HENNIKER — Things got heated in the rear of the Community School last week when artist-in-residence Shana Brautigam fired up her kiln and helped students transform their clay creations into works of art.
Brautigam, 30, has been making pottery since she was a child and has a studio in Rindge called Rooted in Clay. Most of the year, she creates and sells pottery at her studio, but in the winter when things are quiet Brautigam visits several schools and serves as their artist-in-residence.
Brautigam spent the last week teaching sixth graders at Henniker Community School the art of Japanese raku pottery.The 50 students who participated in the class were broken into teams of four or five and created vases using long ropes of clay that were coiled and pinched into shape. The students then painted their pots with special glazes. On Thursday, Brautigam created an outdoor workspace to fire the pots.
Using the raku process, the students, wearing thick gloves, placed the pots in a kiln to be baked to 1800 degrees. Once the pots in the kiln were glowing red and the glazes were melted, the pottery underwent the process that sets raku apart from other pottery-making methods. The pots were placed in two metal trash cans and because of their heat, the pots set fire to the hay and sawdust inside. Once the fire was burning, the lids were placed on the cans, and the fire was slowly suffocated. But in its quest to stay alive, the fire “pulls all of the oxygen out of the glaze,” said Brautigam.
As a result, the pots come out with a metallic bronze sheen that makes the colors on the vases change in response to the light.
“You have to do the whole process very quickly to get the right effect,” said Brautigam, who began learning about pottery in fifth grade — and pottery has become her passion and her livelihood.
“I tried college for a year, but I realized this was what I wanted to do,” she said. “My parents weren’t happy about it at first, but they have been incredibly supportive.”
The raku pottery project is part of the school’s annual artist-in-residency program. Each year for the last 14 years, the sixth grade class focuses on a different country so that students can learn firsthand about other cultures. Last year, the program involved visitors from China; this year the focus is on Japan, according to Community Outreach Coordinator Patti Osgood.
From March 17 through March 20, the students will work closely with Stuart Paton, a drummer who specializes in the art of Taiko. They will also share their time with Motoko, a Japanese storyteller, and will learn about Kamishibai (Japanese storytelling), calligraphy, origami and haiku poetry.
Other students will attend a performance by their peers, and there will also be a public performance and art exhibit at the school on March 20 at 7 p.m.