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Art Students Experience Japanese Craft

Sophomore Logan Malloy (left) observes as teacher Aaron Mayes (center) transfers fiery hot pottery from the kiln to a cooling chamber assisted by sophomore Robert Bennett (right).

Students in Mr. Aaron Mayes’ Art classes had the opportunity to experience the Japanese art form of Raku recently. 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.

“Raku is a unique ceramic technique that allows the students to view the ceramic process in a relatively short amount of time,” said Mayes.

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.”

This is the second year that Mayes’ students have had the Raku experience.

“The students enjoy being outside as a change of pace and working on 3-D artwork as opposed to 2-D. Another reason we take part in Raku is to learn about traditional Japanese culture,” said Mayes.

Raku is often used in the form of tea bowls in Japanese Tea Ceremonies.

“What I enjoyed most about this activity was the result of the pots. I love my piece! It was so unexpected how it turned out,” said freshman Hayley Cole.

Junior Alexandra Romano said, “I learned that the Raku glaze may turn out a different color than intended, and that’s pretty cool. I enjoyed getting to spend time outside to watch the pieces get fired in the kiln. My piece of Raku turned out exactly how I intended it to. It was a pretty successful project.” 

Written by: Paula White
Posted: Jan 16, 2015 by Paula White

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