In Haley West’s Como home, a handmade mug sits by the kitchen window. The face of Lucy, West’s Boston Terrier, is hand-painted on the front. It faces the window, as if Lucy is watching for squirrels in the yard. It was the first mug West ever made, the first of what is now hundreds.
West’s pottery shed is no-frills, with a dirt floor and shadeless lamp for light. She sits at the wheel quietly, making shapes of a large cube of clay or “mud.” Just moments later, the raw material becomes a bowl, fully formed. West moves her hands effortlessly over the sides, smoothing as she imagines the final product. She removes the bowl from the wheel and leaves it to dry for a moment before picking it up. The pieces finish drying inside, where weather won’t affect the craftsmanship. Her dogs, Lucy and Cooper, sit on a vintage couch at the entrance of the shed, overseeing the whole process.
“It’s so peaceful out here,” West said.
She goes on to tell us about leaving her day job last year at the Baddour Center, a home for adults with special needs. While she loved her work there, West had a longing to return to her artistic roots. She set up shop at her parents’ farm before moving to her home in Como with her very own “potting” shed.
Pottery was not always the plan. West originally studied fine art at Mississippi State University, with the ultimate goal of being a photographer. She found herself right on the cusp of digital photography age with little experience outside of the film lab.
In school, West studied pottery as an elective, and it had remained in the back of her mind. A little over a year ago, after making the Lucy mug, she decided to just go for it.
“I just took a leap of faith,” she said. “I am so lucky that this is my job.”
West’s pottery has no one true style. She makes bowls, mugs, cups, planters, platters. Some are custom orders for individuals or stores and some just come to her as she works with the clay in her shed. From her chair, she has the perfect view of the train tracks that separate her street from Downtown Como.
“I just listen to music and work,” West said. “By the end of the day, I’m covered head to toe in clay.”
West currently sells her work in two stores, the Como Stow just up the road, and George-Mary’s in Starkville. For the Como Stow, she makes whatever feels right—eclectic mugs with bulldogs, cows, owls or roosters; platters for chips and dip; and wavy bowls. For George-Mary’s, the aesthetic is cleaner—white mugs and platters with speckled clay and simple cream and sugar sets. She also sells her pottery on her website. West’s own style is evolving as she finds what suits her personality and sets her work apart from other local potters.
One thing each piece has is an inscribed bible verse on the bottom, West’s way of “spreading the seed” from her little shed out back.
“This entire experience has really taught me a lot about trusting God,” West said. “He has helped me a lot.”
In the coming year, West plans to upgrade her shed to a studio with air conditioning, so she can work longer hours in the seemingly year-round Mississippi heat. She hopes to expand her product line and experiment with more styles, getting her mugs and plates in the hands of more Mississippians.
For now, she enjoys the cooler temperatures while she works on pottery that will be given as gifts or put on display this holiday season—mugs adorned with hand-painted turkeys, stems of cotton and faces of beloved pets.