Friday, January 8, 2010

Raku Chawan

I've been learning quite a bit about Japanese pottery, and it's interesting that although I've known about raku firing ever since I became a ceramist, I knew nothing of Raku ware, or Raku-yaki (楽焼). You can read more in-depth articles about the history of the Raku family, and the origins of the tea ceremony for which the chawan (tea bowl) is designed for elsewhere, but I'll give a brief explanation...

During the late 1500's the Japanese elite highly prized unique and rustic ceramic forms for their tea ceremony. The great tea-master Sen no Rikyu collaborated with a potter named Chojiro, whose work was so admired by the emperor that he was awarded the name Raku, which means pleasure. Chojiro's method was to create his work by hand-modeling the clay without the use of a potter's wheel. And the firing method employed (which is the basis of western "raku" firing) involved a rapid heating of the pottery, culminating with the glowing hot pots being removed from a fiery kiln and rapidly cooled.

Over the winter holiday I hand-molded about 20 tea bowls (they are essentially pinch pots) and last week I fired the first batch of 10. I wanted to try to do things fairly traditionally, allowing the pots to air-cool, but my friend Junji ultimately convinced me to experiment with post-firing reduction for some of them. Although placing raku-fired pots in combustable materials like sawdust is a western technique, the results would likely appeal to eastern aesthetic, as the dark unglazed areas highlight the crackle of the glaze.

While some of these bowls will be given to friends and coworkers (my boss already claimed the one pictured above) the majority will be used and then given to students in my Manga Madness class when Junji and I teach them about the Japanese tea ceremony.

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