Patterns in Nature: Exploring raku

2010 Artist residency in collaboration with Nadine Smith and 7th graders at McClure Middle School, Seattle, WA

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Students were led through a ceramic series, in which they each created a clay tile.  Exploring bas-relief sculptural techniques, students learned additive and reductive techniques such as slip and score, in which clay is added and carved away to create a dimensional effect to the tiles.

Thank you to the Queen Anne Community Center for donating the use of your kiln so we could bisque-fire all 200 tiles.  After the tiles were bisque-fired, students glazed their tiles with their choice of 3 colors of raku glaze: white crackle, copper penny, or blue dolphin, which isn’t really blue at all, but rather a rainbow effect resembling an oil slick.

Eric, the raku master of Seattle Pottery Supply came to the school to do an on-site raku firing in the school parking lot.  What an exciting and memorable event!  The kids had the chance to watch as the door to the kiln is lifted, and the pottery inside is glowing white-hot.  Tongs reach in, and pull out each glowing piece, which is carefully placed on a bed of crumpled newspapers in a metal can.

I had the awesome job of manning a can.  At Eric’s direction, I tossed newspapers into the can to buffer the pottery & catch fire.  When a few pieces and newspapers are flaming inside the can, a lid is placed on it, and wet towels draped over the top to create & trap smoke inside.  The oxydation from the smoke inside the can activates the metallic properties in the glaze, and creates the beautiful, irredescent colors that spontaneously happen on the pottery, depending on heat in the can, and proximity to other pieces, amount of smoke, etc.  Fascinating!

Once all the tiles were fired, cooled, and cleaned of ash, Nadine & I were ready to start assembling the mosaic.  We had the math and engineering class install our backer boards to the reception desk in the school office.  Once that was done, we were ready to adhere our tiles to the backerboards.   Along with the students tiles, we mixed in a random pattern of solid color tiles to unify and balance the overall design and color scheme.  What a dramatic transformation of the school office!

rakuinprogress    rakumosaic_full

Thank you to Sarah Pritchett, Lisa Fitch, Carolyn Grane, McClure PTA, and countless volunteers for your support of arts programs in schools.

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John Hay Community Art Project

John Hay Community Art Project

“Your words are in the trees, in the sun and moon and stars.   Your poems and stories are in the blades of grass and in the waves of the Sound. Your art is the heart and song of the works that you see and we have been privileged to work with each of you.” – (excerpt from Carolyn Grane’s artist statement for “Our Community”)  May 30, 2012

Carolyn Grane & I worked as Artists-in-Residence at John Hay Elementary, 2011 – 2012, and together with more than 550 students, parents, teachers, and staff, created 11 mural panels for the school lunchroom.  Each panel is 8′ x 4′ and represents artwork created by all the students in the school.

As the school represents a diverse urban population, we wanted to honor and reflect upon the more than 50 languages spoken within the school community.  We asked families to contribute a written piece of text from their family’s cultural heritage.  Some brought in pages from special books, handwritten notes, calligraphy, etc.  We incorporated all of their words in their many languages into the collage-mural panels, becoming parts of the Space Needle, the clouds, the bricks in the school, etc.

We would like to thank Kari Hanson, Sarah Pritchett, Kim Clements, and the John Hay Partners Board for supporting the arts in public schools.