By Amanda Nichols
It is only appropriate that Laura Bruzzese’s ceramic scenes of calm, serene New Mexico vistas are created in the ancient Raku technique. Raku, a 400-year-old style of Japanese pottery, means “enjoyment” or “comfort.” Traditionally used in for Japanese tea bowls, this type of pottery characterized by its thin, dark cracks has been adopted and popularized by American potters like Laura Bruzzese.
Raku is a very interesting, precarious process that yields unpredictable results. Western Raku is usually thrown and fired with a glaze but unlike more common forms of pottery, Raku is cooled very rapidly. This quick cooling process combined with the different rates of cooling between the clay and the glaze produces the cracks so beloved in Raku pottery. Raku can be cooled instantly in water, more slowly in open air or it can be placed in an airtight container of combustible material, like saw dust. Each of these techniques yields very different results.
For Laura’s work, she fires each piece twice and it is after the second firing of 45 minutes at 1835° that she places her glowing piece in a container of saw dust. The saw dust combusts upon contact with the scorching piece, which produces a dark smoke that stains the unglazed clay and cracks black. Laura says of the black cracks, “they are the ‘proof marks’ of the stoneware’s having survived this dramatic trial by fire.”
And indeed the process is one of uncertainty. An artist cannot know what the piece will look like until after the vessel is cooled and many pots crack during the firing process. Laura says a 70% success rate is normal for artists using the Raku technique. The unpredictable nature of Raku paired with the stunning results make Laura’s work all the more valuable.