Raku pottery ceramics David Roon Kohaku River
Arctic Grayling.
Thymallus arcticus.

So- what is it about these humble salmonids that makes me put them in my designs over and over again?

First- there are some words that are inherently musical- but moreover, strike a highly personal but nebulous connection with individuals.

For example- J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote (in a linguistic essay) that the word combination ‘cellar door’ had a particularly lyrical musicality. , Annie Dillard (writer of ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’) cited a poet friend (Rosanne Coggeshall) as giving the laurels to ‘sycamore’. I’m not sure I see eye to eye with Tolkien or Coggeshall on this- for me, ‘grayling’ is THE word of surpassing loveliness.  I think I first encountered the word in a Scottish children’s book, and I still recall the shivers that caressed my spine upon reading it.

Raku pottery ceramics David Roon Kohaku River
Raku pottery ceramics David Roon Kohaku River
_ This was long before I’d learned about the ‘Northernness’ of these fish- haunting cold, swift, clean Arctic waters (and one watershed in Montana, where they’re threatened with extirpation). Hunted by harbor seals and Arctic foxes, migrating anadromously to the dark slate waters of Hudson Bay.

Raku pottery ceramics David Roon Kohaku River
_ By the time I planned my first long Canadian river trip (the Seal River, 1994) these small fish, relatives of the whiting and dolly varden, had become a personal holy Grail.  (Insert clumsy ‘grailing’ pun at your discretion here).

I finally hooked into one 17 days into our trip. Grayling aren’t the fiercest fighters in the finned ranks, but when that fish's flaring dorsal fin cut the water, the falling sun shone through it, igniting flashes of turquoise, malachite and rose in the delicate tissue.

Raku pottery ceramics David Roon Kohaku River
_ I hated to kill it. I’ll never kill one again.

Grayling have since endured as one of my archetypal symbols of wildness.

 Some Japanese master potters would develop a personal, simplified design and paint it in glaze on vessel after vessel, finding beauty in slight variation, in the ‘Wabi-sabi’  that is only achievable through effortless grace. Soji Hamada- the great contemporary of Bernard Leach- was famous for this.

Raku pottery ceramics David Roon Kohaku River
_ I’ve taken to carving a simplified graying motif on many of my vessels. Note the paired images on the foot and hood of this lantern. Simple variations around the eyes, the structure of the fins, the tension in the lines of the tail... all of these things impact the 'feel' of each carving, while hewing to a uniform theme.

The textures and colors of Raku also evoke the stippling and transitory, shifting hues of a graylings flank... as does the very unpredictability of the Raku process.

Mind- I’d have to live a few lifetimes to walk in the footsteps of Soji Hamada, but between him and my beloved Thymallus arcticus, I feel like I’m covered on the inspiration end of things.


 


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