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Western-Style Raku Kiln Firing

Raku ware evolved from the ideals of wabi aesthetics advocated by the tea master Sen Rikyû and advised the ceramist Chôjirô, the forebear of the Raku family, in the aesthetics and philosophy of the Japanese tea ceremony. The first Raku wares were created in the mid 16th century (Momoyama period). There are earlier stylistic origins of Sancai can be traced to China during the Ming Dynasty. During the Momoyama period pottery based on a three-colour Chinese Sancai glazing style came into production in and around Kyoto. Chôjirô was one of the potters practicing these methods. This tradition of making tea bowls has evolved over the course of generations in the Raku family, which continues to this day, led by Sōkichi, the current Kichizaemon XVI. In the 1960s Paul Soldner, a ceramist from the United States, adopted and adapted these methods developed by the Raku family, leading to the type of firing depicted in this video. Paul taught many of his students this method, including the English potter Grace Bailey, who apprenticed Andrew Robinson in her studio. Andrew first learned to build and fire Raku kilns during his apprenticeship, and he has continued to develop contemporary work with roots in multiple cultural traditions including this westernized Raku firing method. In essence, the firing process depicted in this video is based on Soldner’s and the Raku family’s traditions. This method includes a forced reduction in which wares are taken from the kiln while they are still red hot. Typically, these wares are made from a high refractory stoneware and heated to around 1,650 F. The wares are placed in a combustible material, in this case sawdust, grass, and paper, and sealed in a container like a metal garbage can. By depriving the atmosphere in the can of oxygen, the wares within the fire emerge with a blackened clay body, and it may create unusual flashing and color variations in the glazes. The wares and then taken out of the fire box, and plunged into water to rapidly cool.

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