New ceramics studio brings community-centered creative space to Tigard

Mother/daughter team Kathy Mertens and Jaz Zawideh have imagined building a place like Cascade Ceramics for years.
Mother/daughter team Kathy Mertens and Jaz Zawideh have imagined building a place like Cascade Ceramics for years. Mike Antonelli/Tigard Life

It starts with a hunk of clay.

“We aren’t paint-a-pot. We give you clay,” said Kathy Mertens, with no shade thrown at those popular, prefab-style creation spaces. 

Jaz Zawideh (left) and Kathy Mertens with 14-year-old shop dog Tucker.
Jaz Zawideh (left) and Kathy Mertens with 14-year-old shop dog Tucker. Mike Antonelli/Tigard Life

Mertens is half of the mother-daughter team behind Cascade Ceramics Studio, a new downtown Tigard creative space outfitted with everything artists need to transform raw clay into fired and finished pottery.

Everything, including instruction, is available for those who want to build their skills. The studio also offers monthly open-access memberships for those who just need a space to create on their own.

What that clay becomes, well, could be just about anything.

The studio, with its floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides and wide-open floor plan, is loaded with about two dozen pottery wheels, three kilns, a slab roller for pressing clay into the flat sheets used in hand construction, and plenty of table space for working. 

It’s exactly the type of place Mertens and her daughter, Jaz Zawideh, have imagined building for years. A kind of extension of their home, which constantly bustled with kids and activity when Zawideh and her sister were growing up. Where people can create in community and take inspiration from each other’s work.

“We’re both the kind of people who want other people to have a space where they can come and feel happy and be comfortable,” Zawideh said. “That’s the space she always provided for me and my friends growing up.”

“They called us Camp Zawideh,” Mertens said. 

“She always had art supplies,” Zawideh replied.

“Yeah,” Mertens said, “I tried to turn everybody on (to art).”

Both women took high school ceramics classes and Zawideh continued working with clay at the University of Oregon. While mom finds her form hand-constructing pieces from the flat slabs, her daughter is more at home shaping vessels on the wheel.

Some of their pieces from over the years line a front window display facing out to Main Street. Further back, along the walls, the first new works, from a handful of artists who’ve already signed on for monthly memberships, sit in various stages of creation.

The $195 monthly membership buys 24-hour studio access. Half of the pottery wheels are designated for members only. The other half are also used as classroom workstations. 

Half of the pottery wheels are designated for members only. The other half are also used as classroom workstations.
Half of the pottery wheels are designated for members only. The other half are also used as classroom workstations. Mike Antonelli/Tigard Life

Ongoing classes, from beginning to advanced, started in mid-April, with new offerings popping up regularly. Class prices include clay, glazes, kiln firing, and access to community tools. Clay is also available for purchase in our studio to artists in the area that want to come in and buy it.

In addition to their in-house faculty, Mertens and Zawideh plan to bring in guest artists to teach, and they’re currently putting together plans for summer camps, family nights, and private instruction.

As they’ve begun settling in, curious passers-by have started popping in daily to check out the space, many of them sharing a similar story to Mertens’. 

“There have been so many people who’ve come by and said: ‘Oh yeah, I did pottery in high school, and I’d love to try it again.’” 

The regular foot traffic and friendly curiosity are two of the things both women love about their new place. 

That and, well, pretty much everything.

They had just begun location scouting for a studio space when Ramsey Zawideh pointed them to downtown Tigard. Along with being Mertens’ husband and Jaz’s dad, Ramsey is a restauranteur who keeps an eye out for possible places.

“It just happened that this space was available when I drove through,” Mertens’ said. “I thought: Oh yeah, Jaz is going to loooooove this.’ We came back right away.”

Though Ramsey is mostly just a cheerleader in this mother-daughter venture, it truly is a family affair. The custom-built communal tables and benches are his handy work. Their family dog Tucker, blind and deaf at 14, has become a sleepy shop dog.

And, up near the front window one more family member, the woman who made all this possible, keeps a quiet watch over the studio from a framed portrait on a desk.

Mertens’ mother, who recently passed away from old age at 93, and whom Mertens’ cared for in her final months, left the seed money that sprouted Cascade Ceramics.

“She always wanted to save her money and provide for her kids when she left this life, and this is what we did with it,” Mertens said, looking around the still shiny new space. “People will enjoy what she provided.”