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12/20/2017
Homeschool students learn raku pottery
Isabella Robinson, a second-grader, shows off a couple of ceramic mugs that she made. Photo by Hall Anderson


By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer

After a group of students learned what luster pottery glaze is, a simultaneous “ooooh” echoed throughout the art room at Ketchikan High School two weeks ago.

Luster is a shiny metal, and was one of a few glazes that homeschool students from FastTrack Virtual School and PACE Statewide Correspondence School could choose to finish their raku pottery projects with.

Kayhi art teacher Louise Kern, Leif Sivertsen and Erik Sivertsen taught the students the ins-and-outs of a pottery firing process called American raku, which translates to “pleasure” in Japanese.

“We pull it out of the kiln glowing hot,” Leif Sivertsen explained of the raku process, “and then we put it in with combustibles, and the smoke affects the atmosphere and the color. We’re borrowing from a Japanese tradition.”

The container of combustible materials the pottery was put in after being pulled from the kiln blackened the raw clay teacups, bowls and other creations that the students made, and that caused “crazing” — cracking — in the glaze surface.

The homemade kiln the group used at the Kayhi automotive center was made by Erik Sivertsen and Kayhi student Max Varela. It has a white cotton candy looking fiber around on its edges and inside it — but the students were warned it's far from the fluffy sugar treat.

“It’s not cotton candy,” Erik Sivertsen advised the students, who were standing quite a distance away from the kiln, and some with their parents. “This stuff here, you don’t exactly want to handle too much.”

The kiln utilizes a fiber insulation with a cotton-candy like appearence that the Sivertsens cautioned the students against handling.

“Don’t touch the white stuff — if you see some on the ground, don’t pick it up please,” his twin brother Leif Sivertsen added. “This is space age technology.”

And it is, quite literally, space age technology. Leif Sivertsen said the kiln fiber is almost exactly like the material used on the bottom of space shuttles, and it starts melting at 2,300 degrees fahrenheit. The raku pottery they were firing only reached 1,900 degrees fahrenheit, so it was safe.

The Sivertsens seemed to enjoy integrating art with science, and Leif Sivertsen said the subjects are one-and-the-same. He studied science in college, while his brother Erik Sivertsen studied art and learned American raku pottery at Southern Oregon University.

“This is a great opportunity for learning in a lot of different dimensions,” Leif Sivertsen said. “Not only is the art fun, but there’s a social dimension, a cultural dimension, historical dimension. It’s a multifaceted opportunity to learn about art and life. It compliments chemistry, science and art — hand in hand.”

Students glazed their pottery one day and fired it the next, but before they headed to the kiln, the students learned about having a tea ceremony from a Kanayama exchange teacher. Leif Sivertsen said a tea ceremony is a way to pause from life, take a moment to reflect and enjoy the company of others.

Once their knowledge of the tea ceremony was solidified, the group headed to the kiln and put their pottery inside the metal trash can-turned-kiln. The pottery wouldn’t be done for another hour, so the students walked back to the common area at Kayhi, where a tea ceremony was set up.

They learned about matcha tea, and were able to taste green tea, peppermint tea and winter spice tea from their hand-crafted tea cups, and ate snacks off the small bowls that they shaped and designed at an earlier pottery session.

Kate Brown, a student at Fawn Mountain Elementary School half-time and homeschool student for the other half, said designing the pottery is pretty difficult, as the clay could be too soft or turn hard too quickly.

“I definitely learned how to shape the pottery, because before I got here, I did not really know how to do pottery at all,” Brown said. “I think the most fun has been on the pottery wheel, where you get to shape it with your hands. You get a little messy, but it’s very fun.”