Lessons from Raku Crew

Published 6:07 am Friday, April 14, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES - A combination of propane torches, red-hot metal garbage cans and bags of sawdust sounds like a science project gone bad.
But, they were actually some of the tools of choice Thursday during one of the visual art workshops at the 2006 Lakeland Fine Arts Festival at Brandywine Middle/High School.
The project was Raku, which is a form of firing ceramic pottery. The method used at Brandywine was actually a variation of the original form believed to first have been used in the late 16th century.
Students started with salmon-colored ceramic pots and trays they molded and glazed. The pieces were then carefully placed on a stack of bricks and a metal garbage can was placed upside-down over the structure. A long propane torch was then squeezed under the can to fire the ceramic art.
Small holes in the garbage cans allowed students to view the ceramics changing color in the kilns from the melting glazes.
Around 10 minutes later, the garbage cans were removed and members of the “Raku Crew” began picking the pieces up with pairs of stretched metal tongs and transferring them to the next set of flaming containers. Instead of propane torches, the ceramics were fired next by burning combustible materials. The selected material on Thursday was sawdust, but Remington said dry leaves work equally as well.
One-by-one, two members of the Raku Crew transferred each ceramic piece to the container filled with combustible material while the others tossed sawdust in to build the fire. Once all the pieces were carefully placed in the container, it was covered with a top which sent dark smoke pouring out in every direction.
The reducing stage in the second container allowed carbon from the smoke of the combustible material to absorb into the clay and transform the once light-toned pieces into dark, glossy ceramics.
Another guest clinician and former Fernwood instructor, Nana Maher, said the same kind of coating used by the students to glaze colors onto the ceramics is also found on regular household dishes. But, the clay pieces are much softer than the plates used at home.
From the containers of combustible material, the ceramics are dunked in a water bath to cool. Shortly after, the students moved the pieces to buckets of water and powdered bleach, where the final appearance of the ceramics began to unfold. Cleaning the sawdust-covered pieces was necessary in order to remove the greasy carbon film left from the burning processes, Maher said.
Some of the students who were familiar with other ways of working with clay said they enjoyed Raku and its process of firing the ceramics at a lower temperature.
A session to view all the art presented at the Lakeland Fine Arts Festival, including photography, sketches and painting, was held Thursday at 6:15 p.m. in the Brandywine Middle/High School gymnasium.