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Playing with Fire and Peacocks

I’ve mentioned before that I’m in the Ceramics class at McDaniel this semester- and this Saturday we took a bit of a field trip to our instructor’s house and studio! He lives about 15 minutes from campus, so a bunch of us all crammed into a car and headed over at about 12:30pm yesterday. The goal of the day? To experience Raku firing! Also known as playing with fire.

We had all made small tea bowls earlier in the semester with a special type of “Raku clay”- essentially, tough clay that can handle being abused by the firing process we were about to put it through. The first thing that greeted us was a huge peacock sitting on top of a truck. The second was our professor, coming out front of his studio and small showing room- crammed full of pottery of all types. Bowls, mugs, pitchers and jars filed the wall in neat rows and piles- in the showroom that way. As he led us back into his working studio, we discovered the (presumably organized) chaos that most artists seem to flourish in. Pots, plates, and various other creations were sprinkled all over the room, some stacked haphazardly on shelves up the sides of the wall, others crammed onto the remaining tables. All were in various stages of completion, and I couldn’t resist going around a picking things up- checking out a color I really liked and asking him what it was and if we could make a glaze with it. A mixture of books filled the bottom two shelves in the corner, while VHS tapes formed piles on another side of the room. Small pieces of glaze test with writing labeling them were nailed to the wall, and the most bizarre sink I have ever seen was set in a counter- nozzles, pipes and handles all over the place with strange little clay creatures guarding it.

The studio

Speaking of glazes, that’s what we did next! Everybody pulled out their small tea bowls and we set to work painting the glaze on, then letting the pots dry and warm up. Then came the fun part. Opening up a nearly 1000˚ outdoor kiln and setting our preciously painted pots inside. After running out to get food while the kiln worked its magic, we can back to pull out the glowing hot pots and make some magic of our own. Raku firing (the Western way anyway), involves us pulling of our extremely hot pots and then setting them inside tin cans full of newspaper or on top of sawdust and quickly putting a lid over top. Why the lid? Because the pots are so hot, the newspaper or sawdust instantly bursts into flame! The particular look we want for the bowls needed an air-tight container- so the lid was to keep out any additional oxygen. You try putting a bucket overtop a pot with flames leaping into the air. It also looked really cool to see our pots on fire:

Into the newspaper-lined trash can

The sawdust method 

Covering the pots to keep out oxygen

 

20 minutes or so later, we can back to uncover our pots and discover what they would look like! It was great fun to dunk them in water and scrub off the soot to reveal some crazy metallic, rainbow colors.

before!

After!

Before #2

After #2!

All in all, definitely a cool trip with some extremely exiting moments of setting things on fire, scaring off peacocks and exploring a sweet tree house our professor built for his grandkids! Plus, there was an inquisition by a very curious llama…

Llama! An alpaca actually, on our professor’s farm

My finished tea bowls/cups in my room

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