From 1966 until his retirement in 1993, Conrad Weiser served was Director of the Crafts Center at North Carolina State University where he curated, assembled and installed over 200 major exhibitions in the galleries of the Crafts Center and the University Student Center. Since his retirement, he has continued to teach Weekend Workshop Classes for the NCSU Craft Center and also teaches for the Duke University Craft Center.
Weiser team-taught ceramics courses with faculty members from the Technological Education Department, the Department of Philosophy and Religion, and the School of Design. Prior to his affiliation with NCSU, he was a ceramics instructor at the Instituto Allende (Incorporado con la Universidad de Guanajuato), San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico. In September, 1997, he worked with Jesus and Carmen Veloz in their studio in the high desert of Chihauhau, Mexico where he learned to make pots in the style of these internationally known artists. “I went with these artists into the nearby mountains to collect clays and colorants from their private mines.”
Weiser received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina with a major in studio art and a minor in art history. He previously attended San Antonio Jr. College in Texas and Catawba College in Salisbury, NC. He is widely traveled and has taken courses in weaving in London, crafts in Norway and was awarded an MFA from the Universidad de Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
He has served on the board of directors of Carolina Designer Craftsmen for six years, and has also served as the Recording Secretary and as President. He is also on the board of the Dino Read Foundation, a charter member of the Triangle Potters Guild and the Wake Weavers Guild. He contributes articles to Ceramics Monthly and wrote monthly articles about various pottery issues for the Raleigh News and Observer for four years.
He says, of his teaching experiences, “I feel that it is a serious responsibility to pass on skills and information to the new generations of craftsmen.”
The Raku Process
The Raku process began in Japan centuries ago when tea masters were looking for unique and special serving vessels to use with the tea ceremony honoring their special guests. Often the clay pieces were quickly fired on site, then cooled and used as part of the entertainment.
Raku continued to evolve as it moved to the United States about fifty years ago. A potter was demonstrating the process at a state fair, when a cup was accidentally dropped into dry leaves and grass. It was noticed that special color effects happened.
Curious and analytical minds pondered, experimented, and developed new glazes and different ways of making these pots. Today there are thousands of Raku clay artists, each with their own twists that take their Raku pots well beyond the original tea bowl.
My way of making Raku pots has evolved over the past forty years in an ever satisfying study of the clay bodies used, their particular needs of temperature, smoke and cooling.
I usually use a white clay body to give a reflectance to the glazes. A clear base glaze will most often result in a white crackly surface. Any part of the pot not glazed will become black from carbon deposits while in the reduction (smoking) chamber.
Metallic oxides and ceramic stains mixed into this base glaze will develop colors in the finished ware. My favorite colorant is copper. Depending on the chemistry of the glazes applied and the control of the reducing chamber, the colors can range from green, to purple, orange, red, tan, blue, metallic copper or black.
After finishing the raw clay pieces, I biscuit fire it in an electric kiln to about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. After the pots are cooled, I rinse them to remove any dust from the surfaces.When they are dry I begin to decorate-one pot at a time. Some pots take half a day (or more) to apply glazes. I usually fire one pot at a time to 1,860-1,885 degrees F. and then take the pot from the fire with gloves and tongs. It is carefully placed in the airtight reduction chamber lined with newspaper. As the paper bums, the glaze is robbed of oxygen molecules giving many color variations depending on the copper oxides produced.
The piece is then left to cool in the sealed reduction chamber until it is completely cool for the colors to develop. Slightly different results may be obtained if the piece is removed after 10 minutes or so and quenched with water. If allowed to slowly cool in the open air, the colors will slowly reoxidize and fade resulting in a fairly uniform uninteresting brown color.
Recently I have devoted most of my creative energy to what should be called "Western or American Raku." The results are somewhat predictable, but there is no guarantee for any particular result. I am always surprised with each new pot that emerges. Cleaning, waxing and otherwise embellishing each pot to the "finished" state gives me the opportunity to know and understand each piece. Even photographing the finished pot becomes the final step in the creative process.
Conrad W. Weiser