Raku firing is a Japanese ceramics technique dating back centuries. This process, originally used to create a unique finish to wares, was first used to make vessels for serving tea and broth. It involves removing the clay object from the kiln at the height of the firing and causing it to cool rapidly. 

There are many variations to raku, after hundreds of years of experimentation by artists the world over. And there is an undeniable beauty to many of the crackled and pitted effects achieved with glaze and underglaze, and with additives like sticks, leaves and paper. 

This fascinating primitive process is even more attractive when we see it applied to the captivating and whimsical characters from the mind (and studio) of sculptor-ceramicist Paola Effio of Key West. From concept to creation, from molten-hot firing to the reduction and smoking, Effio’s subjects are as inspired as the process she uses to bring her work to life.  

Effio designs and forms everything from small hand-built sculptures to larger-than-life installations found in public spaces right here in the Florida Keys. Many of her subjects are a combination of species, conveying mixed emotions and evoking fairy tale moments. From her signature feline mermaids, to wacky fish and even salsa-dancing bananas, her work inspires feelings of joy and excitement, but especially movement. She constructs bubbly swine as lovable as Wilbur himself piloted by determined rabbits seemingly out of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. Her imaginative characters could not be more lovable.

Paola Effio’s ‘Intrigue’ was awarded 5th place in the National Ceramics Art Competition 2021. The exhibition will be held at the National Art Center in Tokyo. CONTRIBUTED

Of her work, she says, “Imagine your own story as you see each unique piece I create.” 

Effio is from Lima, Peru and found her way to the Keys in 2005. She is self-taught as an artist and, like many artists, she is always advancing her style. She started by creating edible pieces and even designing sculptural cakes (she owns and operates Amazing Cakes and Creations in Key West). She later gravitated to both ceramics and concrete as her chosen mediums – making for some original works not quite as tasty but certainly just as beautiful. 

Effio has received worldwide recognition, even showing her work in Japan where she was honored in the National Ceramics Art Competition. She plans to open her own studio in Key West, but her works are currently shown at  Key West Art Center and the Guild Hall Gallery. To learn more about the artist, visit www.paolaeffioart.com.

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Shannon Wiley is a native Floridian born in Hialeah, Florida. He's an artist, muralist, graphic designer, teacher and coach. He currently lives in Marathon with his two children. Besides painting, he enjoys all the wonders of the Florida Keys. HIs work is for sale at Guild Hall Gallery in Key West and at Shady Palm Gallery in Marathon.