After nearly thirty-five years as a potter, I am still enchanted with the process of transforming lumps of clay into works of art. Happily, my wife has become enchanted with the process too. For the last eight years we have collaborated, working exclusively with the Raku process to produce a line of work as call “American” or “Contemporary” Raku. Most of our creations are vessel forms using the potter’s wheel or handbuilding techniques. The Raku firing becomes collaboration between the artist and the process, always interesting, enjoyable, and not always predictable. Some of our handbuilt pieces ar e like jazz, but the main body of our work is more like classical music. Whether sculpting or throwing a piece on the wheel, we like to be creative with the surface decoration, adding stains, glazes, and textures in ways that make the work truly stand apart from other Raku. Colorful surfaces are achieved by using both airbrush and detailed hand-glazing techniques and often, one piece is glazed in different stages by both of us. We play at alchemy and our created palette includes (but is not limited to) reds, turquoises, ambers, ochres and yellows, as well as the classic white crackle. During the firing, rapid extremes of temperature and oxygen versus carbon atmospheres create a distinctive look – the unglazed clay is blackened, glazed areas develop a network of crackles, and colorants in the glazes melt and often blend in unexpected ways. The results can be spectacular…the mark of the fire is on the piece. Blackened and sooty, this pottery goes through some incredible scrubbing and emerges gleaming with an inner fire of its own. Most of our work is then embellished with strands of copper wire, a signature (but not a patent) that has been with us for about 25 years. This adds a precise line and separates and delineates areas of the surface of the pieces. We also make and add small wooden pegs to some of the pottery as a decorative effect. On a few of the pieces we add metallic leaf for a more dramatic look. It is these details that add a finished look to our work and separate it further from other Raku.
In the end, it’s the making of the piece and the spontaneity of the Raku firing that we find so appealing. Our vision and creative voice speak through the materials we have chosen to use, but the Raku process retains its editorial power over our expression. It’s collaboration on many levels and we think it’s a good working arrangement. For us, Raku is like alchemy. It’s like spinning straw into gold. The process is magic.
You can reach Richard Gruchalla and Carrin Rosetti at their studio in Duluth, MN at 218-724-9080.