Raku began approximately 400 years ago in Japan as a result of high demand for roof tile following natural disaster. Tiles were removed from kiln with tongs while still hot and did not break. The name was acquired from a pleasure pallace in Kyoto name Ju-raku-tei, for which Japanese potter Chojiro and his workshop had made roof tiles. Raku translated freely means ‘enjoyment, contentment, pleasure and happiness’. Modern Raku was brought to the United States by potters such as Paul Soldner. Many firing forms based on the original principles behind traditional Raku have evolved, but generally speaking, all involved a fast heating of a bisque-fired pot, a post firing reduction (usually in trash cans filled with combustable material), and then a quick cooling by quenching the still hot pot in water, thus sealing in the effects of the reduction. Results from Raku are usually flashy and colorful. Raku ware is decorative only.
It often surprises people when we talk about firing Raku kilns with children younger than high school age. We have actually had children as young as 6 years old use tongs to pull pots and place them in the reduction chambers. (OK, granted, it was the child of two of the firemasters) We have done several firings with groups of 4H and Girl Scout troops as young as 4th grade. For this age level, we focus primarily on basic glazing skills, design elements, firing safety, and an understanding of what happens to the pot and the glaze during the firing.
With High School Students, we teach the compete Raku process, including glazing techniques and design philosophy, as well as an explanation of what happens in the kiln. Understanding the Raku firing and post-firing reduction also includes aspects of chemistry and physics. Additionally, we teach the history of Raku, and the evolution of modern Raku in the United States, including important names and style periods, including examples of work.
At the collegiate level, our Raku workshop will cover the basics of setting up a Raku Kiln, including discussion of propane versus natural gas as well as some discussion of building your own kiln or scrounging and converting an old electric kiln. A brief overview of glaze chemistry and formulation will be given as it pertains to Raku glazes, then, an in-depth discussion of what happens during the firing, and instruction on how to read the kiln using color, sound of the burner, and visual cues from the glazes. During the post-firing reduction, we will experiment with a variety of combustable materials and discuss the chemistry behind the oxidation/reduction environments and the changes that are happening to the materials.
with a group of teachers, we will cover setting up the Bracker Raku kiln, including key benefits and common errors in positioning the base and kiln, important information about safety, & proper connection to the propane tank. Introduction to glaze chemistry and information about mixing one’s own raku glazes will be given, and can be expanded at the request of the teachers present. (Many good commercial raku glazes are also available) We will then ignite the kiln, and throughout the firing, we will provide an in-depth discussion of what happens during the firing, and instruction on how to read the kiln using color, sound of the burner, and visual cues from the glazes. We also go over how to use Raku as a teaching tool with students and how to use a community Raku Firing as a program fundraiser.
Have you been to one of our second saturday Raku sessions and had such a great time, you wanted to bring your co-workers or employees to share the experience? If so, then our Raku firing geared toward non-ceramicists will be up your alley. In this version of our Raku workshop, we focus on participant enjoyment. We typically will provide a bit more handholding to ensure that the final product is something that each participant will cherish. We do involve the participants in the firing process, inviting everyone to pull pots from the kiln or run a reduction chamber, which makes for a great team-building exercise as folks work together in the proper firing and reducing of each others’ pots. It seems that someone’s interest is always sparked, and they want to know more. In this case, we are always prepared to offer advanced information in a one-on-one or small group setting.