Local students work with premier ceramics artist in country at 'Raku Rodeo'

University's ceramics students built new kilns for special firing technique

4/26/04 kb

HAYS, KS -- Paul Soldner, who is perhaps the most famous living ceramic artist in the United States or the western world, conducted a workshop in raku glazing and firing at Fort Hays State University on April 16, 17, 18.

"We are calling the event our 'Raku Rodeo,' " said Linda Ganstrom, associate professor of art at FHSU. Soldner shared his slides of raku surfaces, demonstrated his approach to mixing glazes and glaze bisque pieces and led a glazing and firing participation workshop during the weekend."

Students who participated and helped with Raku Rodeo: Jay Heiman, Barnard senior; Jessica Conner, Larned graduate student; Stacey Letsch, Luray graduate student; Levi Marconnet, Hays senior; Charmaine McDonald, Soldier graduate student; Dang Nimchanya, Hays graduate student; Matt Reed, Salina senior; Peggy Schoenberger, Russell sophomore; Nicole Taylor, Marion special graduate student; and Jeannette Zamrzla, Hays special graduate student.

Raku (pronounced RAH-koo), said Ganstrom, is a low-fire technique where the ceramic pieces are pulled red-hot out of the kiln, while the glaze is still molten. The pieces are then smoked in something combustible, such as newspaper or sawdust, transforming the color of the clay and the glaze. In traditional ceramics, the pieces are heated and then cooled before being taken from the kiln.

The kilns were built during an all-day workshop conducted March 30 by Conrad Snider, visiting artist from Newton, KS, and Hanna Eastin, his assistant. He taught the FHSU ceramics students how to build a safe and efficient forced air burner for a kiln.

"We built two new, gas-fired raku kilns, which give you some way to access the pieces while they are still hot," said Ganstrom. "One is called a top hat kiln. That one, you can remove the top of the kiln, or lift it up and put the combustibles in.

"For the other one, we took an old electric kiln in which the elements no longer worked and converted it. We are recycling and reusing," she said. "We built the burner for the top hat kiln ourselves," said Ganstrom. "It's all part of teaching students to be resourceful and inventive and to learn about kiln building."

The kilns are located in the breezeway between the Sculpture Studio and the foundry, at the west end of Rarick Hall on the FHSU campus.

Soldner, 82, is considered the father of American raku and is the most famous ceramic artist in the United States, and probably in the western world, said Ganstrom.

He splits the year between Claremont, CA, where he has taught at Claremont College for most of his life, and Anderson Ranch near Snowmass, CO. He has conducted hundreds of workshops and exhibitions. Ganstrom said he also has a line of ceramic equipment.

In addition to students and others who signed up for the workshops locally, Ganstrom said, there were 20 artists from six other states attending. Raku Rodeo weekend ended with a public exhibition and sale of art works on Sunday.

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