Raku might be described as art with a leap of faith. And it’s definitely a group effort.
Lyons Township High School art students and community members tried their hand at the centuries-old glazing technique from Korea April 11 during an outdoor workshop at the south campus in Western Springs.
“None of these are going to disappoint you,” said workshop presenter Carl Mankert as he set out buckets of muddy-looking glazes and a sample of each as a finished product.
One table featured crackle finishes in clear, red, blue and green. That glaze required an extra step of spritzing with water after being fired at 2,000 degrees in a portable kiln.
The second table showcased brilliant metallic finishes, including Zowie Green and Rick’s Turquoise, which seemed to be the most popular. Each glaze, made of glass particles, produces a range of effects from murky copper to pale, almost glowing turquoise.
Students taking a ceramics class had made pieces especially for the workshop. Other participants selected from an assortment of pots available.
Freshman Gabriela Hardman from LaGrange Highlands made a tall vase with a design of swirling peacock feathers. She selected turquoise for the features and a deep blue glaze for other sections.
“This is beauty by chance,” Mankert told the group of 65 students, alumni, faculty and community members.
The program, hosted by LT’s Art Club, was funded by the LT Parent Teacher Council.
Brookfield sophomore Dana Dombrowski, who took ceramics last year, said she thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and wanted to try it again.
“I’m going to be applying horsehair later in the process,” Dombrowski said. “Wherever it touches, it burns and makes crazy black lines. It’s totally unpredictable.”
Dombrowski said she finds the element of uncertainty intriguing, worth giving up total artistic control of the outcome.
“It’s still going to be really cool even if it doesn’t come out how I wanted. It will still look interesting,” she said.
Mankert calls the raku process “performance art,” because the next steps required a coordinated group effort. After the glaze dries, each piece is heated to 2,000 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes.
Students then lined a dozen small garbage cans with paper and had the lids nearby. They donned gloves and safety glasses. Mankert lifted the glowing pots from the kiln with long tongs. As he placed them into the cans, the paper smoked or caught fire. Students quickly clamped on the lids and covered the cans with a damp towel.
“The fire stops once there is no more oxygen,” Mankert explained. “The glaze will get different colors and textures. The fun part about this is that it’s impossible to duplicate the pieces. The events inside the cans are so random.”
After about 10 minutes, students took a turn with the tongs, gently lifting the hot pots into a bath of tepid water. Large black flakes fell likes scales off the pieces, revealing dazzling colors and prompting expressions of approval like a crowd watching fireworks.
“That’s why raku is so valued,” Mankert said. “It’s a Zen process. You can’t step in the same river twice.”