Happiness by chance: Demonstrating the raku pottery process

Summer 2010 brought the first-ever Maker Faire Detroit to The Henry Ford, where more than 300 tinkerers and makers from across America set up shop at Henry Ford Museum to display their ingenuity – including the potters of our very own Liberty Craftworks Pottery Shop!

During last year’s amazing two-day event, some of our master potters demonstrated the raku pottery process, a form of 16th century Japanese pottery used in tea ceremonies. The word “raku” means “happiness by chance,” which is a pretty accurate way to describe the process!

It all begins with bisque-fired stoneware pieces, which are painted with metal-based glazes and placed into a metal barrel kiln that is heated by propane until reaching 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the kiln has reached this temperature, the pieces are carefully removed and placed into a separate metal garbage can full of combustible everyday materials, such as sawdust or newspaper.

The lid is placed back on the can and these materials immediately ignite. The fire searches for oxygen, but with its supply cut off, it is forced to draw oxygen out of the metals in the glazes (such as copper oxide) – producing, by chance, the many different vibrant colors and iridescent finish of each unique vessel.

This was the first time we demonstrated this process, but it gave our lead potter, Ryan Forrey (that’s him below on the left – say hi the next time you’re in the Pottery Shop!), the opportunity to do something he’s wanted to do for a long time: to show the glazing and firing process from beginning to end in within the course of a guest’s visit – something that is typically pretty tough to do!

Ryan and his team have continued to make a few small pieces every now and then – so keep an eye out the next time you’re in the Henry Ford Museum; by chance, you just might find one to take home with you!

Did you see the raku demonstration at last year’s Maker Faire Detroit? What other pottery demonstrations would you like to see us offer in the future?

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