Paula West Explains the Unique Method of Soda Ash Firing Instead of Conventional Glazes

Paula West, owner of the cleverly-named Paula West Pottery, has been a potter since college. 

She works in porcelain and stoneware clay that is thrown on the potters wheel, or is slab built.

She told CNL2 TV, “I make functional pottery…mugs, bowls, plates.  I’ve always made functional work. I like using functional pottery.  I like having handmade things around me to use personally.  I also think people really enjoy that also, especially people that come to the studio, they can connect a little bit with me.  They can take a piece home; they can have that memory when they get home.  They can think about the person that made it.  So I’ve always liked that connection that functional work brings.

Paula, her husband Joe Cooper, and their two sons moved to San Juan Island in 1990, from a small coastal town in Oregon.  By 1993 her inner fire for pottery reignited. 

She said there’s always been a group of artists here, but now it seems there are more artists here than ever.

“Art feeds the community.  It feeds your soul, feeds your spirit,” she said.

“While tourism helps brings new energy and new clients to the studio, personally for me the local community has been a huge support over the years.  And that’s where it starts.”

Paula and Joe built a large kiln in 2020, and it created a huge change in direction for her art.  Built of heavy duty fire bricks, it took several months of weekends to build.  The kiln reaches 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Even though Paula is making pottery full time, the kiln has only been fired approximately 10 times — every two or three months.  The kiln holds 100 pots at a time.  And she spends the months between firings laboring over the porcelain and stoneware creations, which go into the kiln unglazed, or spot-glazed.  Then a soda ash solution is sprayed into the kiln and onto the pieces while the kiln is super-heated.  Additional layers of soda ash are sprayed onto the pieces every 15 minutes.  The more layers of soda ash, the more interesting effects.

This novel process produces many happy surprises, some which Paula can replicate, and some which are unique.

Currently, Paula’s studio showroom is open to the public Thursdays through Sundays noon to 4:00 p.m.  Later in Spring, the studio hours will tend to be open five days a week.  Call or text first to make sure the studio is open.

Paula is one of 66 artists from 23 studios who will be on the 2024 San Juan Island Artists’ Studio Tour, June 1st and 2nd.  She has opened her studio to every Studio Tour since 1996, except one.  

This CNL2 TV Interview is 23-1/2 minutes in duration.

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