For West, teaching an art form, too

A student of many disciplines, versatile teacher discovered her greatest passion is the classroom


David Winter

West helps social studies teacher Greg Anderson complete a ceramic pot as a part of the “Teach Your Passion” professional development series at Mac on Jan. 3.

Janssen Transier, staff reporter

In 2000, Carey West had spent the last three years of her life as a resident at the Mendocino Arts Center.

“When you have a residency at an arts center, you basically tech for all the master artists who come in to teach classes. You pug their clay, mix their glazes and load their kilns,” West said.

In exchange, you get to make use of all the equipment in the arts center to work on your own art. Although West loved her time as a resident at the Mendocino, after three years, she was ready to move on and she had to make a decision about what she wanted to do next.

“I knew that I wanted to do something new, but I wasn’t really sure what, so I just slowed down, took a break, worked folding T-shirts, and took some time to really think about what I wanted to do with my life,” West said.

The most important thing I learned was how to balance work and my own art.

— Carey West

“When I was younger, in high school and college, all my summer jobs used to be at day camps for kids: teaching them about science or taking them out on a boat to look at sea creatures. What I discovered was that although I loved the science part of that, what I really got satisfaction from was working with the kids and teaching them about what I loved.”

And just like that, West decided she was going to be a teacher.

Carey West was born in Dearborn, Mich., just outside of Detroit. In high school, West first discovered her interest in the arts.

“My high school had what was called an arts humanities program; every class was integrated with the arts, so you learned art history and music theory while you were learning English or history.”

In addition to art, West developed another interest that she would take with her for the rest of her life: science.

“In high school, I loved chemistry and all the sciences but I really loved biology.”

After high school, West continued her studies at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., where she double-majored in art and science with a focus in marine biology. When she arrived at college, however, she discovered that her passion for science did not run as deep as she initially thought.

“I found that I really loved thinking about science, and I still do, but the fieldwork was something that I had never really experienced, so it was kind of a shock.”

Although she didn’t enjoy the fieldwork side of marine biology as much as she had hoped, she still loved it and continued to pursue her degree.

Ceramics and photography teacher Carey West demonstrates how to make a teapot to her Ceramics ll class. Photo by Janssen Transier.

At the same time, West discovered another passion: ceramics. “I picked up ceramics my sophomore year of college, and I found that I really gravitated towards it. I felt like it kept me grounded.”

West continued to practice ceramics throughout college, and after four years, she graduated from Eckerd College with a bachelor’s degree in art and a bachelor’s degree in science.
After college, West moved to California and worked for the California Department of Fish and Game, while also pursuing a career as an artist. “I worked for the Department of Fish and Game for a while; working on commercial fishing boats, doing research about the migratory paths of salmon.”

West would go on to accompany crews on fishing boats, and every time they caught a fish with a specific marking on it, they would make note of it, and compare the location where it was caught to the location where it was born.

After that, West was offered residency at the Mendocino Arts Center, where she stayed for three years working as a ceramicist. While she was there she experimented with a few different forms of art—including forgery and other types of metalworking. While she was honing her art skills, she also learned some valuable life lessons.

I got a call from the then director of the academy here at McCallum, asking if I wanted to interview for a job, so the next day I had an interview, then the next day I had a job. It all just kind of worked out.

— Carey West

“The most important thing I learned was how to balance work and my own art.” West said. “It was an interesting experience, because I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to rely only on art as my source of income, but I also didn’t want to compromise on my artwork, so I realized that I needed something that would keep me in the arts but also support me financially.”

West received her teaching certificate in California, where she taught for eight years.

“The high school I taught at was so small that I was the entire art department, and I was teaching science at the same time,” West said. Around this time was when West first discovered her love for photography. “Photography came into the picture when I first started teaching. They asked me if I could teach it, and I just said I could, and it turned out I really liked it,” West said. “I feel like you have to just say yes to stuff like that, you can always do it, and it’s important to push yourself.”

View this post on Instagram

WILD WEST & CREATIVE COOKE: McCallum’s Carey West and Andrew Cooke hosted a lense modification workshop at the ATPI Winter Conference this weekend. The art and photography advisors shared materials to assist the students in experimenting with creative ways to use their camera lenses. Westlake High School student Jimmy McFarland used a pair of kaleidoscope goggles in front of his lense to create a colorful illusion. “I thought it (the workshop) was really cool.” He told us. “I learned a lot of techniques I had never heard before, like the goggles. Those are so cool, I am definitely going to buy a pair for myself.” Fort Worth resident and student at the Southwest Christian School, Kamryn Wiley also favored the goggles. “It was really fun and creative” She told us. “Now I can use what I learned in my own photography.” Photos by David Winter. @atpi #atpiwc19

A post shared by McCallum Journalism (@macjournalism) on


West loved California, but after eight years, knowing that she could never own a home, she decided that it was time for a change.

“I had spent a year in Austin in between high school and college, building houses for at-risk youth, so I already had some experience with the city, and I really liked it”. West said. “So I put all my stuff and drove down, and on the way I got a call from the then director of the academy here at McCallum, asking if I wanted to interview for a job, so the next day I had an interview, then the next day I had a job. It all just kind of worked out.”

That was nearly 13 years ago, and now, Ms. West is one of McCallum’s seasoned teachers. “I would say overall, McCallum hasn’t really changed too much” West said. “People come and go, but the culture of McCallum has pretty much stayed the same.”

“Over my years at this school I’ve noticed that students here are exceptionally caring, and very focused on activism. And especially their ability to sort of step back and look at more than just themselves: that is very unique, in my opinion”.

“Teaching is not easy,” West said. “It keeps getting more stressful, but it’s worth it. When someone makes something that they’re proud of, I couldn’t be happier.”