John Gumaelius reminisces how he wooed Robin years ago when they were both students enrolled in the fine art department of Brigham Young University. “She made these giant sculptures but somehow they always tilted to one side or another,” he says. “I made her a wood stand with a metal pole to hold them straight.”

And so began an enduring love, marriage and artistic collaboration that has produced four lovely children, a hand-built house and art studio on 15 acres, and highly valued artistic creations, including 12 whimsical critters stationed on corners in downtown Aberdeen.

The Gumaelius’ compound is located off a long and winding road between Raymond and Montesano on the North River. Upon entering the cleared expanse there is an instant realization of encountering something unusual. Everywhere the eye rests, a beguiling object engages. Faces peer out of walls, colorful bird-like figures flash in the daylight, gates glow with intricate metal designs. It is like walking into a fairytale world.

The Gumaelius’ artistic collaboration is both intuitive and instinctual. “John and I have a fluid working relationship,” Robin says. “We trade roles constantly in our artwork and in our home responsibilities.”

The Gumaeliuses both sculpt in clay. John usually creates the birdlike figures whereas Robin does the animals and face characters, but not always. John also does the metal and woodwork that embellish their sculptures.

“Although many of our skills are interchangeable, there are some areas each feels more comfortable leaving to the other,” Robin explains.

But where do the ideas for their highly unusual and innovative creations come from? “Some images come from a secret storage place inside. We don’t usually have a specific story in mind as we begin; rather the story unfolds itself as we work on the sculpture,” Robin says.

John explains it differently. “I am driven to make objects I find beautiful. Instead of thinking my art in existence, I feel it into existence. Like breathing, it happens on its own.”

Robin enumerates some of the things that inspire the pair: “Radio stories, history books, hiking adventures, neighbors spied and strangers watched in stores jangle together in our heads and come so freely to our fingers that when we see the finished pieces we are often delighted.”

As for the large head sculptures that have an almost Asian appearance, John explains, “We want to create a pleasant face for people to be around. A face with a peaceful expression.”

The Gumaeliuses also bring incredible technical skills to their creations. Robin explains that when the clay forms are leather hard, she paints them a solid navy blue or red underglaze.

“Then I do a quick brush sketch in black before I paint the colors. Sometimes I use a stylus to scrape through layers of paint or all the way back through to the white clay,” she says. There are multiple kilns, welding equipment, and a wood mill on their property to facilitate their intricate handiworks.

In addition to the downtown Aberdeen art installation, “Critters,” (see sidebar), the Gumaeliuses’ creations can also be seen in Grays Harbor at the Tokeland Hotel. Outside of the county, their work is carried in these galleries:

  • Childhood’s End Gallery, Olympia, Wash.
  • Patricia Rovzar Gallery, Seattle, Wash.
  • WaterWorks Gallery, Friday Harbor, Wash.
  • Museo Gallery, Langley, Wash.
  • 23 Sandy Gallery, Portland, Ore.
  • Hanson Howard Gallery, Ashland, Ore.
  • L Ross Gallery, Memphis, Tenn.