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Friday October 24th 2014

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Raku Rendezvous

By Lilia Del Bosque Oakey Whitehouse

Raku pottery has been around since the 16th century but, for the first time in years, First City Art Center is offering Raku workshops to local potters.

On April 20 and June 1, pottery instructor Ben Twingley will be holding Raku firings for artists familiar with the process. But all lovers of art are encouraged to watch this fast paced and awe-inspiring process.

“It is a spectator sport,” Twingley said. “It is fun for people to watch because there is so much action.”

The process is quick and different from traditional pottery firings. Artists are asked to bring their biskware, or pieces that have been fired one time. After the biskware is glazed, the pots are fired in a special kiln that heats from zero to 1800 degrees in 20 minutes.

“That is the unique part of this process,” Twingley said. “It is a very rapid firing.”

The high heat turns the glaze to glass, which gives the pot a very shiny surface. Once the glaze starts to drip, the red-hot pot is removed from the kiln with tongs and put into a can such as a trashcan or even a coffee can. This is where the process gets unique.

“The cans have combustibles in them like sawdust, leaves and newspapers and we put the lid on right away. All the smoke and carbon in the atmosphere does certain things to the pots and that is where you get the unique post firing reduction,” said Twingley. “We are reducing the oxygen in the atmosphere. The smoke smokes the pot and gets sucked into the body which makes unique things happen to the overall appearance of the pot.”

“Any unglazed part of the pot turns ash black so you get very distinct black lines,” said Kim Brungraber, Pottery instructor and President of the Pottery Guild. These black lines are common in traditional Raku pots and produce striking results.

Perhaps the most unique part of the process is that no two pots will ever be the same. “Three people can use the same glaze but each pot will be a different color,” Brungraber said. This is due to the amount of variables in the process such as the type and amount of combustibles used in the final stage of the process.

“It’s very spontaneous. There is a certain amount of the unknown. It’s unpredictable and you can’t really know entirely what you are going to get. It’s like Christmas when you open the kiln,” Twingley said. “There are a lot of ‘ohs’ and’ ahs’ when everyone opens the cans because it’s fun to see what comes out.”

Even though this workshop is aimed toward experienced potters and students of First City Art Center, Brungraber says that soon there will be Raku events catered toward beginning potters.

“Soon, we will make pots in advance and invite the public to come in, pick a pot, glaze it and teach them how to put it in the cans,” Brungraber said. “Hopefully from there, they will take pottery classes and make their own pots.”

Raku enthusiast that aren’t eager to get their hands dirty can pick a pot of their own at the art center’s Hot Glass, Cold Brew event on May 8.

“There will be pots at the event to paint and we will do the firing for them,” Brungraber said.
Both instructors stressed that the art center’s new location has made the Raku workshops possible.

“Now with the new location, we have the perfect space and setting to offer Raku to the public,” Brungraber said.

Twingley agreed. “Because we have an open air warehouse, it allows us to have shelter but also have ventilation which allows us to fire the kilns outside.”

The brand new Raku kiln, a first for the art center, was acquired through a grant given to First City Art Center from the Great Gulf Coast Art Festival.

Workshop attendees are asked to bring their own biskware and can bring their own cans with lids, welding gloves and Raku tongs. First City Art center pottery tools are also available for use. Workshops are limited to six participants so sign up ahead by calling First City Art Center or visiting their website.

If you can’t attend the workshop, you can still be inspired by Twingley’s work, which is on display at WUWF’s Gallery 88 until April 26. Return To Clay and Fire features wood fired ceramics made by Twingley. The collection highlights Twingley’s attraction to traditional, wood fired pottery and celebrates a process of ceramics that has been around for thousands of years.

Twingley invites everyone to watch the process and to discover the new center. “Come watch, find out what Raku is all about and get a taste of the art center and everything we have going on here.”

RAKU WORKSHOPS
WHEN: 8:30 a.m. to glaze pots, firing starts at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 20 and June 1.
WHERE: First City Art Center, 1060 N. Guillemard St.
COST: $30
DETAILS: Space is limited. To sign up, call 850-429-1222 or visit firstcityart.org