UA professors bring centuries-old artform to Bob Jones

The ancient art of Raku blazed alive for a day in the Bob Jones High School courtyard.

Daniel Livinston and Craig Wedderspoon, art professors at the University of Alabama, brought a kiln and glaze. They fired small, bisque-fired ‘pinch pots’ that Bob Jones art students had made, Bob Jones art teacher Robin Lakso said.

Raku dates to a 16th-century Japanese monk who fired bowls with unique shapes, textures and surfaces for the Japanese tea ceremony. Oxidation causes the variations.

“Unlike traditional kiln firing that takes many hours, Raku firings can be described as ‘fast and furious’ — often even a social event,” Lakso said.

The handmade kiln had ‘bricks’ and a cover about .75-inch thick made from material like the space shuttles’ heat shields, light and sturdy to withstand extreme heat.

“When the kiln is burning at 1,800 degrees, you can put your hand on the material and barely feel heat,” Lakso said.

The kiln was set up at the propane tanks for fire. After a copper glazing, the pottery was placed into the kiln for 20 minutes. “The glaze turned into liquid glass and glowed orange,” she said.

After the glaze melted, Livinston removed the pottery and placed it into a large galvanized steel tub filled with wet newspaper. The pottery began to smolder and burn.

Used as combustibles, apple-wood chips reduced oxygen in the kiln. The cover was seated, and the pottery smoldered for 15 minutes and then carefully removed with tongs and plunged into a bucket of water.

“After several moments, the pottery emerged glittering and glowing in the sunlight,” Lakso said. “No piece looked the same. Colors ranged from copper penny and oxblood to green-blue and golds.”

Other Bob Jones students observed the experience, especially for chemical transformations. Jessye Gaines brought her engineering class, as did Carol Bohatch for chemistry and Cindy Huskey and Robin Dauma for English.

Several Bob Jones seniors are excited about enrolling in Wedderspoon’s sculpture classes at UA. Bob Jones is building its pottery program to include the pottery wheel and a Raku firing each semester.

 

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