ST. GEORGE —From hand-built vessels made out of local clay to dinnerware inspired by Southern Utah’s desert mesas, this artist is molding her way to the top.
“Working with ceramics has really mirrored me as a person,” ceramic artist Natalie Gula said. “It’s been a really good way to check in with myself over the years to see how I’ve grown. I can always tell where I’m at mentally, spiritually and emotionally by what I produce in the studio.”
But she didn’t always love getting her hands dirty. What led to Gula’s love for ceramics all started with a hate for creating with clay.
While taking art history and philosophy classes at a community college, she was required to take a physical art class. The only two classes she had to choose from were photography and ceramics. Knowing technology was not her strength, she opted out of the photography class and took the only other option.
“I always thought ceramics was lame,” Gula said. “Like all the people in my high school who did ceramics were nerdy or something.”
During class she felt angry and frustrated, constantly slamming things down. It didn’t help that the class started at 7 a.m. and she started the day with a locker that never opened. After failing over and over to make anything, she finally threw her first bowl. Ecstatic, she then realized the semester was over and signed up for another class.
After continuing to create, an art gallery in Ventura invited her to sell her ceramics at their First Friday event. She brought small pots and other items, and to her surprise, she made enough that night to pay her rent.
“My mom always said, ‘Do what you love and money will follow,’” she said. “But I don’t do it for the money. I do it because I literally have to have my hands in clay. There’s something about it and the outlet it creates.”
Gula began working in a production pottery studio where she made dishware for restaurants on an international scale. She moved to Northern California where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in studio art and art history with a focus on ceramics at California State University Channel Islands.
As a studio tech at a ceramics studio, she and fellow students worked at Channel Islands National Park. They completed research projects, collected data and took various molds. The research resulted in the creation of a 30-person dinnerware set for the communal research station’s kitchen.
She built out a van during her last semester of college and took to life on the road. After graduating in 2020, an opportunity to teach art fell through the cracks. She avoided the coastal fires by making her way to the Sierras, then Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and eventually visiting Springdale, where she fell in love with the art galleries.
“I remember I was driving through Virgin and I saw the mesas and I remember vividly thinking, ‘Oh, I want to live here. This is where I want to be,'” she said.
When she made the decision to stay, the timing wasn’t a coincidence. Her fiance is one of the first people she met and the couple now has a baby girl.
“Ceramics has really just grounded me over the years and connected me to what I love most,” she said. “And I just want to share that.”
For classes, custom commissions and available art, see her website. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook for up-to-date information. See her work at The Tilted Kiln’s Gallery in St. George or in Trudy’s Spot in Hurricane.
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