When potter Pamela Louis begins a new piece, she has no idea what it will turn out to be. She doesn’t plan the color or design until she actually is in the process of creating it. Her success in fashioning a strikingly beautiful bowl or plate comes from “the mind, body, soul connection” she finds in meditation. “It’s my yoga, the way I find flow and rhythm and movement,” she explains.
As a member of the Wasco tribe, Louis lives on the Warm Springs Reservation north of Bend. Her appreciation of Native American traditions undoubtedly stokes her talent but she attributes much of her creativity to the meditation she learned by becoming a practicing Hindu. “Most of my ideas for design come from my meditation practice,” she says.
Her pieces feature rich colors and delicate designs of birds, plants or Native American symbols that are scratched into the glaze using a method called sgraffito (Italian for “scratched”). To start a piece, Louis throws a porcelain bowl or plate with a wheel. When it is in the leather hard stage, she paints on the underglaze using three to four layers of color. With a diamond core sgraffito tool or a wire tool, she then carves into the colored underglaze to reveal the white porcelain base. While some pottery artists use tracing paper to transfer a design onto pottery, Louis creates her designs freehand, never sketching them out ahead of time. Then comes the first bisque firing, some touch-up, if necessary, on the underglaze, application of a clear glaze and the final firing. Lastly, she sands the bottom of the piece with increasing grades of sandpaper until it is as smooth as marble. The result is an elegant and colorful creation that is as pleasing to the touch as to the eye.
After growing up in Portland, Louis received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree from California College of Art in Oakland. Upon graduation, she helped a friend open a restaurant in the Bay Area and eventually spent nearly four decades in the restaurant business working as a chef. In those days, she remembers, there were no culinary schools for would-be chefs so “I learned as I went.” In her spare time, she painted and began showing her work in galleries. After living in the Bay Area for more than 10 years, Louis moved back to Portland where she and a partner opened a restaurant in the northwest area; it attained the Best 100 Restaurants list in Portland in just a few months. Ten years later, she moved to Atlanta, again as a chef, where she stayed for 13 years and redefined herself through studying ceramics. She attended Georgia State University in ceramics and became hooked on pottery. In 2013, she returned to her family’s ancestral home on the Warm Springs Reservation where she was able to set up a studio and began creating pottery in earnest.
Although Louis had sold her paintings years ago in galleries in the Bay Area and Seattle, it is only recently that her work in ceramics garnered attention. For the past two years, she has exhibited at the annual Wildfire ceramics exhibition in Bend and won the blue ribbon for best in show. A painting by Louis hangs in the Museum at Warm Springs. The Red Chair Gallery in Bend is proud to be the first gallery to show her pottery.
Pamela Louis can be contacted through Pamela Louis Ceramics on Instagram.