Artist enjoys 'predictable chaos' of raku pottery

With every new work of art, Mike Van Houten gets a taste of Christmas morning.

It's the anticipation of the unexpected that the Columbia potter experiences each time he sets out to shape an unformed piece of clay.

"I call it predictable chaos," Van Houten said of his raku pottery creations. "I'm never really sure how it's going to turn out. It's that Christmas-like feeling when you're not sure what you're going to get."

Van Houten is among 30 regional artists featured in Unearth, which concludes today at Saluda Shoals Park. The arts celebration highlights various mediums, including, dance, drama, vocal music, pottery, painting and glasswork.

Artists will be positioned throughout the park to demonstrate their crafts while describing how each art form is inspired by nature.

"I really just enjoy the freedom of it," Van Houten said of his raku pottery, which is created with a specific ceramic firing process that uses fire and smoke to create patterns and designs.

This is Van Houten's second appearance at Unearth. The software consultant operates Palmetto Pottery part-time from his home and was introduced to the art form nearly 20 years ago while taking ceramic classes in college.

"It was really for fun to see if I liked it," he said.

"I consider it a strong hobby," he said.

Van Houten said raku is more decorative than traditional pottery, which often results in more functional items such as dishes, mugs and flower vases. He said he's drawn to the free-flowing style of raku.

"It's amazing to take this lump of clay and develop something beautiful from it," he said. "You never know what you are going to get until you open up the chamber and see what results. It's pretty therapeutic."

Van Houten said each work takes about four days to complete. That includes the creation (or molding) of the clay, air-drying the shell, an initial bisque firing, an application of a glaze and a final firing.

"I really just enjoy the freedom of it," he said.

At some points in the firing process, the temperature can approach 2,000 degrees, requiring him to use special protective gloves and exercise extreme caution.

Van Houten will give demonstrations of his work between 1 and 5 p.m. today at Saluda Shoals.

"It's a big thrill to be able to present this to people," he said.


WHERE: Saluda Shoals Park, 5605 Bush River Road

WHEN: 1 to 6 p.m. today

FEATURING: The works of 30 regional artists who will offer live demonstrations. There also will be musical, dance and improvisational performances and poetry readings.

ADMISSION: $5 parking fee; concessions will be sold.