Marcus Larson/News-Register##Susan and Dan Wheeler work as a team in both their creative endeavors and their business, Fire’s Eye Gallery, on Highway 18 west of McMinnville.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Susan and Dan Wheeler work as a team in both their creative endeavors and their business, Fire’s Eye Gallery, on Highway 18 west of McMinnville.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Dan Wheeler dips
pots in glaze or pours it over them to create patterns on his pottery.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Dan Wheeler dips pots in glaze or pours it over them to create patterns on his pottery.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: An Unbreakable Bond

Dan is a potter who makes functional, beautiful items from porcelain clay. Susan is a glass artist who works in color and shape and light.

Together, they run a gallery where their talents intertwine.

Married in an art gallery, the two have spent most of their wedded life running Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City. They returned to McMinnville last fall and recently reopened Fire’s Eye Gallery — a business Dan started in 1994 next door to the Lawrence Gallery, then sold to another owner when he and Susan moved to the coast.

Stopping By

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996.

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Although he throws pots at the gallery on Highway 18, and she fires her glass creations in a kiln in McMinnville, they’re together most of the time. In fact, one of the main reasons they reopened the Fire’s Eye is so they could spend the maximum amount of time with each other, both at home and at the business.

“We’d both missed working together, like we did on the coast,” Dan said. “We’d had so much fun together. We were having withdrawal.”

He noted, “it’s a true gift to have Susan. She brings all the things I lack ...” He paused to laugh, then added, “which is most things.”

The two artists built separate careers before meeting and combining their talents.

ALSO: Fire's Eye filled with pottery, glass

Dan fell in love with pottery when he was a sophomore at McMinnville High School. “I started watching (art teacher) Rudy Seehawer throw,” he said, describing the process of spinning a lump of clay to create a delicate vessel.

Marcus Larson/News-Register##Susan Wheeler fuses together sheets of tinted or colored glass with sheets that are iridescent to create unique, hanging ornaments.

“I thought, ‘That’s so easy!’” Dan recalled, sheepishly. “But all my pots were three pounds and 1 1/2 inches high.”

It turns out throwing isn’t easy for a beginner. It takes practice and skill, not to mention muscle strength and finger control, to coax the clay into tall, shapely vases or bowls.

Under his teacher’s guidance, Dan soon developed the right touch. And he developed a passion for pottery that burned as hot as a kiln.

He went on to study art for two years at Linfield College. Then he transferred to Western Oregon University, where he studied with well-known potter Don Hoskinson.

When he was a senior, he was offered a job at a production pottery business in Salem. The shop made seven or eight different items, he said, reproducing each shape again and again. He threw 200 pots a day, five days a week, for the next five years.

“It was an amazing thing; it really helped build my skills,” he said. That kind of job is a good way to build solid technique, he said, which is a great thing for a young potter.

“But after awhile,” he said, “you get tired of doing the same thing over and over like a robot.”

Recalling that period, he laughed at the thought of throwing 200 pots in a day. “Now it’s maybe 20 a day,” he said.

Of course, those 20 mean more to him than yesterday’s 200. Today’s pots are his own design, bearing his unique stamp of artistry.

In addition to throwing the bowls, vases, jars and other items, he also glazes and fires them, then sells them — all parts of the job he didn’t do while working for someone else.

He enjoys the entire process.

“It takes a lot of time, but I love pottery,” he said. “I literally love pottery.

“I’m blessed to make pottery. I love making pots, and I love seeing others’ pots, and I love using pottery.”

He and Susan use pottery in their own kitchen — both items he’s made and those from other potters they admire. Dan’s favorite cup was made by his friend, the late Chris Gum.

When Dan’s parents, Norm and Edna Wheeler, were alive, he kept them supplied, as well.

His father had very large hands, he said. So Dan made him custom mugs with oversized handles through which his fingers would comfortably fit.

While he enjoys using pottery, “Throwing is my favorite thing of all.” Ideally, he would throw every day, he said.

He loves having several uninterrupted hours at the wheel.

Dan spent years selling his pottery at craft fairs and shows all over the country. His parents helped, he said; his father would load up all the pots and Dan would take off for Seattle or Spokane or San Francisco.

It was a good business, but kept him in the driver’s seat more than at the wheel. So he decided to start a gallery to show his own work and that of potter friends he’d made along the way.

He chose the site next to the Lawrence Gallery deliberately, thinking the two art galleries would complement each other. Artist Gary Lawrence was and is supportive of his efforts, he said.

His parents were supportive, as well. His father built Dan’s kiln sheds. His mother worked at the front desk of the gallery, proudly showing off her son’s work to customers.

While Dan was running the first incarnation of Fire’s Eye Gallery, a cafe called the Fresh Palate was open above the Lawrence Gallery. One of the employees there was Susan’s sister, Sally Ivey.

“She decided we should be introduced,” Susan said.

On their second date, Dan asked Susan if she’d like to come to his place to see his art. It wasn’t a pick-up line: He took her to the gallery and introduced her to his mom.

Then and now, she said, “Watching Dan throw is fascinating, to see him take a lump of clay and turn it into something ... amazing.”

Susan reciprocated, taking Dan to see Rose Garden Creations, her stained glass business in McMinnville. She made stained glass pieces, including many commissioned windows, and taught classes out of a building on Baker Street.

“I love glass like Dan loves pottery,” she said.

Also a Mac High graduate, Susan has been fascinated by the material since she was a little girl and saw a glass blowing demonstration at Disneyland.

As a young adult, she took a class on stained glass, then continued to learn the art by reading and practicing on her own. Eventually, she started designing stained glass windows for many local homes and businesses such as wineries.

For one winery owner, she created a large transom window that combined images of his two loves — wine and croquet.

Before she met Dan, she was working exclusively in stained glass, which involves creating a pattern or picture from small pieces of different colors. But after meeting the potter and watching him use a kiln to transform his materials, she became interested in fused glass.

“I took a fused glass class, then just went crazy,” she said. “It got me onto a whole different trail.”

Fused glass is made from two layers, one colored or tinted and the other clear. The layers are fused permanently in a kiln at 1,500 degrees F — 800 degrees cooler than the 2,300 degree kiln her husband uses.

The fusing creates a unique appearance with strong color on one side and an iridescent sparkle on the other while still letting light shine through. And Susan goes several steps further by cutting unique shapes and manipulating the material to create textures and patterns.

She makes items that are functional, as well as those that are purely decorative. For instance, she has a line of plates that have a swirl pattern on the bottom, visible from the top, as well.

She enjoys making the dinnerware, but her bread-and-butter are the decorative hangings, or “chains,” that feature several shapes and colors linked one above the other.

Suspended in a window to catch the sunlight, the chains offer an ever-changing art experience, she said. “You can watch throughout the day,” she said.

She often makes custom hangings that include particular colors — all blues, for instance, or a collection of primary blues, yellows and reds. “I love putting colors together,” she said.

Recently, she’s also started making the “chains” in a more rigid form for display in gardens. The colorful pieces are attached to stainless steel rods supplied by Dan, who also helped her develop some of the processes for texturing the fused glass.

It’s another way they work together, sharing ideas to create something new.

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