About the Artists at Birch Grove Studios

Dennis McKenzie and Vickie Cole have opened a gallery near Big Lake featuring a wide variety of their work, including pottery-both functional and art-photography, gut vessel forms and jewelry. Call us at 907.376.5816. We are here most of the time.

Pottery Classes and Gallery at 907.376-5816. Read more information on the classes we offer by selection the section, Pottery Classes.

The studio is located at Hollywood and Johnson Roads in a natural woodland setting.

Eight large windows provide lots of natural light to create an open airy environment complementing the natural wood and clean painted surfaces of the studio.

Every effort has been made to provide a clean and pleasant environment in which to work

Read the December 10, 2004 article »


Dennis McKenzie

I was born in 1947 in the city of San Francisco, California USA, child of a U.S. Marine and the New Zealand women he fell in love with during the War in the Pacific. My parents settled in San Francisco after the war and raised four children of whom I am the oldest. Photography was my first love in the arts. When I was 16 years old I learned to Scuba dive and became an assistant dive instructor.

My diving mentor was also a photographer who had a small darkroom set up in the back of his dive shop in San Francisco. This was the time of the Nikon F and the emergence of the SLR 35mm camera. I was hooked. I roamed the California coastline on dive trips or by hitchhiking from Big Sur to Mendocino seeking images that moved me. As well as shooting "The Haight Asbury scene" While living in the city. I did this for a number of years while working odd jobs from California to Alaska.

In 1973 I fell in love with pottery while living in Southern California. It was something I had wanted to try for some years. I finally found an opening in a summer class at Chaffy College near Upland, CA and studied with Lindley Mixon a gifted teacher who became a close friend and mentor. After a few years we returned to Alaska were I worked as a carpenter until my pottery skills were good enough and I have been a professional studio potter for the last 25 years here in the Mat-SU Valley near Anchorage, Alaska.

I have shown my work at far too many galleries and Art Fairs to mention. I now also teach pottery at my own studio near Big Lake and have been doing so for some 7 to 8 years. I am also a sailor and have sailed here in Alaska for 17yrs. My wife, Vickie Cole and our son David took an extended cruising trip in our own boat from Alaska to Mexico to Hawaii and back to Seward, Alaska in the years of 1989 to 1991. Now we sail mostly in Prince William Sound during the summer, trying to capture its wonders and mystery on film.

In 1999 my interest in photography was rekindled and I brought my-self up to date on the latest technology. (THANK YOU PHOTO.NET!) I learned about the "Digital Darkroom" revolution. This is how I do my own work now. I use 35mm Nikon gear and some medium format slide film and scan into Photoshop to work my images. Sometimes I manipulate the images very little and sometimes a lot. I print the larger prints using the Hahnemuhle collection of Fine Art Papers. I wish to capture a feel of place that gives me an emotional response to the mystery of the landscape and sea interface that I love so well. I find great creativity and thus deep satisfaction working in Photoshop to fine-tune the images. My favorite images tend to be on the dark side, with large areas of black counter pointing rich areas of color and texture with an impressionistic viewpoint.

Vickie Cole

I was born in Chicago 1942 into an artistic family where music, the written word and the visual arts were a constant part of our lives. My grandfather was a painter who taught at the Chicago Art Institute, my father studied music and my mother English literature. Both my brothers had a musical bent while, I the youngest bathed my mind in the waters of natural science. By the age of fifteen I had my own natural history museum and was working summers at archaeological sites along Lake Michigan.

Our summer family trips camping across the country in the 1940's and 1950's were fine fodder for my first attempts at photography, not to mention superlative opportunities for the collection of museum specimens. At home, in my museum, I spent many happy weeks identifying objects in addition to helping my brother in his photo lab learning darkroom basics.

Eventually, armed with a degree in archaeology and anthropology I spent several summers excavating sites in the great mid-west. Gradually, my latent yearning for northern adventure took hold of me pointing me towards Alaska.

In, Fairbanks I found my next love - I took a weaving class at the university. (Oh, the subtle influences a mother can have on a daughter - my mother was also a weaver!) I was smitten by the innumerable ways humans have solved the utilitarian problems of clothing and shelter while at the same time creating objects of great beauty and high social status.

Twenty-nine years of my life in Alaska have been spent teaching anthropology and the fiber arts in the Art Department at the Matanuska-Susitna College Campus of the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Of those 29 years I acted as the MatSu College Art Department coordinator for nearly twenty years during which time I and two other fiber instructors designed and implemented the only fully accredited BFA program with an emphasis in the fiber arts in the entire state of Alaska. I was employed as the executive director of the Palmer Museum of History & Art. I am now working as an archaeologist at Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Growing up around Lake Michigan it was inevitable that I eventually followed the waters of Alaska beginning with a 400-mile kayak trip down the Yukon River in 1969. In 1985, my husband, Dennis McKenzie and I bought a small sailboat, which we, with our son, sailed in Prince William Sound, across the Gulf of Alaska and down the Inside Passage to Seattle. Our next boat carried us safely to Mexico, Hawaii and back home to Alaska.

Dennis built me two lovely stitch and glue kayaks, the larger of which I use as a photo-shooting platform. Our new boat, not a sailboat this time, a 1977 woody Clipper Craft, nicely carries my larger kayak on the cabin top. More sea going/photographing expeditions are on the horizon.

There is a statewide-juried show here in Alaska called "Earth, Fire and Fiber". These three words sum up for me my approach to the creation of all art. The earth provides the materials, including colorants, metals, plants and all animals including humans. Fire and humans modify these materials in interesting ways and patterns and, finally, fibers bind everything together in beautiful creations. I work in a variety of media, fibers, metals, ferrous and non-ferrous, handmade paper, basketry and clay. I delight in using unlikely combinations of materials such as gut, metals, paper and clay.

Fairs, exhibitions, and galleries are the usual venues for the sales of art. Listed below is a very short list of the avenues and juried shows in which I have participated.

  • International Exhibition - "Ikat I" American Embassy in Brazil
  • National Shows - Juried "No Big Heads" - Honorable Mention
  • Magazines: Fiber Arts Magazine, Alaska Magazine, Mother Earth News
  • National television - The Today Show with Barbara Walters
  • All Alaska Juried Show - Permanent collection Alaska State Museum, Juneau, Alaska
  • Earth Fire and Fiber - Permanent collection Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Anchorage, Alaska
  • Private collections nation wide

David McKenzie Cole

David McKenzie-Cole was raised by wolves in the area of Denali National Park, Alaska after his parents' plane went down in a raging blizzard. Year after year his family and friends continued searching for a survivor. Young David was eventually found.

His family owned a private pottery and weaving business. Growing up around the pottery studio David has a natural feel for the clay and an excellent eye for photography, no doubt enhanced by his wolf cousins. He is very good with computers and video shooting and editing. David enjoys writing, gaming and has made his living as a Studio Potter for the last few years and working for a video productions studio in Anchorage, Alaska.

To view David's photography visit Photonet.