Rakuware, pulled from the kiln and ready to seal in the reduction chambers.

Rakuware, pulled from the kiln and ready to seal in the reduction chambers.

Elisabeth Carnell

I'd previously been a sculptor—bronze and steel—before a detour in the academy that included an academic track change to a double-major/double-minor B.A. and a M.A. in Medieval Studies. When the demands of raising a child with disabilities necessitated a decision to forgo the planned Ph.D., I returned to my roots.

I've been working in clay ever since.

My style is organic, form- and function-focused—my goal is to complement the medium, not hide it. My work encompasses stoneware and porcelain, wheel-thrown and hand-built, standard high-fire and atmospheric firing methods.


I am serious. I am whimsical. I like to play in the mud. 


Hot Joint, Nice Atmosphere

Whether you’re talking diners or ceramics, atmosphere is everything. In this case, it refers to the qualities of the air within the kiln (or, in the case of raku, the post-firing chamber)—fire, chemicals and particulate matter inherent in the firing type meet the qualities of the clay and glaze. 

First documented in 14th century Germany, salt glazing is a method of atmospheric firing. It’s characterized by a glossy, orange-peel-like texture on unglazed surfaces formed by throwing salt into the kiln during the firing process. 

Wood-fired pieces are characterized in appearance by the complex dance of flame, ash, and clay. The atmosphere varies based on location within the kiln, from the amount of ash deposit, oxidation v. reduction, and the path of the flame itself. (In my case, the type of kiln used is anagama, a style of wood-fired kiln originating in 5th century Japan.) 

Raku also has its beginnings in Japan. Developed in the late 16th century, it's characterized by low firing temperatures and the removal of pieces from the kiln while still glowing hot. In the traditional Japanese firing process, the pot is removed from the hot kiln and put directly into water or allowed to cool in the open air, however Western raku differs in this aspect by utilizing a reduction chamber to compensate for the difference in atmosphere between traditional wood-fired raku kilns and gas-fired kilns. Pieces removed from the hot kiln are placed in masses of combustible material to provide a reduction atmosphere for the glaze and to stain the exposed body surface with carbon.

Another technique for staining the exposed body with carbon involves creating a smooth, burnished, surface using terra sigillata and applying horsehair (and other carbonaceous materials) to the ware immediately after removing it from the kiln. Combining the burnished surface with an atmospheric firing, the use of a saggar (in which salts, metal oxides and other noxious materials are placed with the ware) allows the saggar contents to fume the ware, creating a localized atmosphere.

In many ways akin to unique, organic post-kiln treatments like horsehair raku, the Obvara technique is believed to have originated in Eastern Europe around the 12th Century. It involves heating a bisqued pot to approximately 1650°F before removing it and dipping into a yeast mixture to seal the porous surface by scalding the finish on the pottery. It is then immediately dunked in water to cool the piece and stop the reaction.