November 4, 10
Raku workshops are offered twice a year by the Greenbelt Recreation Department. The Fall 2012 Recreation Activity Guide has this to say: “With roots in centuries-old Japan, Raku is a method of fast-firing ceramic art outdoors with beautiful and surprising results. Bring up to five bisque pieces to the glazing session. Firing will take place outside of the Greenbelt Aquatic and Fitness Center with a pot luck lunch on firing day.” The following photos are from the workshop’s glazing session on November 4 and firing on November 10.
On the third floor of the Community Center, the workshop’s instructor Karen Arrington, a clay artist and a Greenbelt artist in residence, shows me a plate glazed and fired using the Western Raku technique.
Workshop participant Christina applies glaze to a bowl during the glazing session.
Christina consults with Karen.
Jenn and Peter apply glaze to their pieces.
Karen prepares glaze.
The firing session took place a week later outside the Greenbelt Aquatic and Fitness Center. Here the instructor Karen Arrington checks the kiln. She looks into the openings on top of the kiln to see whether the glaze has turned glassy.
The kiln uses propane.
The pieces that will go into the kiln next are being warmed on top of the kiln.
Jenn prepares containers filled with straw. When the pieces are taken out of the kiln, they will be put in these containers.
The first firing takes longer because the kiln has to heat up slowly to 1,800 degrees. The first batch therefore takes over an hour and the subsequent ones about 30 minutes each. Here workshop participants wait in the sun.
It is time to move the pots away to open up the kiln.
Arrington shuts the valve.
Jenn places her receiving pot close to the kiln.
Karen and Peter open the kiln.
Now it is a scramble to take everything out as quickly as possible…
And put them in these straw-filled containers.
Lids are then put on.
Karen helps Lola with her pieces.
The lid is put on.
Wikipedia: “The use of a reduction chamber at the end of the raku firing was introduced by the American potter Paul Soldner in the 1960s to compensate for the difference in atmosphere between wood-fired Japanese raku kilns and gas-fired American kilns. Typically, pieces removed from the hot kiln are placed in masses of combustible material (e.g., straw, sawdust, or newspaper) to provide a reducing atmosphere for the glaze and to stain the exposed body surface with carbon.”
Jenn picks out this cup from the hot kiln for special treatment.
This process is called horse hair raku.
Wikipedia: “Horse hair raku is a method of decorating pottery through the application of horsehair and other dry carbonaceous material to the heated ware. The burning carbonaceous material creates smoke patterns and carbon trails on the surface of the heated ware that remain as decoration after the ware cools.”
The next batch, the second of the day, is put into the kiln.
Karen and Peter close the kiln.
Karen opens the valve.
Pieces for the next batch are put on top of the kiln to warm up.
The pieces from the hot kiln need to be left in the reduction container for about 20 minutes to cool down. They are ready when they can be pick up with bare hands.
Two of Lola’s pieces
Christina is doing raku for the first time and she is impressed with her first piece.
She discovers a crack and tells that she did not follow the instruction exactly. One ingredient was missing.
Lola looks at Peter’s vase.
Because there will be several firings, each taking at least half an hour, the session is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Workshop participants have brought snacks to share.
Jenn puts straw in her containers in preparation for the second batch.
Karen and Peter open the kiln.
It should be 1,800 degrees inside the kiln.
Another scramble to put the pieces into receiving pots.
The next batch is put in.
Burning straw leaves firescale on the pieces and it can be cleaned up, if desired, using a sponge.
Bubbles are often desirable.
It is shiny inside.
Peter has another piece that has turned out well.
It is also shiny inside.
Jenn cleans one of her pieces.
Christina cleans her Japanese-styled jar.
Lola has many pieces yet to go into the kiln.
Karen Arrington, the instructor, tells me that Greenbelt has offered this raku workshop since 2005, and she has led it in the past two years. She learned raku at Montpelier Cultural Arts Center in Laurel from Gary Irby who has been teaching the technique for decades. She herself has been doing raku for about 15 years. Look for the next raku workshop in the city’s spring Recreation Activity Guide.