For nearly the past ten years, Benton Community Art Club students have participated in, what has become an anticipated, exciting tradition.  Every Fall, once the hustle and bustle of the beginning of the year and the associated activities have passed, Art Club students get to create clay projects for a specific type of ceramic firing, known as Raku.

Raku is a type of ceramics and ceramic process that dates back to Sixteenth-Century Japan, and its name (while sounding like the name of a woodland creature when pronounced) means “Comfort” and is applied to a select set of ceramic wares, that is made by the descendants of the processes creator.  The Raku firing was used to create bowls for tea ceremonies, as the process gave the bowls a desirable look and characteristics.  What makes the process unique, from other clay/ ceramic firings, is that the entire process is very fast.  Normally ceramic wares are heated up in a kiln to their final temperature of around two thousand degrees Fahrenheit over the course of several hours.  They are then allowed to cool in the kiln back to room temperature so they can be safely handled.  However, with the Raku process, the wares are heated up in under an hour and taken out of the kiln when they are glowing orange hot.  With “Traditional” Japanese Raku, the wares are allowed to simply air cool, which gives the surface a rough, matte finish.  The process was altered when it was brought to the United States, and is referred to as “American Raku”.  In this version, instead of simply letting the wares air cool, they are put into a container filled with combustible materials.  The hot wares ignite the combustibles and produce smoke.  The containers are then sealed to cut off the oxygen.  The lack of oxygen prevents the metals in the glaze from oxidizing, which gives the surface a very shiny, metallic look.  The quick cooling can also cause the glazes to contract, leaving visible cracks on the surface.  The smoke from the burning materials fills in those small cracks, not to mention it stains all the bare clay black.  After the wares have cooled, they are scrubbed with soap and water to remove any remaining soot.

With all of that, the process is complete, and the students have their very own, unique ceramic item, where they had a hand in every step.  They are part of an Art Club tradition, as well as one that is centuries in the making.