Raku is an ancient Japanese firing-technique, which Terra Cotta pottery in Botswana has Africanised in style. The firing technique involves manual removal of the red-hot pottery from the kiln at specific temperatures and submerging it in different organic materials, like leafs, dung or sawdust.
This temperature shock produces fine cracks in the surface-glaze and the smouldering organic smoke penetrates deep into these cracks, producing most attractive, ancient looking irregular crackle effects. The shade of grey-black on the unglazed areas depends on the kind of material used, its temperature, colouring, moisture and the general weather when firing.
Raku is a risky and uncomfortable way of firing, with high breakages, unexpected outcomes and health-risks for the artists due to the acrid fumes.
The charm and fascination of this technique lies however in these surprise-effects, which gives the pottery its unique look. Our designs are mostly inspired by African life and nature with all its shapes and textures and are never exactly repeated twice. Firing large, narrow-necked, thin or flat pieces is very difficult due to the stress on the material during the severe temperature shock.
Cracks that have occasionally penetrated through the actual clay body can be fixed by the medieval practice of allowing milk to sour in it (repeatedly if necessary) and then cleaning it before usage. This closes pores and fine cracks rendering the vessel waterproof.
Terra Cotta pottery uses only lead free and food approved glazes (most are imported from Germany), and our pots can withstand domestic oven temperatures. Unglazed, smoked outer surfaces have been polished with clear wax. This can be repeated from time to time – if you wish- to keep up the smooth and lustrous appearance.
about the artist
ULRIKE VON SCHWERIN – FRANKEN
I am the child of an artistic mother and aristocratic father with a restless, innovative spirit, born in 1960 in Hamburg, Germany.
After high school my family moved to the beautiful Westerwald region of Germany, where I eventually obtained a degree as ceramic designer in the famous pottery town of Hoehr- Grenzhausen.
After working as fully-fledged ceramic designer for a year to save up for my dream to travel to Africa, I left in April 1982 for Botswana to stay with close relatives who were working for the German volunteer service.
I was immediately taken by life in Botswana, its unique Nature, rich culture and friendly warm people and dreamt of starting a village pottery here that would create local employment and at the same time preserve the so beautiful traditional pottery designs.
While working at a safari lodge to make ends meet, I had the opportunity to learn traditional Tswana Pottery from an 82 year old village pottery lady, who taught me all of her ancient pottery recipes (termite clay mixtures, Mica glimmer, river loam and sand with volcanic basalt content etc) and its rather difficult dung firing technique.
A stint at the National museum and Art Gallery in Gaborone followed, where I designed and built new showcases. For 2 years after that I taught Art and Ceramics at the Gaborone Polytechnic.
Eventually I got the chance to start a little pottery in Gabane village under the Pelegano village Industries trust. We were a small team of first 2 and eventually 6 ladies, locating and processing our own clay from the bush and producing artefacts with traditional flair from red clay. The UNDP then came on board to finance myself as UN volunteer and further training for the local ladies.
After successfully localising the project (it is still running today), I left with my husband to travel by motorbike and sidecar for 2 years through North and West Africa – which tremendously inspired my artistic mind!
On our return we started a family and acquired land outside the capital of Gaborone to build our artistic dream house.
Once our 3 boys were schooling, I started “Terra Cotta pottery” from home, this time specialising in Raku technique and creating pots that are practical yet also unique and artistic.
Botswana’s Nature and animals remain my inspiration, with objects like seeds, leather, cloth, buttons or glass incorporated into varied organic designs – sometimes with inscribed messages.
“Terra Cotta pottery” has exhibited at many venues over the past 30 years – including in the UK, Germany, Japan and the US, winning numerous National awards. The pottery is enjoyed by tourists and collectors from all over the world.