If you’ve ever wondered about the many ways ceramics are created, you may be interested to learn that not all clay is fired equally!
Developed in Japan in the early 1500’s, Raku pottery originated as the Ceremonial Tea Ware of the Zen Buddhist Masters and now contemporary artists around the world are creating stunning sculptural works using this technique, including Parnell Gallery’s very own Wilhelmiina Drummond.
Drummond first creates the sculptures in clay and once complete, covers them in plastic and leaves them to dry for a several weeks. Wrapping the works like this gives the moisture inside the clay time to equalise and ensures the piece will dry evenly, minimising any possible tension in the clay which may cause cracking during the firing process. The works are then unwrapped and left for another week, until completely dry, before bisque firing and subsequent glazing.
The works are now ready for Raku firing.
Drummond uses a barrel kiln at the Waikato Society of Potters studios, into which she loads her ceramic works. The raku process involves heating the ceramic very quickly at a very high temperature and so Drummond raises the temperature over a 50-60 minute timeframe until the kiln reaches 1020 degrees Celsius. Keeping close watch over her ceramics, she looks for a particular gloss on the surface of the sculpture to develop. Once this has been achieved, the work can be removed from the kiln, cooled for one (hot!) minute, then moved into a smoking box for an additional 30 minutes. During this time in the smoking box, smoke is absorbed into any unglazed surfaces.
It’s this particular step in the process that gives Drummond her signature patina that appears on many of her ceramics, such as her Guardians (pictured below).
A quick internet search provides a dizzying number of ways to build a raku kiln of one’s own (warning, it can still be dangerous!) and it’s clear that enthusiasts for this ancient technique find the method to be incredibly satisfying. Due to the unpredictable nature of this process, no two sculptures will ever come out of the kiln the same, and so raku is particularly appealing to those ceramic artists who are willing to let the fire make a few aesthetic choices on their behalf.
Wilhelmiina Drummond has dedicated many years to raku and the Hamilton based sculptor is continuously expanding her practice. An exhibition of her latest body of work, ‘The Space Between’ is currently on display at Parnell Gallery.