Oak Harbor potter turns love for forming clay into lifetime career

Dan Ishler stands in front of his art studio on his property in Oak Harbor.  - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Dan Ishler stands in front of his art studio on his property in Oak Harbor.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Dan Ishler has found that people around Oak Harbor are quite familiar with his art studio.

At least, the exterior.

It’s hard to miss Ishler’s light green studio as you approach Oak Harbor from the south along State Route 20. Atop the hill before you reach Swantown Avenue, Ishler’s place is due east with the structure in his front driveway almost hugging the highway.

A red neon “open” sign signals when the pottery studio is open, which it usually is seven days a week.

“People say, ‘We’ve been driving by for 10 years and we always wanted to stop,’” Ishler said. “What I like about the tour is it does get people to stop.”

Ishler’s reference was to the Summer Art Studio Tour run by the Whidbey Working Artists. The free self-guided tour is a chance to visit designated artists’ studios from Greenbank to Oak Harbor. The tour began last weekend and resumes Aug. 31 to Sept. 2.

Ishler was on the original committee that started the tour in 2004 and has been participating ever since.

This year, the tour broke tradition and separated into two geographically distinct summer tours run by two different groups of artists rather than one island-wide event.

The Whidbey Open Studio Tour, made up of south island communities, completed its tour last weekend.

Ishler enjoys sharing his studio with the public; however for him, it’s not much of a departure from routine business. His studio at 30678 State Route 20 is open everyday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

For more than 40 years, he’s been at work designing, creating and marketing functional and art pottery. He’s made a living out of a passion that started when he departed from his architectural studies and took an elective class at a community college in Whittier, Calif.

“I wound up taking ceramics and that was it,” he said.

Ishler’s studio is both workshop and gallery with finished and unfinished pieces on display. He creates functional pieces such as bowls, cups and plates and decorative art such as crystalline-glazed vases, pit-fired pots and “humorous characterizations” of vintage cars.

He used to pack up his work into a van and take his show on the road, traveling to arts and craft shows across the United States from April to September.

Now 65, he’s scaled back those trips and places his focus more locally and is able to market more online.

“The travel got to be a little much,” Ishler said. “I got to be a little older. It wasn’t as much fun as it used to be.”

He figures he got his creative and mechanical talents from his father, Paul Ishler, a former Boeing engineer who once worked as a pit crew hand with the Slo-mo-shun V hydroplane. Ishler remembers building things from wood and metal in his father’s workshop as a young boy growing up in Burien.

But it was his fascination with clay that molded his life and career.

Since 1999, he and his wife of 35 years, Jannine, have made Whidbey Island their home. Ten years ago, they moved into their current residence on a hillside with a sweeping view of Oak Harbor.

But Ishler tries not to spend too much time in the house gazing at the scenery. There’s always work to do in the shop once the inspiration hits to be creative.

He’ll go in the shop, turn on some country music and go to work.

“It’s really a lifestyle,” he said. “I don’t have to answer to anyone other than Jannine.”


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