Clay II students try Raku

Shabana Gupta, Staff

Emily Phillip’s Clay II class went on a trip to the Des Moines Art Center to fire their raku pots with the help of professionals. Raku is a technique of ‘baking’ pots in an extremely hot kiln at about 1650 degrees Fahrenheit. Phillips decided to do a obvara style of firing, where students remove their pots from the still heated kiln using long tongs with small spikes for grip. The burning pot is dunked into a mixture that then burns onto the surface, changing colors from light brown to dark brown to black then again to light brown as the mixture burns off. The pot is then dunked in water to cool it, and placed to finish cooling in the air.

With all of Phillip’s clay II classes going on the trip, she had to break up the group into three smaller sections. The groups rotated between touring the museum, learning surface design, and firing their pots.

Turing their trip, the students walked through areas of the museum that most people would not normally see as they traveled through staff only areas to avoid places with construction.

As they continued with the trip, students met staff member Maggie Harlow-Volt to learn different surface design techniques. Some of what they learned was entirely new even to Phillips. There was a small focus on using stamps, and Harlow-Volt showed the students how to use a piece of paper with special ink to create geometrical patters using underglaze, which is a type of paint that does not become glossy.

The main reason for going on this trip was to introduce students to raku and help them gain an understanding of how the process works. Raku can be dangerous to participate in unless students wear the propper gear, such as long sleeves, pants, goggles, and gloves while long hair is tied back. To make this process more safe, instructor Brett Beasley supervised and assisted students.