Raku in Revelstoke

By Leslie Savage

Raku is a ceramics firing technique developed originally, and still carried on, by the Raku family in Japan. The process has spread to other parts of the world.

Tanis Rebbetoy, a potter and jewellery maker who lived for many years in Sioux Narrows, Ontario, has recently come to live in Revelstoke — her son Nathan is a timber-frame builder living here — and arrived with her Raku kiln, recently installed in my back yard. A versatile and inventive artist, Tanis has been making jewellery, pottery, and other art craft items for 25 years.

The photos below demonstrate the firing process for Raku, a type of reduction firing at high temperatures that involves removing the fired pieces from the kiln and burning them in direct flame as they are deprived of oxygen. The effect is to create a crackle in the glaze, and, where the clay is unglazed, a matte black finish resulting from the clay having to yield its own supply of oxygen to the fire.

The process involves bisque firing first, then glazing, then Raku firing. After the firing, the pieces must be cleaned to remove the smoke on the glaze.

You can see Tanis’s jewellery and decorative chickadees in the Winter Art Walk at Talisman Fibre & Trading Co., 211 Mackenzie St., Revelstoke, December-March.

In the meantime, here are some photos that show you the process in action:

Tanis in Raku gear. To guard against the heat and fumes, the Raku maker wears a gas mask, long fireproof gloves, and washable jacket and hat. Here is Tanis dressed to remove the Raku fired ceramics from the kiln. Leslie Savage photo
Step 1. With the kiln thermometer reading 1780° F, Tanis uses long tongs to remove the red hot ceramic pieces from the kiln and place them in a metal garbage can filled with crushed newspaper. Leslie Savage photo
Step 2. As soon as the ceramic piece meets the paper, it catches fire. We were standing by with a fire extinguisher, but didn’t need it. Tanis has been doing Raku for over 20 years. Leslie Savage photo
Step 3. A number of pieces go into the fire. The small ones are placed on ceramic trays purpose built to hold the chickadees and small pendants. Leslie Savage photo
Step four. As soon as all the pieces are removed from the kiln and put into the fire, Tanis puts the lid on the can to deprive the fire and the glazes of oxygen. If the pottery pieces are not well made, or if incorrect glazes are used, they can shatter at this stage. Raku wear is a process for experts, as care must be taken at every stage to use the right clay, the right glazes, the correct firing temperatures, and generally a lot of TLC. Leslie Savage photo
Step 5. The can is left smoking in the snow for 15 minutes. When the smoke has dissipated, and the pieces cooled, they’re removed for cleaning. Leslie Savage photo
Step 6. The first look at the Raku pieces can bring some surprises. This mountain scene, a wall piece, was a little different from what Tanis expected, and she may fire it again to get the result she wants. Leslie Savage photo
Here are some pendants and the chickadees that will become part of decorative wall pieces Tanis makes as multimedia art. Tanis will clean them thoroughly, then apply a finish before mounting them on willow branches. You can have a look at the finished pieces next week at Talisman Fibre and Trading Co. Leslie Savage photo