An Introduction by Richard Godfrey


Roland Summer lives on the south facing slopes of the Alps in Austria, not far from the Italian border. His beautiful modern studio is cut deep into the steep slope of the garden, and is roofed with soil and turf, providing insulation and warmth in the winter and maintaining a cool working environment in the summer. Outside the big glass windows is a terrace providing an ideal area for the raku firing which is such an important aspect of Summer’s work. Beyond the house and garden lie the mountains and lakes that are so much a part of his life.

  For many years Roland Summer  has been developing his own style of raku and refining the techniques needed to develop such subtle and delicate surfaces.  Raku of course is not new and its origins are believed to lie somewhere in the 16th century. The surfaces created by such a rapid firing technique, coupled with the crazing produced by fast cooling produces ware that was much prized by the Tea Masters. 

  Many eminent potters, including Leach and Hamada, have played with the idea of raku but it was in the 60’s on the west coast of the U.S.A. that raku was reborn. A group of radical potters including Paul Soldner started playing with the idea of post-firing reduction to produce lustre effects and carbon staining of the crazed glaze.The immediacy of this process has great attraction allowing ceramic artists to “paint with fire “ giving huge scope for creative thinking and fresh ideas. For many years Roland Summer has been investigating and refining a surface treatment known as Terra Sigillata and then firing his pieces using a raku technique that he calls ‘Lost Glaze’. 

  Terra Sigillata, as the name suggests, was developed by the Greeks and used to decorate their famous red and black Attic wares. In simple terms it is a thin slip made up of very fine flat clay particles, painstakingly collected over several weeks from a watery suspension of clay. The heavier elements settle out, leaving only the finest, flattest particles floating in the water. Once collected and made into a milky slip this Terra Sigillata can be applied to the leather- hard or dry pieces by spraying, dipping or brushing. The resultant coating is then gently polished with sheepskin, polythene or similar to create the most magical and sensuous satin-gloss surface. The pieces are then bisque-fired to await the ‘Lost Glaze’ raku.

  Roland Summer’s technique is both complex and risky, leading to many failures, which he acknowledges as being part of the journey. In essence the process involves coating the bisque-fired pot with raw slip, which is then in turn coated with a thin layer of glaze. The piece is then fired again in a raku kiln to a point where the glaze has melted enough to form a brittle skin.  It is then removed from the kiln and placed in a post-firing reduction chamber along with combustibles like sawdust to create dense carbon smoke.  Finally the brittle skin is peeled away to reveal beautifully delicate markings and smoky blushes. He has many ways to encourage the ingress of carbon and it is the subtlety of the markings that gives his work its distinctive magic.

  All  forms are coil built and he usually has several under construction at the same time. This gives him the opportunity to consider and develop the form as it grows. Summer often works with a series of similar forms, which are then exhibited as a group. It is at this stage that the pieces display such a remarkable presence. The pieces, although vessel based, combine classical elements of proportion and architectural refinement of form with the slight and deliberate irregularities created by the coiling process, this creates a tension that implies an inner pressure. The carbon markings seem to float within the depths of the polished translucent surface creating more tension between architectural coolness and the inherent warmth of the Raku process. They have a monumental quality, which gives them the power to dominate a space, but they also exude a subtle sensuality, their beautifully curved, mottled and spotted surfaces exerting a primitive power that invites touch.

  Why are we fascinated and attracted by such surfaces? It is very much like walking across a beach full of sea-worn stones; only a handful will cause us to pick them up. How does an artist like Roland Summer distil this special quality and incorporate it in his work? The process must involve complete understanding of the finished form and surface, so that he can create a piece with the knowledge of how it will look, at the same time guiding and manipulating those elements of chance so that the finished piece is a powerful combination of idea and discovery.


Richard Godrey  lives and pots in South Devon