To begin with, our process stems from a lifelong love of the materials in their very basic form. When we were kids, we loved being outdoors, and we still do! Still embracing the Earth elements of clay, air, fire, and water we enjoy working with the most fundamental of materials to form art in our studio at our home in Burnsville, NC.
It all begins with the mixing room. In 1979, Michael began mixing clay in his studio in Columbia, SC. from scratch. Using many 50-100 lb bags of raw materials, we still use Michael’s custom formulated clay body recipe, and turn it around in the big Bluebird clay mixer. We usually make 3-5 x 250LB batches at a time. This way the clay can sit for a couple months and ‘age’ allowing for wonderful plasticity.
The 50 Gallon barrels of lumpy, mixed clay are covered and stored to gather around the pug mill, as if waiting their chance to be born. When we prepare for a day at the wheel or table, our trusty Bluebird pug mill processes the aged clay into bungs 4” in diameter perfectly de-aired, sturdy, and plastic!
Our turn-around for firing is 6-8 weeks, so we never use a drying box. However sometimes we set boards of wet ware in the sun to dry. It’s a good life.
Slip decoration is a very important element to the production of Rutkowsky Pottery! Like our clay body, each slip has been formulated and mixed from scratch in our mixing room. What a joy to apply smooth and creamy slips to wetware and have a sense the pottery is already decorated! Techniques we use to apply slips include combing, brushing, trailing, and carving. Please see videos of Michael in action with his slips. He is a master! But the decoration of Rutkowsky pottery does not stop here! The pots are fired to bisque temperature (1888F), cooled, and then prepped for glazing by applying Forbes wax resist.
Dipping in glaze is the next layer of decoration we apply to our pottery. We use iron-containing celadon glazes (we keep in 50 gallon barrels) that produce a highly shiny surface along with transparency and reactivity with the many mineral-rich slips we have applied underneath.
Glaze trailing is a signature element of Rutkowsky Pottery. This is where the men step away from the boys, so to speak! Indeed, an almost infinite number of glaze and slip combinations are possible, especially when glazes are applied with trailing bottles. (Remember, slips are also trailed onto the pots prior to bisque firing, so a single pot may have BOTH slip trailing AND glaze trialing). Michael has developed several unique and distinguishable trailing patterns he has utilized for many years, adding to the ‘collectability’ of Rutkowsky Pottery. Also, you never know what combination may appear next! The colors may surprise, and the craftsmanship is exquisite. As with our clay body, slips, and dipping glazes, all glazes we use for trailing are mixed from scratch. For application, we use Clairol hair coloring bottles for various reasons, and we hope we can continue to get them. They are soft and all the holes are the right sizes…. yup
Cone 10 reduction glaze firing is the final step in the production of our wares. In winter 2018, Michael completed a re-build on our propane-fueled sprung arch kiln (see photos). It’s smaller than our last kiln, so we hope to have a quicker turn-around on our cycles of production. It’s got four venturi burners instead of six, and the 1000 gallon propane tank is buried in the back yard. We usually light the kiln at 6AM and it takes a good 12 hours to produce the results we like to see. We are grateful we get to!