There is something new happening which is really very old, it's RAKU!

 

Chojiro did it in the late 1500's

 

Bernard Leach did it in 1911

 

Warren Gilbertson first introduced it to the U.S. in 1941

 

Since 1960, Paul Soldner has made it popular.

 

The word RAKU has been interpreted to mean enjoyment, happiness, delight, pleasure, ease, comfort. It originates from a gold seal engraving by Taiko in the 16th century. Taiko, an enthusiast of the tea ceremony, passed it on to Chojiro, whose father Ameya, a Korean tile maker, is said to have first produced Raku pottery in Kyoto, Japan earlier in 1525. Some years after these first experiences with making Raku, Chojiro received a commission for tea utensils and Raku has been carried on popularly ever since.

 

In Japan the shapes were, and are, basically confined to hand made tea bowls of irregular forms. Very modern and unpretentious, they are made directly with the hands and are in perfect harmony with the tea ceremony. They are specifically made for touching and should be handled in order to be fully appreciated. These asymmetrical tea bowls hold masterwork status among aesthetically oriented individuals.

 

"Whether or not today's Raku potter should reflect the philosophical Oriental heritage in his/her ceramic forms is a matter of personal choice. If an American potter were to incorporate some other standard or form for expression..., there would be no need to feel any apprehension; it is not the form or even the philosophy of Raku which is important - the form will disappear in time, it is sure to be broken - it is the experience that lives and moves life forward." - Robert Piepenburg, Raku Pottery

 

Though Raku is an ancient, very spiritual ceremony, it has developed in America to accommodate our Western impatience. Raku is spontaneous and relatively fast, giving immediate results. Participants can actually watch the pot turn to a glowing red and the glaze change from the dry powder state, through a bubbling mass to the finish of a wet glossy glass - in all a very short period of time. It's much faster than the normally slow stoneware processes; brings immediacy and spontaneity into the pots which is sometimes lost in the normal routine of stoneware firing.

 

Raku pieces in Japan were and still are very functional utensils of the tea ceremony. However, in the United States it is most popularly used as an art form. This is not a necessity nor even a precedent. Without the use of lead glazes Raku ware can be very functional and utilitarian. It should not be confused, though, with the strength and durability of stoneware pots. Raku is a relatively fragile and this should be kept in mind when constructing pots. When constructing pieces, it is important to remember the thermal shock the pots will receive. The more joints in a hand built form - the greater chance for breakage. This is done by carefully securing the joints with a tight fit.

 

Because the firing process is so fats it is sometimes easy to get carried away with this speed and let it affect the actual construction of the pieces, stamping out many lifeless pots. The simple asymmetrical shapes of the traditional Japanese tea bowl can not be confused with an insensitive mass of slapped together pots. A potter should be sensitive to the clay, his self, and his environment.

 

Historically, Raku bowls were designed to accommodate the Japanese tea ceremony. Today, Raku need not be related to tea, Zen, or Japan. We must work within our own environment and as a product of our environment. It would be neither realistic nor honest of us to expect ourselves or our students to work as Japanese potters making Japanese utensils. It is, however, important to see and touch pottery of all ages and cultures and to try and reproduce those pots. That old fear of "copying" someone else's pot should be erased, especially for students. There is very little chance that one person's pot will turn out like another's. Individual style nearly always pops up and makes it a little different.

 

The actual firing of Raku is the most exciting step, of course! You are able to watch your pot transform from a dull matte powder to a glassy iridescence. The glowing hot pot is removed with tongs, and are placed in a pit or can holding combustible materials, i.e. leaves, newspaper, grass, or sawdust. This is where most of the reduction takes place. After letting the pots reduce, pull them out and dunk them into water. This sets the carbon into the clay body and keeps the glaze from reoxidizing. There are other methods, however, which decrease thermal shock somewhat. Some potters water mist the pots or air cool them with a strong fan. As soon as the pot is cool it is touchable.

 

 

 

RAKU HISTORY

The making of Raku ware was initiated by Chojiro, the first generation of the Raku family, during the Momoyama period (1573-1615). At this time three-colored glazed pottery (san cai) based on technology from the Fujian region of China was produced in and around Kyoto. Chojiro is thought to have been familiar with such techniques. A written record confirms that Ameya, Chojiro's father, originally from China, is thought to have been the person who introduced the techniques of three-colored glazed pottery from China, although none of his works has survived to prove this. These Japanese san cai wares were not, however, called Raku ware and it was only after Chojiro had become acquainted with the tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) and had started making tea bowls for the tea ceremony (chanoyu) that Raku ware came into being. It could be said that the origin of Raku ware lay in the making of a single tea bowl for the tea ceremony.

Seldom watertight, Raku ware is a poor choice for a functional dish or vase. Raku must be approached with a different criterion in mind.

According to Zen masters, the beauty of Raku lies in its elusive, subtle, yet vigorous beauty. It is said that the spirit of the maker is embodied in the form and is revealed at the foot, which is traditionally left unglazed.

A once-fired, unglazed pot is first coated with glaze and then, still relatively cool, is placed in the Rocky Raku kiln where instantaneously it is exposed to melting temps. In this first shock phase, the ware may not survive, or it may develop large cracks. This is true for traditional firing methods, as well. However, if the vessel survives this shock, you will see the glaze melt like glass on the red-hot body of the vessel.

At this point, the pot is exposed to a second shock. As the glowing vessel is removed from the calm Rocky kiln, the severe temperature change produces cracks in the glaze. These cracks are highly desirable and are cgharacteristics of traditional Raku pottery.

The glowing pot is then placed into a reduction chamber filled with organic material which turn the naked foot black as well as the cracks in the glaze.

The vessel is then plunged into water to halt the effects and forever seal the moment for that Raku pot.