Matter! Gallery In Downtown Olympia Showcases Art From Reclaimed Materials

Matter! Gallery, located in downtown Olympia, showcases art many local Olympia artists. Owner Jo Gallaugher knows the stories behind each piece.


By Alec Clayton

Jo Gallaugher, owner and curator at Matter! Gallery, discusses some of the artwork available for sale.

For the past two years Matter! Gallery has been named Olympia’s best art gallery by the Weekly Volcano. The gallery, which exclusively shows art made from reclaimed materials, features work by 110 artists, most from Washington and Oregon, and many from right here in Olympia. It was featured in the documentary ReVision, a film that showcases the art of Pacific Northwest. The film was released late 2011 and still plays at art and eco-related film festivals.

Jo Gallaugher opened the gallery in September 2009 in a store near the corner of 5th Avenue and Water Street, and in July of this year moved to her current location at 422 Washington St. The gallery is filled with paintings, assemblages, sculptures, lamps, furniture, lighting, jewelry, garden art, and metalwork.

“I look for artists who are creating edgy, non-traditional works that are really saying something,” Gallaugher says. She says she likes work with a lot of texture.

It wasn’t until three years ago after talking to a bunch of artists that she came up with the idea of selling exclusively art from reclaimed materials, which she thinks is important because it is ecologically sound.

Most of the art on display has narrative content and there are stories behind the art and the artists. “I learn the story of every piece,” she says. For example, D.L. Martin’s “Rivit” is a beautifully and densely textured abstract work that looks like galaxies in a night sky next to a field of orange. He noticed the pattern in the rusted bottom of his wheelbarrow and photographed it and mixed actual rust from the bottom of the wheelbarrow in the resin that coats the photograph.

Martin is a professional remodeler who says he has learned to utilize a wide variety of material and unconventional techniques to achieve his goals. “Many times I find material that is headed for a landfill and scurry off to my little nest with it, only to have no idea what it will become until much later. Sometimes material speaks to me, telling me what it wants to become. Sometimes I listen.”

Gallaugher says that customers nearly always ask about the stories behind the art.

Just a few of the artists represented by Matter! are Nancy Thorne Chambers, George Kurzman, Michelle Connolly, Dan Levin, Diane Kurzyna and Pat Tassoni.

Nancy Chambers makes often comical ceramic sculptures of human figures, quite frequently using found objects with the clay and often with doors into the bodies that open up. “Image,” for instance is a sculpture of a woman holding another tiny woman in the palm of her hand. An open door in her chest reveals a mirror with the tiny woman’s reflection. Chambers also does funny portraits of famous figures such as the painters Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso.

Gallaugher says she has sold many of Chambers’ pieces and that she seems to be particularly popular with patrons from the East Coast. Yes, she will ship art.

Michelle Connolly has a group of wall-hanging faces in painted metal with fascinating textures and interesting shape combinations. A fun one is “The Hustler,” which looks like a long-necked woman a la Modigliani. Also by Connolly is an airy little contour drawing of a face in twisted wire and “Intrepid Explorer,” a comical face with wood and other materials painted on an old cigar box.

Matter! Gallery, located in downtown Olympia, showcases art many local Olympia artists. Owner Jo Gallaugher knows the stories behind each piece.

Dan Levin has a number of small metal and found-object sculptures, a few of which feature globes and have a steampunk feel. Like “Stratosphobia,” which has a little doll hand reaching upward inside a clear glass globe and a toy airplane circling the globe as if circumnavigating the earth.

Pat Tassoni’s lamps are quickly becoming famous. Nearly all of them look like the Space Needle — he admits to being obsessed with the Space Needle. His lamps are made from a wide variety of metal and glass found materials.

Matter! Gallery takes their online supporters seriously.  With more than 2,800 Facebook fans, the gallery posts 3 – 5 photos of new artwork each week.  Prices at Matter! range from $18 for whistles made from vintage bottle caps up to $3,000. Most artworks are in the $200-$300 range.

Matter! Gallery

422 Washington Street SE

Olympia, WA 98501


The gallery is open on Tuesday from 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm, Wednesday – Saturday from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm, and Sunday 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm.

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