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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Raku experience fires up SLHS ceramics students

Monday, October 8, 2001

On most days, the ground north of the Storm Lake High School football stadium is covered only with grass and cement.

Tuesday, the entire area was covered with a flaming kiln and glazed pots, bowls and vases.

Students in Ron Netten's beginning and advanced ceramics classes gathered north of the stadium Tuesday to participate in a day-long session of raku firing, and were able to create a vast amount of colored pottery in numerous shapes and sizes.

Netten, ceramics instructor at Storm Lake High since 1975, said the unit on raku firing was something both he and his students look forward to every year.

"It's something I've done nearly every year I've been here, and it's something we all really enjoy," Netten said. "It's a fun learning experience for the students, and I enjoy seeing that and helping them with the process."

"It's been pretty fun so far," Storm Lake student Scotty Lo said. "I had never done anything like this before, so it's been a good thing to do."

Modern raku is a method of firing pottery derived from an ancient Japanese technique of rapidly firing and cooling tea bowls for ceremonial purposes.

Brought over to the United States by Bernard Leach in the early 1900's, raku has become popular in America because of the quick timetable between the start and finish of the firing process.

"This is instantaneous," Netten said. "Normally firings are three days long in a kiln, but this only takes 45 minutes, so students really enjoy that part. With raku, you're also not sure about how the glazes will react to the heat, so every piece of pottery that comes out has a surprise color and look to it."

The students must also add sand to the clay to make the pottery resistant to heat shock, as Netten said the pieces must survive incredible changes in air temperature.

"It's really an amazing process," Netten said. "After the piece is made, it will go from air temperature to about 1,700 degrees in 45 minutes, and then, once we take it out, it comes back to air temperature in about 10 minutes. We do have a few pieces that don't make it and crack, of course, but most of our pieces do survive the process."

After Netten's students remove the pottery, they then place them in piles of sawdust or large empty metal trash bins around the stove and then cover them up. With the oxygen supply to the red-hot piece cut off, it receives a very heavy smoking, which only adds to the wide variety of glaze and surface effects.

Netten said he hopes the process will be a good tool to help the students learn more and appreciate the entire process that goes into making pottery like raku.

"It's something that is worthwhile, because it's exciting and it allows the students to really take a hands-on approach to things. I'm glad I've been able to teach the kids about this."

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