Wheel thrown domestic tableware in porcelain and stoneware clay renowned for its unique and specialized firing methods:
*Low temperature reduction Arabic luster
*High temperature (1280) reduction firing in a gas kiln
I teach pottery at The Tel Aviv Museum of Art; work and live in Tel Aviv, sharing a studio with Eti Goren.
From The Press
Title: A Local Potter:
“I swore to myself that my pot will not only be about technology: for me the creativity is more important”.
When looking at Raya Stern’s beautiful tableware and slender long-necked bottles, one admires her deep understanding of the technology of lusterware, the flowing application of it on her perfect elegantly thrown pots. Raya is today the foremost lustre potter in Israel. Knowing Raya, it is surprising that this Kibbutz-grown tomboy turned free-spirit bohemian, living in very sparse conditions, would turn to just such a refined aesthetic. Raya tells about her German American parents who brought her up, within their Kibbutz, with a Germanic education: with table manners, eating from the heirloom Rosenthal service, listening to classical music, like in a bubble within the surrounding rough and basic environment.
Raya hadn’t set out wanting to create this kind of work. When going to Australia to get her potter’s education at East Sydney Technical College from 1980 to 1982, she wanted to do wood fired country ceramics. But here was Graham Oldroyd, student of Allan Peascod, who exposed his students to lustres, a revelation to Raya; Oldroyd and Peascod had studied Arabic lustre with Professor Said El-Sadr, in his studio in Fostat, Cairo, and also with Allan Caiger-Smith, both came to Raya’s College: the three of them gave workshops at the college which influenced Raya deeply. When back in Israel, Raya realised that woodfiring would be anachronistic for her in this country ”where the Turks hadn’t left any wood after constructing the railway”, in a heavily deforested place. She also wanted to get away from the dark earthy brown pottery of the early years of the State. And she wanted to connect deeply to the Middle East by choosing an old tradition of this area of the world: Arabic lustre. This choice is also political for her: “We live here and have to be influenced by each other; we have to go with the environment we live in”. Raya built her Gas-kiln with her colleague Etti Goren in 1995 and has explored lustre firings since then.
But Raya has no pretensions beyond being a potter, wanting to create table ware that people will enjoy eating from. Marked by her socialist upbringing, Raya says she wants to bring lustre ware to the common people, take it out of the realm of the aristocracy, with which it was associated in the times when Muslim potters created them for the Arabian courts. Her prices are kept accordingly low.
Raya values her sense of integrity: she will rather impose restrictions on herself, stay within the limits she decided upon, than going somewhere which is not her; she works within a very confined range of shapes and sizes, be it bowls, teacups, plates, vases, but those are beautifully thrown to perfection of thinness and clarity of shape. The elevation of the piece will be in the surface finish, in the flowing brush decorations and in the myriad of lustre colours. The decorations are influenced by her love for the local flora and scenery she grew up with. The strong light of the Middle East and the flowers in her garden find their way as lustre decorations onto her pots.
Technically, Raya has developed her technique a bit differently than her famous teachers; she fires her glazes in low firing reduction to 1080 degrees Celsius in order to preserve the vibrancy of the colours in them. The glazes are rich in fluxes and salts, a precondition for the lustres to be able to happen and bond well. In her lustre decoration Raya uses a limited range of pigments, feeling that a big range is less important: she gets the richness from the base glaze reacting with the decoration pigment and from the impact of the fire and the placement of the vessels in the kiln. Raya stresses the importance of her intimate knowledge over the years of her gas kiln and the results she can get from controlling these different factors. The fire is Raya’s never-ending fascination of research of what it can allow her to do, how it can help her deepen and vary the effects dressing her pots.
Raya says that in her ceramics she really expresses her femininity and softness best, which otherwise is hidden under her tom boyishness and her hyperactive energy. Her work is her love in life, it fills her totally, it is her enjoyment: watching her apply those brushstrokes lovingly on the pieces feels like a caress to the body, a gentle dressing up in royal silks.
Raya has been sharing the studio successfully for 20 years with her potter friend Etti Goren: both teach there as well. This arrangement was very beneficial to them, in the sense of constant sharing between colleagues as well as being economically much easier on both. Remarkably each has maintained her distinctive style.
(Raya lives and works in South Tel-Aviv).