On Raku and Release

I am a potter.

Through pottery, I have discovered not just an art form, but also a connection to creation and the Creator. Recently, I was given the opportunity to practice a new technique: Raku firing.

Raku, known for its captivating rapid-firing and its ceremonial act of removing each piece while still in a blazing molten red-orange glow, has taught me so much about healing, control, release, endings, and transformation.

Intentionality is needed in choosing the clay. The clay needs to have enough grog in it so it can withstand the thermal shock of being taken out of the fire and cooled rapidly. Grog adds grit; it is the rustic texture that aids in everything from shrinkage to the drying of a piece.

Raku pottery uses a kiln that is heated up faster than traditional kiln firings. The process is intense. After you secure your molten piece, you can do various things. The most common is to place it in a container with combustible materials, like sawdust and paper. The combustibles themselves serve as violent paint brushes that leave new impressions. These combustibles starve the piece of oxygen, crafting unique colors and textures that signify more than art – they symbolize resilience, transformation from oppressive heat, and the beauty of impermanence.

This ancient Japanese method has one purpose: to promote beauty. The word “raku” literally means “pleasure.” None of the Raku pieces I have made are able to hold water; they are strictly decorative. They are beautiful and that is their sole purpose. My Raku pieces remind me of the elements: the earth and water it took to build it, the fire that surrounded it, and the wind as I pulled it from the hot kiln. All these things come together to create something new and beautiful.

Highlighting the act of creation has emphasized that art’s true value lies in its molding and giving, not its lasting. Oftentimes, the art (and possibly the human) is to be appreciated solely for its beauty as it is, and not for its function.

I live with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). It stems from religious trauma and has kept me away from most faith gatherings. This condition makes it difficult for me to approach God, or feel the Divine’s presence. I frequently feel like I have lost myself, lost my purpose, and lost my functionability. I have had to learn to listen to the voice of the Creator through the lessons in the clay, water, wind and fire.

I have had to navigate through anniversaries that reopen wounds and try to find my center in the midst of intense pressure. I have had to take intentional time away from public life to heal. In that season, I have found solace in the philosophy that is reinforced in Raku: embracing the unpredictable, understanding the value of release, and recognizing the beauty in creation, without critique or regard of its function.

The first rule of pottery is to not become attached. A piece can be lost at any stage of the process. It can be ruined on the wheel, while trimming it, glazing it, or firing it. You may be so delighted when pulling out a perfect piece from the kiln that you mishandle and drop it.

The clay teaches me that the lesson is found in the act of creating. With Raku, we see that the final piece is just a representation of the process it took to get there. With trauma, I know that my final form will only be a representation of the process it will take to get there.

It is easy to believe it is all worthless when you live with CPTSD and when your pottery pieces keep getting ruined. However, pottery has led me to find new communities of artists to share with. It is in these communities where I have learned to shift my focus from mourning broken or damaged pieces to celebrating what the creative process offers – the joy, the healing, and the anticipation.

Hazel Salazar-Davidson (she/her/ella) is a potter, mother, widow, partner, and pastor. She throws mud around in her art studio that she built into the third stall of her three-car garage during the pandemic. Hazel resides on the unceded Chumash lands of southern California with her family and two (sometimes too) attentive dogs.

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