Watching Wayne and Sylvia Rose work is an unforgettable experience.
They stand outside their home and studio in the clearing of a peaceful wooded area covering their skin with long-sleeved shirts before opening a kiln that is burning at about 1800 degrees Farenheit.
Wayne uses long-handled tongs to pull a piece of clay already bisque-fired and glazed from the red hot kiln quickly moving it to a pit where Sylvia stands ready for the next step of the centuries-old Raku process they have made their specialty.
As the piece is lowered into a hole in the pit that’s filled with pine needles cherry wood shavings and newspapers flames reach into the sky surrounding Sylvia and she covers the piece with the materials before placing a lid over the flames containing it all within.
“Grade 9 science you put a bell jar on an open flame and it goes out” said Wayne. “Well that’s what technically is supposed to happen but the pots are so hot they want to keep burning. So because they want to keep burning they’re stealing oxygen molecules from the clay and the glaze and the white clay turns black – it carbonizes – and the metals in our glaze – there’s only three or four simple glazes and they’re all metal compound – they come to the surface and refract light differently. So you’re going to see some gorgeous colours.”
The process is centuries-old originating in Japan when a potter Tanaka Chojiro opened a kiln early in the firing process and set the work inside on the ground or on a piece of broken clay to let it cool.
“When it was cool enough to handle he looked at it and said ‘wow’ because it was different than anything that happens inside the kiln” said Wayne. “The atmosphere the dampness the coolness the humidity temperatures everything all affect what was happening in this pot so the colours were a little different and the surface of the glaze was cracked.”
Chojiro was posthumously appointed Raku master by the emperor at the time with Raku ware being created in that family for 15 generations.
Sylvia and Wayne Rose demonstrate a centuries old Japanese Raku technique at Studio Rose their Duck Lake Road studio removing pieces from an outdoor kiln and carefully placing them in a pit filled with pine needles and cherry wood shavings “where the chemical and physical properties of the clay and glaze change” according to Wayne. /SUE TIFFIN Staff
Putting the pottery into the ground came to be by accident as well when in the 1940s students in California putting the pottery on the ground dropped a piece that rolled into leaves and caught fire.
“Somebody went over and picked up the pot when it was cool enough and brushed off the burnt leaves and stuff off and that’s when they saw some colour” said Wayne. “Some gorgeous lustrous colour that nobody in the world had ever seen before I don’t think … The metals came to the surface and the light refracted through it and showed lustre … The pots are so hot they want to keep burning so they’re stealing oxygen molecules from the clay and the glaze. That’s where the chemical and physical properties of the clay and glaze change.”
Wayne then takes another piece from the kiln glazed on the interior and left raw on the outside. Using strands of horse hair from the tail of one of Casey Cox’s horses he places the hair across the still hot pottery burning it into calligraphic lines of design. The horse hair burns and melts and carbonizes on the surface of the pot until the piece cools.
“Once nothing happens anymore it’s over” said Sylvia. It’s a technique that also came to be by accident when according to folklore Indigenous people in New Mexico found that protein from hair found in dried dung they used to fire their kiln in the absence of many trees to use as firewood was leaving designs on their pots.
“So they said OK we’re going to make lemonade out of lemons … or horse hair pots out of horse hair” said Wayne.
These pieces can be used purely for decorative reasons or as urns using hair from loved ones: humans cats dogs horses to make a personal final resting place.
Wayne has been a practising artist for six decades studying drawing painting jewelry engraving lithography stone carving metal sculpture and pottery specializing in Raku since 1972 after working as an assistant at the University of Toronto for a Raku artist.
“I’ve been doing it since then” he said. “And I’ve taught it to thousands of teachers and thousands of students. And I’ve learned from hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. Because we make mistakes and they make mistakes and we learn from them. So we’ve built on the thousands of firings.”
Horse hair raku on display at Studio Rose. After firing horse hair is applied and fused into the clay.
Sylvia who has worked with fabric wool jewelry making painting weaving and printmaking said she’s learned everything about pottery from Wayne though the two in their almost 30 years together have taken multiple classes whenever they can.
“We look for classes” she said. “Often in Florida we’ll find someone teaching something. And it’s fun to go.”
Both are former educators making demonstrations at their studio an engaging time filled with stories and bits of knowledge adding even more depth to their work.
Studio Rose includes a wall displaying pottery created within the Raku genre which is decorative as well as functional stoneware pieces often thrown by Wayne or handbuilt by Sylvia some of it projects they’ve worked on together.
“We always have something new” said Sylvia as she walks around the studio occasionally moving pieces to be best displayed.
“This glaze [here] is our newest glaze as soon as it goes on the shelf it seems to disappear so I’m trying really hard to keep up with it.”
Wayne and Sylvia do about seven or eight firings a day during Studio Tour with anywhere from 10 to 70 people watching occasionally participating always becoming fascinated before taking a peek inside the studio itself.
“There is quite a lot to see” said Sylvia.
Visit Studio Rose Site M at 2254 Duck Lake Road off of Blairhampton Road in Minden. For more information call 705-286-3383 or visit studiorosepottery.com.