Raku is a pottery-making technique that originated in Japan nearly 1,000 years ago. The dark lead-glazed pieces were used in tea ceremonies.
Fast forward to 2011: As a down and dirty creative activity, raku is one of the hottest forms of pottery-making in America. The fun includes starting a fire in a garbage can -- seriously! Finished pieces of earthenware are funky and rugged looking.
Layne Wyse, ceramics coordinator at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, says raku is exciting because of the "red hot parts and smoke." He recently gave a tour of the facilities and explained the process for making raku pottery at PCA.
First, you form clay by hand or on a pottery wheel. At this stage the clay is called "greenware," and it is soft. The greenware is fired at a low temperature, becoming more porous and able to hold glaze.
Glaze is poured over the pot, and then it's time for the second firing, which happens in the specially constructed raku pavilion. Built in 2007, the Mr. and Mrs. Ira H. Gordon Pavilion has become a popular addition to PCA's campus, doubling as an intimate outdoor venue for summertime concerts and performances.
A large kiln is wheeled into the pavilion and hooked up to a gas line. The pots are placed inside, heated to 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour, then pulled out of the kiln by staff using gloves, eye protection and a mask. The pottery is then placed directly in the garbage can, with the lid closed.
This part of the process causes color and finishing changes to the pot. Areas with no glaze turn black, and glazed areas get a black crackle look with rich copper colors, Mr. Wyse explains. The finish could be glossy, or it might have a more matte-like texture.
"Part of the fun is that raku is unpredictable."
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts offers raku summer camps as well as a variety of other ceramics classes, including tile-making, mosaics and wheel-throwing. For more information: 412-361-0455.
By Anna Venishnick for PF/PCA