More to pottery than imagined

News editor

When most people think of making pottery, the first thing they think of is a potter’s wheel, but there is so much more to it than that.

“I like working with the clay itself, but the throwing is just a tiny fraction of what I do,” said potter Paula Barta of rural Marion.

“It’s kind of mesmerizing,” she said. “When you’re throwing on the wheel, you have to be focused.”

After shaping, bowls, vases, mugs, and other ceramics need time to dry so they don’t shatter from water in the clay turning to steam when they are fired in a kiln. Clay that has dried is known as greenware, and it is still soft. During this stage, any excess clay is trimmed away.

Barta biscuit-fires her wares in an electric kiln that reaches a temperature of 1,800 degrees. This hardens and shrinks the ceramics, which are known as stoneware afterward. Then Barta applies a glaze and fires her wares in a brick propane kiln that reaches temperatures of 2,300 degrees. From the start with wet clay to a final glazed item, ceramics shrink about 15 percent, she said.

“I was an art major in college, and I did take a pottery class, but I never thought I’d do anything with it,” Barta said Monday.

But around 1980 she took a job at Flint Hills Clay Works in Marion, and she enjoyed the work enough to build a studio at her home. It was only a part-time pursuit in recent years as she worked as a speech language pathologist at Marion Elementary School. She retired from school this year, and now she is devoting more time to her pottery.

“I just enjoy it so much,” she said. “I hardly make any money, but that doesn’t seem to stop me.”

Barta enjoys adding little embellishments to her pottery, such as stamping the clay or adding different shapes of handles to bowls, trays, and mugs. Her latest project is a series of nesting bowls, stamped with the name of her workshop, Spring Branch Pottery.

Barta said most of her ceramics are stoneware, but she does some with earthenware, which is only fired once and at a relatively low temperature, and with porcelain, which is much lighter in color than stoneware and makes glazes look brighter.

Barta will have some of her ceramics for sale Saturday at Art in the Park in Marion. All of the items she plans to have for sale are already completed, she said.

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