American Raku History

As a brief and introductory synopsis of American Raku history, I would like to focus on the most major influence in my life as a Raku Artist. Those readers seeking detailed coverage of American Raku history again will find a wealth of information on the internet.

While the roots of Raku ware are in Japan, here in America Paul Soldner (1921-2011) earned the title “Father of American Raku“. Paul gives credit to a list of artists also experimenting with Raku and giving rise to its popularity in the 1950’s in his essay “American Style Raku“.

Paul’s becoming ‘hooked’ on Raku began when he removed a hot pieces of ware and rolled them in pepper tree leaves in hopes that the smoke produced would have an effect on the surface (which of course it did!). He commented about how this event changed his life and his work. This began the idea of ‘post firing reduction’ as we know it today: placing a hot piece in combustibles of various kinds then capping the container with the burning material, cutting off the oxygen and smoking the piece.

Paul Soldner had a deep appreciation of the Japanese aesthetic. I’d like to share an excerpt from his essay on “American Style Raku” which most expresses his influence on this artist’s life.

“Raku offers western culture insight to new concepts of beauty. We have long admired balanced symmetry, unblemished surfaces, and rigid machine-like control as examples of perfect craftsmanship. Raku, in contrast, emphasizes asymmetry, the beauty of the accidental and the spontaneous and the value of and appreciation for organic naturalness undominated or completely uncontrolled by us. In the spirit of Raku, one must embrace the element of surprise. There can be no fear of losing what was once planned and there must be an urge to grow along with the discovery of the unknown. Raku can offer us a deeper understanding of the qualities in pottery that are of a more spiritual nature and of pots made by people willing and able to create objects that have meaning as well as function.”

The above reference very much defines my relationship with and my love of Raku. There are always new things to be learned, new ways of experimentation, new appreciation of the unexpected and above all, I do find qualities in my work with pottery that indeed are ‘of a more spiritual nature‘.

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