In the frosty air of morning, the Middle School Ceramics class convened outside the Hale House, huddled around a toasty fire. Though it wasn’t marshmallows set to be toasted– it was their own hand-sculpted pots, in the complex art of Raku firing.
Dating back to 16th century Japan, the traditional Raku method involved removing the pots from the kiln while still glowing hot, and then plunging them quickly into water. Frequently, these Raku pots were then used in Japanese tea ceremonies.
The adapted American style of Raku firing, however, was what the DCD Ceramics class had come here to experience. Beside the red-hot kiln (which burns at roughly 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit) waited steel cans filled with leaves and wood shavings. In contrast to its traditional roots, American Raku firing involves drawing the super-heated pots from the kiln and plunging them into these containers of combustible material, and then closing the lids. And this was exactly what the Ceramics students took turns doing, clothed in protective gloves and goggles.
“Now the smoke is doing unpredictable things to the pots,” explained Mr. Coakley. “You get all sorts of unpredictable patterns and designs.”
Once all the pots were safely in their smoldering containers, the young artists had only to wait. These pots had been their first creations of the year, and now they were anxious to see the final product– which, for now, remained a mystery, as it would be a few hours until the pots were cool enough to remove.
“It’s completely different every time you do it,” Mr. Coakley told his students. “Even the materials you burn will change the patterns you get. It’s one of those things where you have to accept that you’re not fully in control of the final product.”
Once these final products are revealed, their creators will possess a tangible memento from this unforgettable lesson.