It’s hot! It’s fast! It’s FLASHY!

It’s Raku, an ancient Japanese tradition modified over centuries and across borders to become something of a standard experience for entry level ceramic students. Raku has borne the critical rebuke familiar to other flashy finishes across various industries, think about ruffles, velvet, red lipstick, sequins, or glitter. However, in the right hands, Raku surfaces celebrate the alchemy of carbon and mineral, reflecting all the colors of nature. Lean into a more is more attitude and every pull from the reduction chamber is a winning explosion of exuberant color, or take a less is more position, and target the effects of Raku to create dynamic emphasis in pattern on form. 

Franny Hyde and Mark Lusardi are two NCC instructors who revel in bringing others into the joys of atmospheric firing with pit firing and Raku firing experiences. Both processes can be considered low tech, offering an immediacy electric and gas kilns cannot, and there are engaging performative aspects that pull students into a deeper understanding of glaze chemistry. This quarter Mark and Franny teamed up to offer a Raku Workshop at NCC and the participants were delighted with the results. For some it was an opportunity to go deeper into a process they were already familiar with, for others it was an opportunity for a new experience in clay. Amy Boland related, “I was interested in the immediacy. I had read about the process, but had no idea what it might mean to watch until the glaze melts. I wanted to see it myself.”

Not only were students exposed the immediacy of Raku, they were also given a glimpse into the history of an ancient process -- even though an afternoon workshop does not provide a lot of time to absorb more academic information when one’s sensory experience is literally on fire. Their responses are bulleted with the intensity of the experience, “It is fun to play with fire. Very satisfying to walk through and actively participate in the process throughout. I had the opportunity to move blazing hot ware from the kiln to the sawdust barrel and watch it cool and transform. Great to watch the glaze transform as it cools and be surprised by the finished product.” Most of the students were similarly focused on materials and methodology. Marty Rehkamp did appreciate the ongoing dialogue, “It is always valuable to be made to feel a part of such ancient traditions.”  

Hiram Cochran hopes for more time with the material in future NCC offerings. “A 2-3 day workshop would give students more time to learn more about the history, the process and about the glazes. More time would also allow for testing of glazes before applying them to our work. Mark has a wealth of information and is very helpful in trouble shooting and sharing ideas, support. He is a fascinating person to sit and talk with. His enthusiasm about ceramics, sharing his knowledge, and providing opportunities for others is inspiring.”

So keep an eye out in future schedules for another opportunity to get in the mix. Amy Boland says Raku is the, “ceramic equivalent of speed reading,” and  Dawn Malcolm expands, “If you love fire, Raku is a must. If you want to see your pots when they are in the midst of their red-hot becoming, Raku is a must. If you are a glaze nerd, Raku provides a new opportunity and palette for reduction results, and if you’re not, Raku can bring those stunning results without a lot of fussy work in the glaze bay. Raku is at the root of humanity’s embrace of ceramics. It’s the heirloom tomato of pottery!“

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