Monday, June 29, 2009

Raku: A brush with fire and art

We are back at the pottery studio at Wildacres after our field trip to Terry's place, and we are on our last day of the workshop. From the initial planning stages of our trip, the group has been talking about doing a "raku" firing. I'm not sure what this is, except that it sounds potentially dangerous, like a pit firing only with a closer encounter with the flames. Ordinarily conservative in my approach to risky situations, this time I feel emboldened. I don't know exactly what raku is, but what the heck - Bring it on!

First, our bone-dry pots are treated to a coating of terra sig, a thin slip of watery clay that helps the pots take the glazes, then they are bisque-fired. The next step is to apply one or more of several glazes that Terry has cooked up for us. Most of them have made-up names, like Rumply-Crumply (which we also called Humpty-Dumpty and Rumplestiltskin when we got the giggles), Slurple (purple) and Some Kind of Blue. Celedon was the only color going by its right name, I think.

Diane and Sue, glazing
"What does Rumble-Bumble do again?"

The raku kiln platform was small - we could only get four pieces in for each firing. With the eight of us in production mode, it looked as though we would be in for a marathon session in the studio.

Remember that pinky-purple vase
in the front right corner.
You will see it again at the end.

After the kiln was loaded, the shroud was lowered and two huge propane burners were lit on either side of the base. You can see the opening below the platform in this photo.

One load in the kiln, the next one "on deck"

Terry kept an eagle-eye on the state of the kiln through openings in the top
and side of the kiln, waiting for just the right moment when the glazes had melted to the appropriate stage.
Meanwhile, some lowly metal pots and garbage cans stand by piles of sawdust, awaiting their cue,while the potters wait (im)patiently for the action to begin.

Ginger, Peggy and Sue
Sue, Michelle, and Mary
(Michelle's the one who is big on safety.)

At just the right moment, Terry pulls the chain to raise the shroud and reveal the white-hot pots glowing inside.

And the potters step up, one by one, to pull their treasures from the furnace with long metal tongs and transfer them to the piles of sawdust.

The heat was incredible, and almost unbearable.

Each pot required two people - one to pull it from the kiln and deposit it on the pile of sawdust, another to quickly cover it with the metal pot, then "burp" the pot to let in a brief gust of oxygen. This caused the sawdust pile to flare up, fuming the pot.

Here we are in action:

And here is one of the pots, still too warm to touch, after firing. This is Carol's vase from the kiln photo above.

My first Raku-fired pot. Glazed in Celedon and Slurple-purple (with Lumpy-Bumpy inside), the black lines are caused by the smoke from the sawdust packed around it.

Cool, huh?


Cindy Lenker said...

What you are doing there is incredible!

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Very, VERY cool!

Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...

LOVE this! I like the contrast not only of colors but matte vs. glossy. Does the celadon have a metallic tone to it, or is that just a trick of the light? (looking at the mouth of the vase.)

Beth said...