Create traditional Japanese pottery at Somerville studio

SOMERVILLE – Raku, a 12th-century pottery-firing technique, may trace its origins to creating the wares for Japanese tea ceremonies, but you certainly don’t need to hop on a plane to try it yourself.

That’s because Country Squire Pottery, at 26 W. High St. in Somerville, can help you create the earthy tones and unique patterns that raku offers, a technique in which fire and smoke are used in an 1,800-degree raku kiln as a ceramic-firing process.

“I like raku because it’s a fast process that has instant gratification — in 30 minutes, you take your pot out of the kiln and you can make different effects with the post-firing production,” said Susan Amann, artist and founder of Country Squire Pottery.

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Amann, who opened her pottery studio in 2004 to “get the clay dust out of the house,” went back to school at Raritan Valley Community College in 2004 and tried out a raku class because she thought it sounded interesting. She said that she did a one-day workshop and was immediately “bitten by the bug.”

Amann conducts raku workshops several times a year, and if someone is interested in taking part in one, they can contact her at countrysquirepottery@gmail.com. For two raku sessions, in which a potter already has work that they would like to put through the raku process, the price is $125. If a potter would like to create a piece first with Amann to then put it through the raku process in a three-session process, the price is $175.

In order to complete the firing process, the raku pottery must remain in the kiln for about 30 minutes. While the raku pottery piece is still hot and glowing, it is placed inside a metal can full of combustible materials. The heat emitted from the raku pottery causes these materials to catch on fire.

Pottery going through the raku process. ~Courtesy of Susan Amann

After the materials inside the metal can catch on fire, a lid is placed over the can and the raku pottery is sealed inside. This process is known as “post-firing reduction” as the fire in the can removes the oxygen from the atmosphere inside the can. This causes the glazes to change color and creates the unique patterns.

“Many people who try raku have also done regular ceramics, so I think they’re surprised at the interesting results they get and the process — how the glazes melt, how they get crater-like and bubbly, and then how they smooth out,” Amann said.

After the firing is complete, students can participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony using their own raku ware that they made in the workshop — a relaxing ceremony following the dramatic raku process.

Raku work by a student. ~Courtesy of Susan Amann

Raku pottery is capable of withstanding the quick changes in temperature because it is made from a special type of clay that contains extra amounts of grog, or bits of fired clay. Traditional pottery clays, on the other hand, would crack from the thermal shock that raku pottery undergoes.

With very few exceptions, raku fired ware is fragile and generally unsuitable for functional use, so it should be used for decoration only. Raku pots may be occasionally used for food, but use should be limited to dry food such as chips or crackers.

“Raku provides the excitement of the unknown,” said Amann. “What will my piece look like when it comes out? Where will the flame dance upon my pot?”

Pottery going through the raku process. ~Courtesy of Susan Amann

Country Squire Pottery raku workshop

Where: 26 West High Street in Somerville

Contact: countrysquirepottery.com, countrysquirepottery@gmail.com

Cost: $125 for two sessions and $175 for three sessions

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