Like cookies fresh and hot from the oven, Raku pottery is best when pulled scorching hot and glowing red straight out of the kiln. Although it isn’t a delicious treat to eat, it is a fun and performative ceramic firing process that ceramists all over the world practice and enjoy, including artists and community members at the Averitt Center for the Arts’ Roxie Remley Center for Fine Arts.
This firing technique has a rich history, influenced by the Japanese Tea ceremony dating back to the 16th century. “Raku ware,” named for the family who developed the process, focused on hand-building processes, firing pieces to peak temperatures, then removing them immediately from the glowing hot ovens. This technique was incorporated by many Japanese potters over the centuries and was adopted in the United States during the American Studio Pottery Movement in the 1950s.
Today, Raku is known for creating stunning and unpredictable glaze results, producing a myriad of metallic sheens, rich iridescence and oil slick rainbow patinas. One of the key steps of this process is the post-firing reduction, which elicits these awe-inspiring glaze results and makes the process worth battling the flames.
To perform this step, a team of artists, geared up in leathers and face shields and armed with long steel tongs, open the red-hot kiln and quickly remove the glowing wares, then place them into metal bins filled with combustible materials such as wood chips, sawdust, paper and leaves. The materials ignite on contact and turn the bins into fiery pits and billowing flames. The smoke embraces the pieces being placed inside. By sealing the bins back up, the fire consumes the oxygen and creates a carbon-rich environment that makes the magic of the glazes come to life and turns the raw clay pitch black.
Late last year, in December 2023, the Averitt Center hosted its 7th annual Raku firing, an event that dates back to the opening of the Averitt’s Roxie Remley Center for Fine Arts in 2016. The process is truly a performance to behold, whether by watching as the kiln is opened and the bins alight, or as one of the many artists battling the heat and flames.