The Japanese word Raku, pronounced "rah-koo", is a commonly-used word that means comfort, ease, or relief.
This summer I was searching for peace in the midst of the quiet of my studio. I imagine this seems cockeyed. As Covid shut down the studio for most business beginning in March. I looked at the advantages of having the space to myself and I got busy making pots for the wood kiln. Over the months, although it proved to be a rich, productive time for me making-wise, the noise of the world, the daily news of death, sickness, and poor leadership was wearing me out.
When the state of Vermont carefully opened and I could work with small groups, I invited three young friends to an experiment in quiet making. There were few guidelines but mostly the plan was to use no electricity and work outside. We would use raku clay to make small objects which we would finish forming in one sitting, for the most part (one student worked on a teapot shape for a couple sessions, which turned out lovely). The meetings had the feeling of a quilting bee or sewing circle. We quietly enjoyed each other's company, listened to music, and ate snacks. I think of these making days as meditation sessions.
After three making sessions and the bisque fire, which I carried out, we met for the firing of the pots.
Firing day is the opposite of making day; it's loud, exciting, and a bit dangerous. I think of it as the punk session. After around 45 minutes in the propane fueled garbage can kiln, we turn off the gas. The sudden silence gets our attention. After what sounds like the airplane engine in the middle of the night on an intercontinental flight, it's very quiet. When we fire at night it's a real shift from noise, flame, and loud chatter to nothing. Then the sounds of the forest around us begin to be noticeable again (during a recent firing we heard the call of a Great Horned Owl). The space around us opens.
Before we take the pots from the kiln, we designate jobs and don our fire safe gloves. One person is the lid person: they take the kiln lid on and off as I pull the pieces from the kiln and carefully drop them in the combustion bucket. There's the combustion bucket person: who operates the lid on the can filled with sawdust, leaves, newspaper, or horse hair. And the tong wielder. This person gently grabs each piece with a set of large tongs and puts them into the combustion bucket. Each piece reignites the material in the bucket, issuing a bright flame, lighting up the night. After a few minutes of burning and smoldering, we take the pieces out. We might plunge them in water. When they are cool enough to touch, we scrub the soot from the glaze and hold what is referred to by my friend, Liz, as our "little friend", Kawaī tomodachi, かわいい友達.
Learning about this process has been a resting place in a time of profound discomfort.
Raku, pronounced "rah-koo", is a commonly-used word that means comfort, ease, or relief. The constant question of "what can I do!?" sometimes becomes a cacophony of thoughts which makes me exhausted and foggy in my living. This summer I found that sitting outside behind my studio in a lawn chair, working with a small piece of clay while listening to the Canada geese on their journey is a way of making room. Lighting a fire, watching the pots become glossy and translucent, carrying them to a bed of sawdust and allowing for their transformation before carefully cleaning them and holding them is making room.
I am making room for the "little friend".