JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Turn left at Gunther the crocodile

YOU MIGHT NOT know it’s there.

But turn off the main highway into town at Fredericks Street, then left on Otto, and follow the winding road past Nimba Forge and down the hill, and you’ll find yourself in a rural enclave tucked between the town and business park.

And on the edge is Shane Miller’s place — that’s her barn you’ll see on the left before you round the corner at the bottom of the hill.

Pass the life-size figures of a man, woman and a coyote dancing, and you’ll be at Miller’s drive, where you will be greeted by Gunther.

Gunther is a crocodile, rampant, who holds Miller’s mailbox in his claws.

He is just one of the creatures that grace her rural acre, where the animals roam free and the art is in the barn.

The animals are silhouettes that Miller created during her 12 years as a metal sculptor, doing large outdoor pieces.

She’s graduated to smaller pieces, which she crafts in the barn, built as her work space.

Last year, she invited four artist friends to join her in holding an art sale in the barn, an event they are repeating this Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s the perfect setting for bringing in the summer,” Miller says of the property, which is bordered by woods to the north.

“There’s definitely a country feeling.”

More than 300 people came to last year’s sale, where they were welcomed with lemonade and homemade cookies courtesy of Miller’s friend Carrie Ehrhardt, principal of Port Townsend High School.

Ehrhardt is again setting up the refreshment stand for the event, which will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, and people are invited wander the property, dotted with old apple trees and resident animals.

Each has a name, including Thorndyke Major, the canine in the picnic area.

Miller didn’t realize when she created metal dog silhouettes that they would evoke emotional responses.

“Almost every single one was bought as a memorial dog for someone,” she said.

“People would come into my booth and be crying. They’d say, ‘We want to look out in the garden and still see the dog.'”

Thorndyke Major is a clone of a sculpture that Miller sold to a woman who wanted the original, Little Dan, for the grounds of a home she and her son were buying back East.

Viewing the property, they discovered a glen of trees in back, and in the middle of the trees was a tombstone with the name “Thorndyke Major” on it.

The name turned out to be that of the former owner’s dog, a Great Dane.

“Little Dan is now lord of the animal garden,” Miller says.

Miller, a former kayak tour guide in Baja California, moved to Port Townsend and bought her house in 1998, which she describes as a “fixer upper for the rest of my life.”

On the back porch is a black lab named Silas, who faces the arbor topped with metal crows.

There is a white fence topped with animal figures, originally the walls of her craft fair booth, and a patch of giant butter burrs screens an outdoor claw-foot bathtub.

There’s also an old shed, and the barn, which is only 10 years old, but built to match one that Miller saw on a farm near Poulsbo.

She named it GreyBird Barn after a vintage toy zeppelin she saw that had the name “GREYBIRD” painted on it in red.

The idea of naming the barn after a zeppelin, which hovers over the earth, appealed to Miller.

“I believe there is a lot of power in words and especially in the name of something,” Miller said. “GreyBird just seemed to fit my barn.”

She also has a 1952 pickup truck, and mows her acre with a 1952 Farmall Cub tractor, nicknamed “Bliss,” because that’s what she feels when she drives it.

Miller is also a ’52 model — she was born in Hot Springs, Ark., where her grandmother had a florist business that she started on her side porch.

It was passed down to her children. Miller’s mother, who inherited the business, worked there from the age 16 until her death three years ago at the age of 86.

Called The House of Flowers, it had the contract to supply all the flowers for the Hot Springs horse racing track through the season, Miller said.

The biggest event was the Arkansas Derby, which required gardenia corsages for the 300-plus women who worked there, and rose boutonnieres, 600 to 700, for all the men, from the stable boys on up.

“For derby week, Mom would call all the chickens home,” Miller said, referring to siblings and family members.

“A whole crew of cousins and aunts would sit down and sew the horse blanket for the winner with hundreds and hundreds of gardenias.”

The idea for a communal art sale originated with Miller and Linda Jarvis, a painter and sculptor.

They invited Diane Gale, Beverly Saito and Lynn Andrew to join them.

Gale does wood-fired ceramics and glazed pottery for kitchen and home, including tea pots and vases. Saito makes beaded jewelry and sculptural ceramics

Andrews, a jeweler, was not able to participate this year, so Shirley Moss, who makes silver chains, is filling her spot.

The GreyBird Barn art sale is held in conjunction with Diana Cronin’s studio sale featuring six ceramic artists on Egg and I Road in Chimacum.

For last year’s sale, the barn took on a life of its own, Miller said, as if the purpose for which it was built was happening.

“The big payoff was that it was so much fun,” Miller said. “We have great camaraderie. We enjoyed hanging out for two days and getting to know each other better.”

________

Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail jjackson@olypen.

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