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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

The Beauty and Function of Richard Rosas’ Pottery

Sep 25, 2017 11:00AM ● By Kimberly Horg

All Fired Up

October 2017
Story by Kimberly Horg
Photos courtesy of Richard Rosas

Whether it is functional or nonfunctional, stoneware or porcelain, the clays Richard Rosas fires are one-of-a-kind creations that become keepsakes nonetheless. He makes everything from coffee mugs and bottles to three-foot-tall ceramic bases, all from a pottery wheel in his garage.

Born and raised in San Jose, Rosas moved to Fresno in the early1980s while attending Fresno State University. After taking a couple art classes to meet his general elective requirement, the business major was hooked instantly on ceramics.

“I wanted to be in the studio 24/7, and 35 years later, here I am,” he says. “It came naturally to me I think because I loved it so much. I would sit at the wheel for hours on end developing my skills.”

Although he learned mostly on his own, he did take a couple follow-up classes mainly so he could use the studio space.

Making pottery is a hobby, whereas his day job is working as a special education instructional assistant.

He goes on the wheel when he feels the inspiration. Most of his designs are decorative pieces. He likes to do a combination of both functional and nonfunctional.

“I prefer making nonfunctional pieces and creating something that make other people say ‘Wow,’” he says. “The timeless beauty of a piece in a nonfunctional form is my favorite.”

He starts off by throwing a cylinder on the wheel and shaping it. According to him, shapes are more important than anything else. He uses simple forms and classic shapes for vases. He first centers a lump of clay. The piece of clay has to be centered properly, so he spends a lot of time on shapes.

Clays are divided into three categories; earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. Rosas works with both stoneware and porcelain.

“When clays are fired to their respective peak temperature, they become vitreous,” Rosas says.

He uses a variety of colors and firing types, including High Fire (fired at 2,380 degree temperatures) in a gas-fired kiln. A lot of pieces have a beautiful metallic tone with varied colors on one single piece.

Rosas says the majority of the work is firing. He also does Barrel Firing, a special effect usually done with porcelain. The piece will not have a glaze on it at all with this method. Six to nine pieces are surrounded with pieces of wood, sawdust, cooper chemical, salt crystal and a variety of other materials, then sealed in a metal barrel and lit on fire. He controls the amount of oxygen that goes in the barrel and it is fired overnight. The pieces of wood, sawdust and other materials burning alongside the pieces create special effects on the porcelain. 

Then in the morning, he scrubs each piece with water, brushes them and lets them dry. Later, he either sprays them with a clear varnish or puts a coating of wax to bring out special effects.

Raku, a firing process, is another method he uses. This methodology involves different glazes, and Rosas draws a lot from Chinese pottery and a little bit of Japanese style as far as glazes go.

Some artists buy commercially prepared glazes which come pre-mixed or require adding only water, but he makes his own glazes using raw materials. Because he formulates his own material, he can make adjustments and can correct defects. Rosas also has control over colors by using his own glazes. The cost are lower to make it yourself, as well.

“The endless possibilities drew me in. A person can live three lifetimes and never explore all the different possibilities,” he says, adding that there are thousands and thousands of clay bodies and millions of glaze opportunities. 

Rosas also embellishes his pottery with manzanita wood. The small touches which include the wood handle of a lid are adorned with rich varnish reds, stained to bring out the wood quality.

“I like when the lines of a piece and the glaze hit just perfect and it all comes together just right,” Rosas says. “I like the technical feeling I get on a wheel and the right stiffness of the clay; that is when it’s all good.”

Rosas has pieces around the world, including in Japan and England and New Zealand. He shows his work primarily at juried art shows in the Bay Area, where international customers admire his work. A few of his pieces can be found in Visalia at Enjoy the Store.

The artistic talent runs in the family – his sister, Martha Gaines, makes leather bracelets and the two are participating in a craft show together in downtown Visalia in October.

Richard Rosas Pottery Artist  •

(559) 776-2686