RAKU, SMOKE FIRING & THE WYCH ELM PROJECT
previous raku and smoke firings
Image RGBE/Lynsey Wilson Inset image Stephanie Smith
Jane Kelly, potter
Raised in New Zealand and London, I trained as a potter at Wimbledon, Norwich and Medway Colleges of Art under Tony Gant, David White, Colin Metcalfe, Peter Phillips, Siddig el Ngoumi and others. Within a few years of moving north to Portobello with my growing Scots family, I established a studio pottery in the centre of Penicuik.
In Edinburgh in the mid seventies I first set up pottery classes for adults at Cannonball House and taught there and at Infirmary Street for thirty years; I also teach regularly from my Penicuik pottery, at the Garvald community, and at a school in Edinburgh. But in many schools and art colleges the teaching of pottery has been brought to an end. All over the British Isles indigenous pottery manufacture becomes harder and harder to find.
Enthusiasm among lovers of craft pottery is strong in Scotland and New Zealand. With annual summer schools and occasional special pottery events at my Valleyfield House studio in Penicuik, I also exhibit each November at Penicuik Arts Centre and have shown with Scottish Potters at Aberdeen, Banchory, Broughton, Dunfermline, Glasgow, Nairn, Stirling, Perth and Milngavie.
This October I organize a joint show of work of potters and basketmakers at The Bield Gallery, Blackruthven, by Perth.
I concentrate on thrown pots: useful wares like jugs, teapots, mugs, cups, plates and bowls, saltshakers and butterdishes. I have worked with Dalhousie Castle Hotel and the Traverse Theatre, now with the Royal Botanic Garden’s Wych Elm Project. I am contributing a set of tea bowls to the Wych Elm Project using the Raku pottery technique, plunging the fiery pots into sawdust from the wych elm wood.
The Raku firing method originated nearly 500 years ago in Japan. The name Raku first appeared later - in the sixteenth century - and roughly translated means contentment. Raku is still used among tea masters during the Zen tea ceremony. Western introduction to Raku began in earnest in 1911 with the English potter Bernard Leach who had participated in the tea ceremony in Tokyo. An American, Paul Soldner in the 1960s added quality to the glaze effects by smoking the pots, and developed clays that would withstand the technique’s characteristic thermal shock. The Raku process involves first applying a special glaze to a bisque (once fired) pot or ceramic piece, usually by brushing, pouring or dipping. The piece is then fired to a temperature around 900 degrees Centigrade. When the kiln has reached this temperature and the glazes have matured, the fuel supply is shut off. The kiln is opened and the red-hot pieces removed with tongs or heavy-duty gloves. Traditionally, these glowing pots were either air cooled or dipped into a container of water. A more contemporary approach involves placing the hot pots into an enclosed container filled with combustible materials such as sawdust, or leaves. The container is then tightly covered which reduces the oxygen. This causes the combustibles to smoke heavily. Smoke penetrates clay and glaze, turning bare clay black and creating exciting metallic flashes or crackles on the glazes. For instance, a copper glaze can turn from green to golden lustre or red. After smoking for 10 minutes to several hours, the pieces are taken out, quenched in water to halt the reducing process, scrubbed clean, inspected and appreciated.
For the Wych Elm Project I am plunging the fiery pots into sawdust left by the furniture makers from the Botanic Gardens wych elm wood. Each Raku piece is unique. The firing -in the open air- is adventurous and surprising. When the technique is unfamiliar several people are needed for safety so the firing is usually sociable and enjoyable. For this project though I have found myself mostly working alone. What I love about Raku pottery is the magic of the changing colours of the clay and the glazes in the firing. It is quite impossible to make two pieces exactly the same. I also like the simplicity of the firing which needs the minimum of space and time. Although it has a poor reputation as firewood I was confident about using elm in Raku. We use elm in the house for banking up the fire at night, it burns slowly yet steadily. Elm is a tolerant tree which will grow in most soils and conditions.
I like to make useful pots from different clays. In my studio in Penicuik you’ll find many different materials from locally dug stony earth to specialist porcelain. I keep learning and experimenting because I think at heart I am an alchemist, trying to transform the most basic elements around us into something of lasting use and beauty.
above from images of Jane Kelly by Stephanie Smith
image of Jane Kelly by Amy Copeman
20 raku tea bowls were made by Jane Kelly and glazed with wych elm shavings for the RBGE Wych Elm project
19(white) & 20(blue/gold) are illustrated in RBGE Wych Elm exhibition companion book
NUMBER 87of the 200
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