Raku traces its rich history to a process that originated in Kyoto, Japan in the 16th century. The technique involved removing red-hot, carved, clay pieces from a wood-fired kiln and placing them on the ground to cool. This unusual approach produced simple, stone-like cups and bowls that were used in rituals related to the tea ceremonies.
Many Kyoto master potters produced Raku pots for tea ceremonies. The work of two artists, Ameya and his wife Teirin, was considered to be the finest. Their Raku became so prized that Hideyoshi, the emperor of Japan, conferred a mark of authority to them to be carved on their ware. This mark has been passed from generation to generation within their family continuing an unbroken line of mastery to this day.
British potter Bernard Leach brought the Raku concept to the west in 1911. Many of the most influential collectors and potters of the time attended open sessions at his English pottery studio. Over time, Western potters began to appreciate and emulate the Zen pottery aesthetic inherent in Raku. Thus began an evolutionary process that fused Eastern and Western aesthetic philosophies during the next five decades.
In the first half of the 1960’s, an American artist named Paul Soldner would radically expand the boundaries of Raku. Against the backdrop of the post-modern artistic movement, Soldner adopted the spontaneous approach of painters of the time. Creation of the work became a happening; literally performed with large enthusiastic groups. He broke with tradition by using more colorful glazes, developing new post-firing reduction techniques and producing shapes embodying the sculpture of the day. His groundbreaking work lead to the development of the modern Raku process that is used by virtually all western ceramic artists today.
Artists continue to develop new glazes and firing techniques to produce stunning work. Their efforts are contributing to one of the most dynamic forms of ceramics and enhancing its vibrant heritage through the creation of an ever-evolving 21st century aesthetic.