Courtesy Jennifer Bialobok, LTHS

The Lyons Township High School Art Club recently hosted its annual Raku Fest, an outdoor, interactive ceramics firing event filled with flames, smoke, fun, and art. Nearly 50 participants took part in this 300 year old, ancient Japanese kiln-firing process.

Every spring, thanks in part to the generosity of a Parent Teacher Council mini-grant, Art Club sponsors the Raku Workshop. Held outdoors, artist Carl Mankert, of Chicago Kiln Services, facilitates the workshop and brings two portable kilns and raku glazes.

Students apply raku glaze to their work, load the pieces into a kiln and fire them to a temperature of 2,000 fahrenheit. The red hot art is removed from the kiln and placed into metal garbage cans, where it ignites combustibles such as paper or straw. During the burning of the combustibles, the lids are placed tightly on the cans so no oxygen can fuel the fire. The compounds in the raku glazes react to the heat, depletion of oxygen and build up of smoke and carbon monoxide inside the enclosed can. Then, the art pieces are taken out of the cans and carefully placed into tubs of water to cool. Slight variations to this process can create unique finishes to the artwork.

To achieve a crackled glaze finish, water is sprayed onto the outside of a raku crackle glaze when it is removed from the kiln, which cools the glaze rapidly, forcing it to shrink on the outside surface and crack. Smoke and soot gather in the cracks when in the metal garbage cans, resulting in a crackled finish. Students also have an option to burn real horsehair on the surface of their heated pieces, making unique carbon markings.

According to LT art teacher Carlene Kinzie, “Raku translates to beauty by chance. You never know exactly what you’re going to get. Each piece has its own unique glaze finish when the process is completed. Some are smoky, crackled or metallic.”