Raku is a Japanese style of pottery that leaves behind unique colors and textures on the surface of each piece. Traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies dating way back to 1580, the specific art form of raku was greatly appreciated by tea masters of that time for “the purity and unpretentiousness of the objects,” as the final product comes out looking a very particular type of beautiful — earthy, rustic, and mysterious. Today, the raku style of pottery still remains the most sought after of Japanese ceramics, and it’s easy to see why.
From the intricate, personal process of creation to the finished product, the raku style of pottery is one to be admired, creating an exquisitely unique and distinctive finish to any and all wares undergoing the famed process.
How is it done?
Perhaps the most interesting part about the raku style is the firing process — a practice which “starves the piece of oxygen.” Clay objects are removed from a kiln while they are still “glowing red hot,” and are then placed in materials that can catch fire, like wood shavings, leaves, or newspaper.
The result is a completely unique and distinctive piece of art, due to the uncertainty of how the final object will turn out, from the color to the design. This “low fire process” of raku can be performed either in fuel-burning or electric kilns, which reach temperatures of 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. Examples of rakuware include traditional Japanese tea bowls, vessels, bells, and drums. Products made from the raku style can be hand-sculpted or thrown on a potter’s wheel.
Local potter Frank Kara uses the raku process to, quite literally, turn dirt into treasure. Working on a potter’s wheel, he creates simple and alluring vessels, bells, and drums, – making them the perfect showpiece for your backyard, living room, or anywhere in need of that special design touch.
“If I don’t create, I don’t feel like myself,” says Kara. “I like the reusable part of clay. If you don’t like what you create, you can just mush it up and start over. I’m big on repurposing.”
Currently working with local businesses for limited-time gallery shows, Kara also travels to different high-end garden centers to sell his unique, nature-inspired pieces.
“Seeing the various textures, shapes and colors outside, as well as taking a walk in the woods, is very inspirational to me. The beauty of nature can’t be beat,” says Kara.
Inspired Further By Japanese Culture
Kara’s signature piece of work is the Japanese garden bell, a stunning, yet understated bell, that varies in color and size. “People put them on their porches, gardens, or hang them under eaves in their backyard,” he says. They act as both a decorative piece and wind chime.
“They have a soothing, soft sound when the wind hits them almost like a church bell,” says Kara.
In addition to the Japanese garden bells, Kara creates vessels, teapots, and mugs, utilizing the raku process for each distinctive piece. His latest creation is the Ceremonial Bell, a memory bell with an urn inside that can be sealed up for people’s loved ones.
“I chose raku because it’s a primitive style of firing,” Kara states. “It’s pretty simple and immediate as far as results go. The effects I get are very earthy, organic, and not highly decorated.”
The Kintsugi Method
Taking another cue from Japanese culture, Kara prides his work on the history and stories that accompany his process of creating through the Japanese repair style known as Kintsugi.
Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum; Kara favors the dusting of gold leaf powder. The idea being, if there’s a crack in a bell (or any piece of artwork), it doesn’t mean it’s broken — it’s just now part of the bell’s beauty and history.
“If you have a scar on your face, you’re still beautiful,” Kara puts into context. “The crack or imperfection is part of the pot’s history, how it was repaired, and what it now represents.”
Anyone interested in this type of pottery can research raku workshops in the area or get in touch with local pottery factories to see if classes are offered. To view Kara’s work, you can visit his studio at 32 Dittmar Road, Bethel, CT or follow him on Instagram @karakupottery.•