Sandra J Paluzzi
While raku itself is centuries old, the western techniques are less than 100 years old and American raku only dates to the 1930s. One of the Fathers of American raku, Paul Soldner is still alive and producing raku ware. His pieces can be seen at paulsoldner.com.
But for now, let's go back to the beginning. Raku pottery was first produced in 16th century Japan. It was a finish for ceramic tea sets used in Zen Budhist tea ceremonies. At that point and time, the Japanese wanted simplicity in all things. It was a reaction to the opulence of the court. Raku finished pottery was perfect for this mind set. The family that made the pottery was given a seal and named Raku. They were made the official tea set manufacturers.
Raku pottery was produced by firing pots in charcoal kilns, taking them out of the kiln while they were still red hot and dipping them in water. This would cause them to craze and have uneven colors. Over the centuries, making raku became a party attraction. Potters would put on exhibitions of raku making at parties. There is a very famous story about a Westerner named Bernard Leach seeing this at a Japanese party in the early 1900s and becoming a potter. He brought the process to Britain. From there it spread to America in the 1940s. An American, probably Paul Soldner, added to the raku process. He put pots in wood fired kilns, took them out of the kiln, wrapped them in leaves and placed them in a covered container. The introduction of this 'American reduction raku' method led to a slightly different look than that of the Japanese raku ware.
Raku beads are ceramic based. Today the look is so popular that lampworking artists use reduction frits to give their lampwork beads some of the characteristics of raku beads.
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