By Tom Bivins
Raku (“rac-koo”) pottery refers to a type of ceramic technique where the pottery and artworks are fast-fired and rapidly cooled, achieving dramatic crackling glass, lustrous metallic and raw smoky surfaces. The common Raku practice involves using a kiln to heat the ware to glowing red temperatures before the work is removed with large tongs and placed inside a metal barrel on a nest of newspaper, sawdust or straw. The red-hot pottery lights these materials up fast in an exciting flash of flames. When the artist feels the time is right, a lid is placed on the can extinguishing the flames and the pieces are left to cool in the smoke and smoldering fire.
The origins of Raku date back to sixteenth century Japan, with romantic stories of the royal Raku family, amazing potters, and the ultimate tea ceremonies using Zen spirited Raku fired tea bowls. There are fascinating and thorough accounts of this history online, and in countless reference materials and ceramic journals readily available.
The contemporary world of raku has become one of constant innovation and discovery. This brief explanation of Raku barely scratches the surface of a ceramic style rich in meaning, serendipity and deep emotions. The definition of Raku means something a little different to everyone who interprets it. To this potter the meaning intensifies as I mature and it always feels like peace and joy.