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Art Students Study Raku

Ryan Patti, 10th, Allison Demers, 12th, Dylan Klotz, 10th, and Alicia Rangel, 12th, wipe the ash from their finished raku pottery.

Art III students in Mr. Aaron Mayes’ class took their learning outside on a beautiful spring morning recently as they got to experience raku. Raku is a Japanese pottery method that uses both fire and smoke to create unique and beautiful designs and patterns on ceramic art pieces. It has its origins in 16th century Japan. In the process, a piece of pottery made with raku clay is fired in a kiln for about 15-20 minutes at 1400 to 1500 degrees. Raku clay is able to withstand drastic temperature change unlike regular pottery clay. Raku contains grog, a type of clay which has been fired and then ground up. Grog makes clay less likely to crack when drying and firing.

After firing, the pottery is removed from the kiln with special tongs while it is still fiery and glowing hot and placed in a covered metal container filled with combustible material such as straw, sawdust, or shredded newspaper. The heat of the pottery causes the material to catch fire and smoke and this action draws the oxygen out of the ceramic and its glaze. It is this chemical process called reduction that results in unusual and unpredictable patterns and designs on the pottery. After about 15 minutes, the pottery is removed from the smoke and placed in water to cool. At first, the water inside each piece bubbles and boils due its extreme temperature. When cooled, steel wool pads are used to clean off the ash and reveal each piece’s final appearance.

Mr. Mayes explained, “The fire and smoke burns out the oxygen and creates a carbon atmosphere that turns the clay jet black. You never know what you’re going to get as far as colors and patterns.”

Amidst the clouds of smoke, students sketched the scene as they observed each step of the process and waited their turns to see their pieces fired.

“It’s interesting – definitely a new experience,” said junior Rachael Karpinksi.

Caylen Bost, also a junior, said, “It’s so cool to see the whole raku process, and after we finish firing it, to see how our work turns out. We worked really hard on it!”

Sophomore Dylan Klotz said, “It was fun. I enjoyed seeing how my piece came out; it was metallic looking and cool. I expected it to be green but it came out in a mix of colors and different textures.”

“The raku firing was a great way for the students to witness the process of the ceramics medium in a quick and timely manner. Studying the raku process and its origin in Japan is also meeting our school-wide goal of infusing globalization into our curriculum,” said Mayes.

The raku is currently on display in the front lobby art cases.

Written by: Paula White
Posted: May 09, 2014 by Paula White

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