The Firing of the Kiln: Teravana Artist Residency Program 

July 1, 2023

By Michael Collins, Teravana 

An exciting addition to the art studio at Teravana is the raku kiln. On July 2nd, at an open house barbecue, the new kiln was fired for the first time and participants painted clay dishes, which then went through the firing process. It was a warm Sonoma day, and everyone gathered had fun, and learned about ceramics.

Creative Director of the program, Jennifer Norback, has done a lot in a short amount of time to take advantage of the rolling hills and forests of Teravana and to bring people together. The gathering showcased the works of Barry Ebner, a Berkeley resident known for techniques of intaglio and monotype printmaking. Besides pursuing his own studio work, Barry also spends some of his time as an instructor. Teravana is opening its doors and creating opportunities for more artists to benefit from the program.    

John Toki, a Bay Area artist, educator, author, and award-winning leader in the world of ceramic arts led much of the day’s activity around the kiln. John has sculpted monumental earthscapes, abstract structures from clay much bigger than the 6-inch clay dishes we were working with. He spoke to us about the firing process and the surprise factor as each glazed-painted dish changes inside the kiln. The process helped set up the day: After all the dishes were painted and in the kiln, we had some beer and local fare on the barbecue for an hour-and-a-half, while the dishes transformed under thousands of degrees of heat. 

John could not have pulled this off on his own. As seen in the photos, Esther Rojas Soto, Doris Saberi, and Tara Fathinajab also looked after the firing and moved about 30 clay dishes (one for each of us) from the extreme heat of the kiln into the accompanying garbage cans. This final step is the ancient Japanese raku technique, the finishing touch where the ceramics and the colors are further fused. The paper inside the closed cans catches on fire, and there is a loss of control over each dish’s final fate. 

Even standing in the crowd, I could feel the inferno coming off the kiln as they pulled each piece. In the end, the painted glaze became smoothed over and glossy, and the initial design changed to an abstract but recognizable creation.  

It is hard not to wonder what other projects will benefit from the kiln. It has a good home at Teravana and will continue to be a useful tool for artists. 

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