Raku is a traditional Japanese ceramic firing technique from the 16th century. The pots were usually hand-formed from a red clay and used for tea ceremonies.
Today, potters are attracted by Raku’s unpredictable results and intense color resulting from the rapid cooling process. Depending on the effect desired, the pottery is either instantly cooled in water, cooled slowly in the open air, or placed in a barrel filled with combustible material, such as newspaper, covered, and allowed to smoke. After the pots are removed from the smoking barrel, water is immediately supplied to cool the pottery, stopping the chemical reactions of the glaze and fixing the colors.
In the Princeton area, Raku ceramics are frequently exhibited at both the West Windsor and Princeton arts councils, the Gallery at Mercer County Community College, Artworks Trenton and the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, among others. Some of these artists have won awards, such as Best in Show, or the Mercer County Purchase Prize.
A group of the artists gather every June at Mercer County Community College for a six-week Raku firing intensive. Taught by MCCC Ceramics Professor Michael Welliver for the past 20 years, the class attracts students of all levels of experience, and all ages – including a good number of retirees. Many take the class repeatedly, for 10 or more years.
After weeks of preparing the pots and sculpture in the studio, they gather outside where Welliver stacks the kilns. Everyone works together to quickly move red-hot pots to rusted metal barrels, where they smolder with burning newspaper. Using forceps, the potters take the clay pieces out of the fire, then cool it with water, where the magic begins, as coppers in the glaze create a shiny metallic finish.
The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.