Fermented `Baltic Raku`
FERMENTED ‘BALTIC RAKU’ CERAMIC
Fermented ceramic is a 4-6 c. old ceramics technology where the glass-like glaze enriched with metal oxides is replaced by rye-flour yeast. This peculiar, half-forgotten pottery tradition is not the cultural heritage of just a narrow Latgale region, but it is common to the three Baltic countries, Belarus, and Russia, the territory that is united by a tradition of rye cultivation and black bread. Every region has its own name used to designate this type of ceramics: 'rūdītā keramika' (hardened ceramics) or 'melnie podi' (black pots) in Latvian, 'raugo keramika' (sourdough pottery) in Lithuanian, 'обварная керамика' (in Russian scalded ceramics) 'poripott' in Estonian. The English version of the technique is 'hardened ceramic' or 'fermented ceramic'. It is a unique local tradition that is practically unknown outside the indicated region. Nevertheless, at the same time it possesses some similarity with the world-famous Japanese and American raku techniques, whose essence, from the American point of view, is manipulations with just fired and still glowing pottery after it has been taken out of a kiln.
Similarities and differences in techniques of Japanese, American 'raku' and Baltic fermented or quenched ceramics:
- Japanese raku was created for the 16th century tea ceremonies taking roots in Zen Buddhism and being some kind of philosophy and meditation. The hot Japanese pottery just removed from a kiln is dipped into strong brew of green tea or simply left for the influence of cold air where, due to the harsh temperature drop, the surface of the glaze cracks, and during the pottery use when the cracks get impregnated with the tea brew the ware surface gets covered in brownish reticulate pattern. The Japanese raku tea ware has become a world-famous and legend-wrapped brand;
- American raku has grown out of the Japanese raku. It appeared due to some quirk of fate taking place, when in 1960 the American professor Paul Soldner was demonstrating the Japanese raku process and one of the ceramic items taken by him out of a kiln and brought to the cooling vessel, fell by accident into dry leaves and set them on fire, thus creating the extraordinary reduction effect. For the American raku, the ware is not cooled but placed in a metal container filled with some combustible material. Under the influence of smoke the clay becomes greyish or black, but the green copper glaze obtains red or golden tint and antique patina. In virtue of the unpredictable, but always interesting result, vast publications, marketing activities, the newly discovered post-firing technology is now practised worldwide, and it is possible to say that it has become more popular than its Japanese source;
- In the fermented ceramics technique, practised in Baltic and being some four or even six centuries old, the hot ware is being immersed in fermented rye-flour liquid that is frequently improved with different ingredients held in secret by masters, where it becomes waterproof and obtains unique spotty surface in colour variations of natural ochre, brown or black. According to old beliefs, the eye-like circles that are sometimes formed on the pottery surface protect the food from an envier's eyes; the food prepared in such pottery better keeps the valuable properties, and is tastier. Yet, at the turn of the 19th – 20th century, when the welfare of inhabitants grew, when it was possible to afford also the more expensive glazed vessels, this technique seizes to exist.
The Latgalian pottery as outstanding cultural heritage is included in the Canon of Latvian culture. Though, in order a tradition could be preserved, it has to develop, every now and then it has to offer something new or the well-forgotten old. Today the hardened ceramic has again become topical due to its being ecological, the visual attractiveness of the making process, the technological peculiarities that allow performing the firing and hardening also in portable raku kilns outside ceramic workrooms in almost any environment: at plain-airs, children's campus, during City festivals and corporate events. It possesses a legend and smell of rye bread.
Already since 2007, Daugavpils ceramists and the society “Baltic raku” have undertaken the work of studying, revival and development of the hardened ceramics tradition in its historical territory. Work is being done in order to make the brand 'Baltic raku' a recognizable regional brand. There are plenty of reasons to make efforts for the revival of the tradition and there are plenty of anticipated benefits: preserved cultural heritage, wider ceramics offer, activated existing public interest, attracted new circle of interested people, a new product is created that can rouse interest of eco, creative, and culture tourists. The movement has also its added value: promotion of integration processes among neighbour countries and their inhabitants, artists; new possibilities for the development of cross-border cooperation projects, attraction of the EU funds. There are all the possibilities for the tradition of the hardened 'Baltic raku' ceramic to eventually take an appropriate place on the world map next to the Japanese and American raku. We can do this by joining our forces.
Project leader Ilona Šauša