay frog – but they’d pitch in and help build it
for something of their own to glaze and fire. We learned early on to always have things on hand for their projects.”
This evolved as the children grew, with Lark on the sidelines of basketball courts, football/soccer fields, pools, camps, etc., sketching images in her purse sketch book, pictures later printed, made into silk screens. “We’re teaching the kids how to personalize these silk screen images,” she adds, “learning the process of modifying images, adding their own artistic touches.”
Presently, Tyler is teaching Lark more about turning clay on the wheel as she expands his interest in the painting/glazing process. “We’re both getting pretty good,” she says.
The very last step in all their ceramics is one clear coat adding a glossy finish to Point Defiance completed pottery. This glaze is a thick coat over all that careful painting. Their young ones loved doing this and quickly learned a light hand, turning
each finished piece into a true family product. “We traveled
to our first museum exhibit as a family,” says Lark. “Our six
year-old immediately spotted our ceramic tureen and hauled
it off the pedestal. We thought the curator would have a heart
attack. She had no idea how many times our daughter had
handled it at home.”
That little girl began a ceramic jewelry business at ten, sometimes
outselling Mom & Dad at art festivals. Always, she donated a percentage to her favorite recue organizations and shelters. “Today, she’s a talented
teenaged digital artist, jewelry and costume-maker,” says Lark. “She
sells her NFT (non-fungible token) art online and in person and works as hard as any adult at festivals, shows, and during
crunch time over distributions.”
For the very first fountain the family made during the pandemic, their
daughter sculpted a common Western Banded Gecko. (These scurry
around the family gardens, so she had a serious grip on styling the gecko.) “Several people thought it was real,” says Lark.
Their children’s enthusiasm and participation has evolved over the years. Their involvement is self-inclined. Tyler and Lark don’t force the issue. Their eldest is now fourteen and sometimes friends and play take top priority. Parents stress that the projects their children do participate in are compensated generously. It remains a Mom and Pop business, and
they juggle much.
The immediacy of their lives engenders a certain amount of chaos. Weeks away from the studio for mom stuff, ambulance rides, emergency surgeries, a brief hospital stay for one kid while another announces a major weighing-grade project due tomorrow. Or it’s a holiday wherein the cat goes missing, culminating in search and rescue and a whopping vet bill. And no clean laundry (including team jerseys for tomorrow’s game) because filling the kiln by one p.m. was also a priority. But, hey…if your new website just got launched that morning and your ceramics shop just scored a great venue you’ve lusted after for years…doesn’t it simply put you over the moon?
Lark says, “Juggling means getting the max
from watching your kids grow, building a
home with your teammate, partner and best
friend. Indulging in the many facets making
up a colorful and fabulous life.”
That says it all.