Artist statement: Karen Eaves
I have been working in clay since the late 1970’s first as a student and later as a volunteer here at Bellevue College in the ceramics department. It has been especially gratifying in helping the students in the classroom so they can successfully experience working with clay.
I enjoy throwing classical shapes, and I often add hand built elements associated with nature and/or carve the pieces with organic patterns. I’m currently working with brightly colored terracotta clay bowls and lidded vessels. Once the pots are thrown and trimmed I apply underglaze and carve designs to reveal the terracotta clay color. The pots are then fired, glazed, and fired again.
My focus during the summer months has been on alternative firing techniques. I especially appreciate the horsehair raku and pit fired burnished ware we can fire outside.
As the story is told, horsehair pottery was first made in the 1980′s as the result of an accident by an Acoma Pueblo potter. The clay I use to make my horsehair pottery is white raku clay. I’ve found that this very porous clay is able to stand the shock of the extreme temperature changes of the horsehair process. Before firing, the bone dry pieces are smoothed and brushed with applications of clay slip, and hand-burnished, creating a shiny polished surface. These burnished pieces are then bisque fired. The pots are then fired in an outdoor raku kiln to around 1300 degrees and removed with tongs. Individual horse hairs are then carefully laid across the pot, burning the incredible black and grey lines of carbon and smoke onto the clay surface. There is a small window of time, only about 30-45 seconds for applying the horse hair onto the very hot ware, because when the temperature of the pots drops below 900 degrees, the pots will no longer accept the hair .Once the pots are cooled, they are gently washed and polished with a wax or tile sealer.
Burnished ware will not be durable when fired since it is only fired to a cone 018. But, it can be polished to a remarkable level of sheen. Clay is made up of flat particles, called platelets. Burnishing works by pressing down the clay platelets on the surface of the pot, so they all face the same way and thus reflect light the same way. As clay is fired, it loses its platelet structure, so the higher the firing temperature, the more sheen you will lose.
I use terracotta clay for this process. Timing can be tricky-you want the pot at the verge of dry, but with just enough moisture in the clay to allow your stone to glide across the clay without scratching it. This process works best with a smooth surface. I first burnish my pot after trimming, using a wood or rubber rib. To achieve the maximum level of burnish, burnish just after trimming, and then twice more during the drying process. Once bone dry, apply a thin coat of salad oil over the entire surface. Dry completely and then goes over the pot one last time with polishing stone. A burnished pot can be decorated before firing by carving into the burnished surface or by applying designs with a terra sigillata or slip.
After the pot has been fired to cone 018 it will be fired again in a pit or outdoor brick kiln. In the outdoor firing area at Bellevue College there is a brick kiln that we use for our sawdust firings. A layer of sawdust is loaded into the pit and each pot is packed tightly with sawdust. The pots are nestled into the sawdust and more sawdust is packed around them. The sawdust is lit and once a good fire is going the pit is covered and the firing smolders overnight. Depending on how the pots are placed in the pit different colors appear. After the pots cool the surface is protected with wax or tile sealer.
***Because the clay used for the alternative firings is very porous, and neither the horsehair raku nor burnished pots are glazed this pottery is NOT water tight, and should only be used as decorative pieces or with dry floral arrangements.