Ancient Japanese secret revealed
May 06, 2009
Art forms enter a different realm when they are non-functional pieces.
The Japanese were down with this concept when the Raku technique of firing pottery at low temperatures was used in the late 16th century to create pieces that were porous and not intended for much other that the art itself. Teton Valley art enthusiasts were down with this concept last Saturday when many joined Tim Rein for the debut of the Teton Art Council's raku kiln.
Raku, which translates literally as "enjoyment" or "ease" is an ancient method of taking hand-molded clay pieces to no more than 1900 degrees and then removing the pieces from heat and cooling them rapidly in different mediums. The result not generally a coffee mug for everyday use, but, rather, a work of art that is appreciated for its method and the resultant hues and design created in the ancient process.
"Some people use horse hair in the process," Rein said as he waited for the kiln to reach 1850 in the first Raku firing at the Arts Council's current ceramics workshop north of Driggs. "Some swear by shredded editions of the New York Times, believing that the paper and the ink have good results."
Rein explained that the post-firing of pottery pieces in the raku method determines what colors and stylistic nuances will result after the red-hot pieces hit the chosen minerals contained in the cooling process. Some use cat poop, orange peels or pine cones for the minerals that leave their mark. Rein decided to use mostly alder saw dust on Saturday.
With a Masters degree in ceramics from Indiana University, Rein was well-versed in the power of Raku to engage all artists, both veteran and novice alike, as it is a very dramatic process that engages the inner-pyromaniac.
"Once the glaze starts to sheen up, once you get a good melt, then you grab'em," Rein said, meaning that you literally remove the pottery from the kiln while they are still glowing, with long metal tongs, of course.
Subtle blushes of purple, gold, green, red and other colors result from the Raku process, creating a weathered look when a carbon trail gets infused in the glass of the glaze.
"It will age a piece 500 years in five minutes," Rein said as he buffed the soot off of the first Raku piece on Saturday with a piece of steel wool after it had cooled off in a bucket of water.
"Nice, beautiful," Rein nodded to his new Raku devotees he pointed out the effects of cobalt, iron and copper in pottery.
"Yes, yes. Beautiful," they replied.
To unlock the secrets of Raku for yourself, join Rein and others at the Teton Arts Council building on Rodeo Drive north of the airport. Raku Saturdays are scheduled for the last Saturday of each month, May 30, June 27 and July 25, beginning at 10 a.m. Additional Raku classes are scheduled throughout the week. Call 354-4ART for more details.