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William Kelley students use Japanese kiln for ceramics

William Kelley eighth-grader Kaleb Krech holds a can over shredded paper as art teacher Lisa Malcomb places a flaming hot ceramics piece into the paper. (Photos by Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)1 / 6
The raku kiln at William Kelley High School was in use Wednesday, May 23, as art teacher Lisa Malcomb fired students' ceramics pieces. 2 / 6
Raku fired ceramics pieces sit with ashes of shredded paper still clinging to them. 3 / 6
The next batch of glazed ceramics pieces are placed into the ware box of the raku kiln. 4 / 6
The crackled appearance of this piece is created by using the raku kiln to super heat, then quickly cool the piece. 5 / 6
Ceramic pieces are placed in bunches of shredded paper then covered with metal cans to expose cracks in the glaze to carbon to create a crackled appearance. 6 / 6

Ceramics isn't usually an outdoors class. But students at William Kelley High School spent their art periods outdoors on May 23 as they fired their ceramics pieces in a raku kiln on stands of the football field.

"Ooh, check out that crackle," said William Kelley art teacher Lisa Malcomb as she took a piece out of the kiln. "You can't get those effects with any other method than raku."

Malcomb used a raku kiln built by Lake Superior College ceramics instructor Dorian Beaulieu. A raku kiln is a traditional Japanese wood-fired kiln that super-heats pieces. The process is faster than a regular kiln and creates a crackled appearance in the glaze.

"We can do a full firing in 45 minutes, depending on how dry the wood is," Malcomb said. "You take it out of high heat, add it to something else that burns such as paper, sawdust, leaves and then covering it with a can, sucking the oxygen out, so the unglazed area is being exposed to that carbon, turning them all black and it takes these glazes and does different things. It's the drastic temperature change that does it."

Students created their ceramic pieces about a week ahead of time. The items went through an initial firing in the school's gas kiln before being glazed and placed in the raku kiln.

Malcomb said the students don't work on the items for very long since the process is "the real meat of the project."

"You never really know what you're going to get with raku so it's kind of an adventure," she said. "Every year we try some new things just to see how they work."

The kiln is built from light fire bricks and consists of a fire box and ware box. The lumber in the fire box helps the ware box heat up to temperatures as high as 1,820 degrees. Once the box reaches a temperature in the low 1,800s, Malcomb, with help from her students, pull the pieces out and place them in shredded paper.

"It's kind of intense because you're right there with the fire, but it also makes it kind of fun," Malcomb said.

Students said they enjoyed helping with the process.

"I like to see how the colors turn out," eighth-grader Hannah Thums.

Eighth-grader Manor Ollman said the best part is "doing it outside."

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