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Central Alberta teacher survives next round in CBC's Great Pottery Throwdown

Renu Mathew appearing on episode 6 of the The Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down on March 14

École Olds High School art and cosmetology teacher Renu Mathew had a blind and fiery experience during episode 5 of The Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down March 7.

But she survived, to go into episode 6 this Thursday night, March 14 on CBC.

The throw down challenge was to create pitchers while blindfolded.

Mathew ended up in fifth place among the six remaining potters.

Contestants’ pieces were judged on height, thickness and shape.

“These spouts and the sides look identical to me,” judge Natalie Waddell said.

“It is a nice consistent bell bottom, but I think there’s a lot of clay that’s hiding there that could have been brought up that to make those a lot taller,” said judge Brendan Tang.

Mathew noted they only had 20 minutes to create them.

“I know,” said Tang.

“Blindfolded too,” Mathew added with a laugh.

“Well done,” Tang said.

The other challenge was to create a tall, narrow-necked bottle or decanter and four cups that would then be subjected to the highly unpredictable raku style of firing.

In that process, decorated pieces are subjected to rapid final firing, then transferred while still glowing hot into combustible material encased in a can.

That enables the resulting flames and smoke to create carbon colouring and impact the glazes.

Then they’re dunked into cold water, the shock of which can cause tiny cracks in the finish that can enhance or destroy the pieces.

And in fact, one piece from one of the contestants broke during the process.

Mathew’s pieces commemorated the death of some of her much-loved family members.

“They sort of signify people in my family that I’ve lost: my mom and my dad, and then I had a sister that died of cancer when she was 15, and then I had two brothers that died when they were about two (years old),” she said.

“This is where my strength lies,” Mathew said as she worked on creating the pieces for the raku firing.

“All my seams really need to be together really well, because this is the weakest point in the raku firing so these are the parts that will blow out.”

When it came time to do the raku firing, Mathew said in the pail where the flaming hot pieces would go, she included a copy of a story her sister wrote during her battle with cancer and some pieces of her dad’s clothing.

Thankfully, when she dunked her pieces into the water to cool, they survived intact.

Then it was time to judge the finished products.

“It’s just beautiful,” Waddell said.” Everything survived, no seam splits.

“The forms tell me they’re all related. But this one has such a rich, dark tone to it.”

However, she added, “the colour palette of the cups versus the decanter just has a little bit of a disconnect for me.”

“I love the depth that’s happening in here, this beautiful web and smoke and that carbon. Overall it’s a nice set, for sure,” Tang said.

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