DESIGN - Pottery That Plays With Fire - Artist Joan Rapoport says she delights in the \o7 raku\f7 technique because of the surprising textures and tones it creates in ceramics.

The artist in ceramics instructor Joan Rapoport will tell you she likes to make clay pots because it gives her a chance to ex press herself in three dimensions. "I like pottery because it's a puzzle," she said.

But there's a less intellectual side to the work. It lets her take part again in one of childhood's great endeavors: "making mud pies."

For Rapoport, a ceramic firing technique known as raku lends itself well to the joys of playing with puzzles and pies. She delights in the precarious nature of the process and its unpredictable results.

"Look at those colors," she said on a recent Friday, pointing to her raku pots and those of her firing partner, Dotty Patrick, which were cooling down at Everywoman's Village in Van Nuys. "The colors on the inside are always amazing. A lot more things happened in this pot than I envisioned--the color and the visual texture, the tones of copper."

Rapoport teaches pottery and raku firing at the Village, and Patrick started taking classes with her about two years ago. "There's something about raku that's magical," Patrick said. "You never know how it's going to turn out."

The raku technique originated in 16th-Century Japan to make tea bowls for Zen Buddhist tea ceremonies. The word raku means pleasure, enjoyment, ease and was the name given to the son of the potter who made the first raku tea bowl.

The process was revived and altered in the United States in the 1960s. Today in this country, it refers to the visual results of placing a glazed pot, molten after having been heated in a kiln to more than 1,700 degrees, in a garbage can full of various combustible materials.

"The pot is so hot, it sets the combustibles on fire instantly," Rapoport said. "We put the lid on the can and after the combustibles burn up, the process continues by feeding itself with available oxygen from the chemicals in the glazes."

Pots are left to "smoke" for about 20 minutes. "The smoke in combination with these chemicals produces the crackled and multicolored, metallic-looking glazed surfaces and smoked black unglazed surfaces we call raku, " Rapoport said. "The two chemical compounds that produce the most color are copper carbonate and cobalt carbonate." Copper red glazes, for instance, can produce a range of colors from red to blue, turquoise, purple, silver and pewter.

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