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Southold pottery with Japanese flair

Joseph Mitrani, owner of Greenport Pottery, takes a

Joseph Mitrani, owner of Greenport Pottery, takes a piece of Raku pottery out of the kiln behind his shop. (March 15, 2011) Photo Credit: Erin Geismar

The front door to Greenport Pottery was locked on Tuesday morning and the wooded area around the shop was quiet.

But around back, owner Joseph Mitrani paced the well-trodden area surrounding his kiln.

He checked the pyrometer on the front of the kiln, waiting for it to reach 1,800 degrees, then peeked inside to check on two pyrometric cones, which would soften and bend when the kiln was hot enough to extract the clay pieces inside.

When working with Raku, a specialized method of pottery developed in Japan, timing is important.

"I guess that's the idea," Mitrani said, but there's no way to completely control the process. The beauty of Raku is its unpredictability.

There were six handmade, copper-glazed pieces of pottery of varying sizes in the kiln. The process, called oxidation reduction, involves burying the red hot pieces in pails of shredded paper, which catches fire, smoldering then reigniting the fire, and eventually, spraying the pail and its contents with water.

In the end, the "extreme treatments" of fire, smoke and water react with the copper glaze to create pottery that shows swirls of shimmering reds, blues, silver, gold, and of course, copper.

"It never ceases to amaze me," Mitrani said, as he admired what he described as a very good firing because each piece displayed a lot of "flashiness" and complexity. "How'd that happen? I've been doing this for 15, 16 years and it still amazes me. Why can't I do that every time?"

Mitrani, 54, started his Southold business in 1981 and sells mostly traditional, utilitarian stoneware, he said. But Raku is his pet project.

"Stoneware is predictable and routine," he said, "and that's good when you're doing it as your profession, you don't want too many surprises. But Raku is exciting."

Photo: Joseph Mitrani, owner of Greenport Pottery, takes a piece of Raku pottery out of the kiln behind his shop. (March 15, 2011)

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