Raku pottery is an ancient Japanese art form that requires a meticulous process. But the final step is pure chance, and for Steven Forbes-deSoule, that’s the joy. “It’s like being a kid at Christmas,” he says.
Pieces are rapidly heated in a small kiln to the optimal temperature of 1900-2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Then they’re removed and placed in a metal can with newspaper. “The paper catches fire immediately, and, after a few seconds, a lid is placed on the can extinguishing the flames and creating an oxygen-starved environment,” the potter explains. This method produces a variety of effects on the piece, and it’s never the same look twice.
Although there’s always an element of surprise, he says he can achieve a modicum of control by regulating the firing temperature, using different-sized cans, altering the amount of combustible material, and other measures.
Forbes-deSoule didn’t set out to be an artist. Far from it. Following graduation from Drake University and Officer Candidate School, he worked in the Pentagon for three years, ending up as the personal aide to the Navy’s Chief of Information.
Following his military service, he got a job with an advertising agency in Chicago but found the work boring, and so he quit after a year and moved to San Francisco. A job there with a restaurant chain was also short-lived when they made him move, contrary to his wishes, to Texas. And so it was off to Atlanta to visit a friend, and hopefully, he recalls, “to find what I wanted to do with my life.”
He enrolled in a post-graduate program at Georgia State University where his girlfriend, Lynn — they’ve now been married almost 42 years — suggested they take a ceramics class. “I’d never had an interest in art, but I really enjoyed working on the potter’s wheel. So I continued taking wheel classes for the next three years.” It was there he was introduced to the Raku process.
After graduating with a Masters of Visual Arts & Ceramics in 1980, he set up a studio in an Atlanta-area house he’d purchased with Lynn. “I wanted to see if I could make it as a potter,” says Forbes-deSoule. That was the start of a 38-year career as a clay artist that has earned him an international reputation.
In 1992, he and Lynn moved to Weaverville, where they built a home and studio on a four-acre site with inspiring mountain views, and where, about 20 years ago, he began developing his own glaze recipes. “It’s made all the difference in the world,” he says. “It’s made my work uniquely mine.”
Steven Forbes-deSoule, 143 David Biddle Trail in Weaverville (home studio open by appointment). Also: Ariel Gallery, 19 Biltmore Ave., Asheville. For more information, call 828-645-9065 or see stevenforbesdesoule.com.