Fire, smoke, and the creative process were the featured elements of the Hoffman Center's clay instrument-making class and raku workshop held Nov. 16-17 at the Hoffman Center and a local home.

The class saw nine local artists meeting with Rod Kendall, master ceramicist from Tenino, Wash. The first day was dedicated to learning techniques for creating instruments such as flutes, ocarinas, udu drums, rattles, rainsticks and wind whistles. The next day focused on finishing a raku kiln built for the Hoffman Center clay group on Saturday by Rod Kendall and his assistants.

Rod has built instruments for several internationally known musicians such as Gary Stroutsos, who recently performed at St. Catherine's Episcopal Church in Nehalem. His demonstration of the many uses of his extruder and the basic rules of instrument building was inspirational.

One of the students, Stephanie Baldridge, is a member of the Cascadia Flute Circle, and was able to demonstrate the clay flute. The afternoon was spent using the extruder and other tools to create rainsticks and several kinds of rattles.

On Monday, Nov. 17, the group gathered at a Manzanita home to finish the raku kiln and break it in through firing the previously bisque fired and glazed pieces the group had prepared.

About five firings of two kilns (one privately owned) resulted in many beautiful pieces, many broken pieces, and a whole education on the subject for the group.

Raku ware is a form of Japanese pottery characterized by low firing temperatures (resulting in a fairly porous body), special glazes, and the removal of pieces from the kiln while still glowing hot. In the traditional Japanese firing process, the pot is removed from the hot kiln and put directly into water or allowed to cool in the open air. Raku is considered the traditional method for creating bowls for the Japanese tea ceremony.

The American potter Paul Soldner introduced the use of a reduction chamber at the end of the raku firing in the 1960s to compensate for the differences between wood-fired Japanese raku kilns and gas-fired American kilns. Typically, pieces removed from the hot kiln are placed in masses of combustible material, in this case newspaper and sawdust, to provide a reducing atmosphere for the glaze and to stain the exposed clay surface with carbon.

The new kiln will be stored at the Hoffman Center until the next pyrotechnic adventure.

If you would like to participate in raku firings, or in the general creation of clay objects, come to the Hoffman Center's clay studio any Tuesday between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Someone is always available to answer your questions and help get your fingers dirty.

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