Grace Powers, Staff Writer
Members of the Armstrong art community gathered in the ceramics lab Wednesday, Nov. 2, for their bi-annual Raku Pizza Night. This semester’s event was highlighted not only by the chance to win one of five different door prizes (a number that far exceeds previous semesters) but also by the interactive music stylings of Todd Smiley and Karl Joseph who performed a sing-along of Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny.”
As explained by professor of ceramics and ceramic sculpture, John Jensen, Raku is a process of clay, glaze and firing that was developed in 16th century Japan to produce “an iridescent, coppery surface quality.”
Usually associated with a Zen Buddhist tea ceremony, Raku has traditionally been used with teacups but has now been expanded to use on many forms due to Americanization of the process beginning in the 1950s.
Raku pottery differs from other styles in that it utilizes a quick firing process, about an hour in the kiln as opposed to the usual 12, and undergoes oxygen reduction after firing, a process which distinguishes modern, American Raku from traditional Raku.
This process was demonstrated live Wednesday night by two of Professor Jensen’s students, Samuel Johnson and Cameron Frost, Jensen’s lab assistant. Thanks to the relatively quick firing time unique to this traditional style, Raku is one of the few styles of pottery that can be demonstrated live within one to two hours.
In addition to the firing and oxygen reduction demonstration by the students, Professor Jensen himself threw 20 pounds of clay.
One of his students, Bethany Panhorst, remarked that it “is no easy task, but he makes everything look easy.”
Panhorst, an art major and cross country runner, had two pieces of her work from this semester on display: a running shoe and a Leviathan-inspired serpent. While the two are unrelated to the vast majority, to Panhorst they represent very important aspects of her life.
“More often than not, my art relates to [my] faith in Christ. Though, sometimes, my family, a close friend, or an experience will inspire a piece,” Panhorst explained. She derived her Leviathan from a scripture in Isaiah 27. This scripture describes the story of how the Lord’s sword destroyed the Leviathan, a representation of Satan and evil. Upon the serpent’s defeat, God’s people filled the world with fruit, an act that represents holiness and goodness.
Panhorst was also inspired by her father, who is a runner and one of the people she admires most, and by the act of running itself.
“Running inspires me because it involves suffering [and] has taught me much about perseverance… as well as discipline.”
While neither of her two sculptures were inspired by the process of Raku originally, Panhorst utilized Raku clay for her pieces due to its balance in composition and is now considering a Raku glaze for one of her in-progress sculptures.
Other works on display included cups – one set included a half-cup – pots, and an intricate relief sculpture.
As expressed by Professor Jensen, “Everyone [there was] a special guest” who was present to enjoy life’s gifts of art, community, and passion, “…[and] life is better with [a] passion.”
For anyone interested in taking ceramics classes, Jensen’s courses include traditional and non-traditional forms of pottery and sculpture and his students are able to create functional, figurative – or works inspired by the human figure – and decorative pieces.
If you missed this semester’s pizza night, be sure to catch Professor Jensen and his talented students in the spring.