By Dariel Bendin
Charles Chrisco was born and raised in the Seagrove/ Jugtown area of North Carolina, a region known around the world for its rich pottery heritage. So it’s no surprise to learn that Chrisco is a potter.
The surprise is in the route he followed to get there … and the type of pottery he creates.
Unlike most of the Seagrove potters, who are known for their traditional utilitarian ware – whisky jugs, salt-glazed clocks, kitchen ware and serving pieces – Chrisco creates raku pottery. Strikingly gorgeous, sophisticated, blood red and black raku pottery with the distinctive raku “crackle.”
“I was a banker for a long time,” says Chrisco. “But, back in 1981, I get this phone call from my old high school art teacher, who wants me to ride with him to Troy, N.C. to take a class at Montgomery Tech.”
Despite the fact that he hasn’t kept in touch with the guy, Chrisco agrees to ride along, and it was a life-changing decision.
Chrisco began studying with the instructor, Mike Ferree, at Montgomery Technical Institute and later the Sawtooth Center for Visual Design in Winston-Salem, N.C. and he’s been making raku ever since.
“I used to work around the clock. I had my banking job. I was a V.P. in Greensboro, but then I started doing shows, too,” says Chrisco. “I’d try to do a show a month. I traveled all over the place … up to Chicago … down to Miami. I was always going.”
His work was well-received in those shows, earning him a Best In Show at numerous events, including Apollo Beach, Fla.; Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Hollywood, Fla; and the Mecca Fest at Carrolton, Ga.
The art of raku pottery originated in sixteenth century Japan by a Korean immigrant who settled in Kyoto and married a Japanese woman. The word raku translates to felicity or great happiness, a title that was bestowed upon the earliest raku wares by the reigning ruler of Japan.
Once the bisque-fired pots are decorated, they are hand-brushed and covered with a transparent crackle glaze and refired. The glazed pots are removed from the kiln while glowing hot, placed in a combustible material and allowed to smoke. As the smoke penetrates the cracks, it causes a gray network of lines to develop in the glaze. Once the pots have cooled, they are scrubbed clean and finished with a black stain.
Due to the spontaneous nature of raku firing, each piece becomes unique in its design and cannot be duplicated.
Raku by Charles Chrisco has become sought after by collectors all over the world for its clean lines and sophisticated design.
“I’ve cut way back from 15 or 20 shows a year to just a handful here in the Carolinas,” says Chrisco, who now resides in Little River, S.C. “I also have my work in several art galleries. But I have collectors all over the world. I’ve even shipped my pottery to the North Pole.”
It takes about two weeks from start to finish for one of these art pieces. Chrisco throws each piece on a wheel. Then once it is completely dry, in two or three day, he proceeds to a bisque firing.
At this point, the pots are layered in dust, so he washes them down and let them dry again. Then the extremely time-consuming design stage begins. Chrisco painstaking applies strips of automotive tape to create the geometric stripes on his pieces. He then applies the color glazes, two to three coats each.
The next step is the glaze firing at 1800° degrees F for about seven and a half hours. The pieces cool 14 or 15 hours before the kiln is even opened. Then he refires them at a lower temperature and covers them with the hot, glowing wood shavings. After more cooling, more washing, more drying and painting the exposed clay areas black, you have a piece of Charles Chrisco raku pottery.
You can find a substantial offering of his work locally at Sunset River Marketplace art gallery in Calabash, N.C. For information, call 910-575-5999.