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What is Raku pottery?

For those of us who have not been exposed to this form of artistic expression, the term sounds very foreign. The term Raku is used to describe a unique pottery technique that originated from Japan and represents their Zen philosophy, which emphasizes humility and naturalness. It was first practiced as a method of creating pieces that were to be used in the tea ceremonies.

Raku means “enjoyment”. More specifically, it represents freedom and it is more so viewed as an art as opposed to pieces of utility. The overarching belief is that the artist’s spirit will become a part of the artwork they created.

The Raku Process

The pots are first glazed and placed in a kiln at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. If the pot remains in tact after this shock and doesn’t explode, it is immediately transferred to an airtight container filled with flammable materials like sawdust or leaves. Shortly thereafter, some artists will submerge the pot in cold water to end the process. According to the Zen Masters, the Raku process represents enlightened life because it survives through the cycle of earth, water, air, and above all fire.

Adapting to Western Culture

It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the western world became enthralled with this new method of pottery and began adapting it to western culture. In contrast with the Japanese Raku designs, which are characterized by modest designs on handmade bowls, Americans tended to gravitate towards creating more vibrant bowls, vases, and sculptures. Although some stick to the traditional form of Raku pottery, molding their bowls by hand, most Americans incorporate throwing wheels.

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