A robust chalky green stains the entire inside of a metal kiln. Yet the ceramics coming from this kiln are anything but simply one color. Every pottery piece is covered in an array of metallic rainbows and a flame pattern that is unique to each.

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These distinct ceramic works can be found in the University of Tokyo, the White House, the Smithsonian institution, and in a quaint little exhibit right off of the Lake Superior shoreline. Risak Pottery is a family operated ceramics studio, owned by Ed and Julie Risak that has been in business for over 43 years, specializing in an ancient Japanese pottery technique known as Raku. Raku is the name of the Japanese family that originated the tea ceremony that this pottery is typically used in, said Ed.

A Raku family apprentice founded the quick fire and cooling technique in the 16th century that gives this pottery its pattern, said Ed.

“The family finds it kind of humorous that we call it a technique when it’s after the family name,” said Ed.

A clay piece is made and dried and then fired for a first time, known as a bisque firing. A metal glaze is then applied which gives the piece a light green color. It is then put into a fire kiln at 1,800 degrees for just 20 minutes. This causes the glaze to fuse to the piece and then it is put in a container filled with sawdust, said Ed. “

So the piece touches the sawdust and catches on fire and that’s when all the colors come out,” said Ed. The Raku technique makes for a unique color pattern on each ceramic, he said.

“Each piece is one of a kind, even if we don’t want it to be,” said Ed.

He learned and began practicing the technique through a class by Robert Piepenburg, who wrote a book on Raku. The differences in each piece are what interested Ed in Raku pottery, he said. Everyone in the Risak family has been a part of the family pottery business, said Julie.

“At various times they were all involved with it. Especially when they were younger, they would actually mix clay and do things to get paid for their allowance, and they traveled to do shows with us, so they got to see a lot of the country,” said Julie.

The Risak’s daughter Thea, graduated from NMU two years ago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics. Her works are also featured in the Risak studio.

“She makes all of our [ceramic] masks and anything that looks like fire,” said Julie. “She followed in the pottery footsteps and she has really gotten the technique down,” she added.

Ed and Julie Risak both also received degrees from Northern and have taught in the NMU art department.

Recently, the Risak studio suffered a fire in their kiln shed, causing a halt in the creation of any new pieces, said Ed.

“We’re still recuperating. We weren’t out of business, we just couldn’t make anything. The shop was looking pretty sparse,” said Ed. A GoFundMe page was setup to help the business recover from the losses they endured due to the fire.

“We did have a lot of artists in the area offer to let us fire in their kilns, a lot of really kind people,” said Julie. “We were really only out of business for about a month, then we got back on our feet with family and friends helping,” added Julie.

The studio also features other local artists and friends of the Risak’s work. Such as woodwork pieces from NMU graduate Steve Uren, glasswork by Mark Suddoth, and painting and prints by Robert Brudenbaugh, said Julie.

“The ceramics are all family and the other art is from friends,” said Julie.