Master potters Jo and Vic Duffhues think there’s something really exciting about the unpredictable nature of raku pottery.
And this weekend, visitors to their Shell Beach Road studio will get a chance to be part of that excitement.
The Duffhueses are participating in Culture Days this Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and will be offering raku firing demonstrations and tours of their JoVic Pottery studio. The raku firings will take place at around 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day.
“For us, it’s an experience that will allow us to introduce visitors to the excitement of raku firings,” said Jo.
Those who want to participate in the raku process will have a chance to buy a small raku vase which will have been bisque-fired in advance and learn how to glaze-decorate it. They will be able to take home a piece they helped fire themselves.
“People always say they’re watching the birth of a pot when it comes out, and that’s kind of true,” said Jo.
Visitors will get a chance to see pieces coming from a kiln in a lava hot stage and will learn the difference between raku and stoneware clay bodies.
Some of the work will receive alcohol reduction, resulting in intense flaming and colour, while some will receive ferric chloride applications, which help develop gold lustres. Some pieces will develop copper-flashed surfaces in heavy post-firing reduction after being pulled from the kiln while the pieces are still covered in liquid molten glaze at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
Jo and Vic use tongs and gloves to pull the pots out of the kilns and place them into spaces that contain combustible materials such as leaves, sawdust and paper.
“Because the pots are so hot, these immediately begin to burn,” explained Jo. “The next step is to seal that container — we use a sand bed — and put a bucket over it so no more oxygen gets it. The fire is extinguished, but the combustible materials then begin to smoke heavily.
“We play with the reduction of oxygen to bring out the highlights in copper glazes,” she continued. “The unbelievable cooling the pot goes through will cause surface cracks, tension cracks in the glaze — you won’t see them until that rapid reduction causes smoking. When you take the pot out of the post-firing chamber, you get these impregnated crazed lines filled with smoke, which creates a wonderful contrast with whites or blues.”
Any part of the pot that wasn’t glazed, such as the bottom and the inside, will turn black.
“When we take these pots out of the kiln, it’s an ‘oooh aaah’ moment,” said Jo, adding with a laugh, “It’s a pyromaniac’s dream.”
At JoVic Pottery, raku brings together ancient Eastern art and more modern Western practices.
“The cultural aspect, the really fun side of this is that raku firing is an old probably Japanese practice,” said Jo. “The word ‘raku’ means ‘spontaneous enjoyment.’ The standard belief is it originated with the original tea ceremonies. The cool thing about it is the Japanese form of raku never did include that post-firing reduction; they never used combustible materials to darken those lines. They’d put it in dark tea … it wouldn’t really make for a food-safe practice in our world, so these things are a romance of the past. What we do now is try to make sure our stoneware is perfectly safe, but we also take pleasure in the fact we get to do this post-firing reduction in the North American way that results in spectacular coppers, blues and sometimes purples.”
Launched in September 2010, Culture Days is a free annual event designed to invite the public to celebrate and explore arts and culture in communities across Canada. More than 18 events are registered for Culture Days in the Cowichan Valley.
JoVic Pottery is located at 4781 Shell Beach Rd. in Ladysmith.