This semester I decided to mix up my sciences classes with something different so I signed up for a ceramics course. There is no regret in this decision! So far we have had assignments ranging from brownie pans to olive oil bottles. I might not make the prettiest things, but I have a great time attempting to.
Our field trip today was by far one of my favorite experiences that I have had in the class so far. Our professor, Ken Hankins, invited us to his house/farm to use a special kiln designed for a technique called raku. Ken talks constantly during class about his life and his farm and we thought that he thoroughly prepared us for what to expect, but we were wrong. I have never visited a more interesting farm. He had quite the array of farm animals – dogs, cats, roosters, sheep, peacocks, “Teddy” the alpaca, and “Goat” the goat. I felt like a lived a deprived childhood once I saw his spectacular hand built tree fort that consisted of stairs along a slanted tree trunk that led to a bridge connected to the tree house. The most interesting element of his farm was the replica of an Egyptian pyramid situated right behind a replica of a Chinese paifang. His pottery studio was overflowing with creative, funky ceramic pieces including kiln goddesses, chicken head birdhouses, and self-potrait gnomes.
Back to raku! This is a special type of firing that is traditionally Japanese and known for its unpredictable results and intense colors. Our assignment was to make two matching tea bowls (mine were not so matching…). They were bisque fired before the field trip so that we could glaze them in his studio the day of the raku firing. The raku process is slightly terrifying since it involves heating up the pieces to 1000 degrees Celsius, removing the pieces from the kiln while they are glowing hot, and tossing them into a trash can full of newspaper so that hungry flames engulf the pieces before slamming a lid over the trashcan to trap them away from oxygen. After waiting for the trashcans to cool off, the pieces are removed and tossed in a bucket of water to cool down. They are initially covered in black filth until they are cleaned to reveal illustrious bronze, silver, or rainbow colors. As mentioned earlier, the results are extremely unpredictable and almost all the pieces came out with different colors despite the fact that the same glaze was used on all of them. You can see below that mine turned out shiny and bronze! Raku is definitely a technique that creates a different look compared to normal firing methods and one that I consider myself fortunate to have been able to experience.
The entire class had a blast exploring our professor’s studio and farm. It was a great way to enjoy the Spring-ish weather that is finally coming around. Every student agreed that they were definitely going to return for another adventure!