Monday, October 21, 2013

Toshiko Takaezu

An Interview with Toshiko Takaezu from D.B.Long on Vimeo.

Toshiko Takaezu (June 17, 1922 – March 9, 2011) was an influential American potter, an artist, and a teacher. Born in Hawaii to Japanese parents, she studied traditional ceramics in Japan, which continued to inform her work throughout her career.

Learn more about Toshiko at


Check out the amazing recreation of a Muromachi period pottery studio in the classic Japanese film Ugetsu. I highly recommend watching the entire film (it's available on DVD from Netflix).

Shiho Kanzaki

Unlike many of Japan’s famous ceramic artists, Shiho Kanzaki was not born into a family of potters. Nor did he enter the field at an early age. He initially went to school to become a lawyer, and was actually disowned by his father for choosing a different path. After a stint selling washing machines, Shiho established himself as a studio potter.

“The truth is,” he said in an interview with American potter Dick Lehman, “that because of those encounters I am what I am now. The tree that overcomes severe weather reveals its true beauty. It is the same for people.”

Check out

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tatsuzo Shimaoka

Tatsuzo Shimaoka (1919-2007) was a great ceramic artist who's work was at the same time innovative and grounded in tradition. His most noticeable technique is the combined use of rope impressions (similar to Jomon period pottery) with slip inlaid into the recessed surface (similar to mishima or zogan, the Korean technique) to decorate his wares. Shimaoka was inspired to use the rope because his father had been a silk cord artisan. His work was certainly not limited to one style, however.

Shimaoka apprenticed under Shoji Hamada from 1946 to 1949, and he was designated a Japanese living national treasure in 1996.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Takashi Nakasato

Takashi Nakasato is a contemporary Japanese potter, the 13th generation to carry on his family tradition. A native of Karatsu, a region famous for its distinct style of pottery known as Karatsu Ware.

In the video above, Takashi makes use of the gyubera, the "cow's tongue" rib.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tomimoto Kenkichi

Tomimoto Kenkichi (1886-1963) is celebrated as the greatest Japanese ceramic artist of the 20th century. In contrast to the popular Japanese "folk style" pottery, which is defined by it's sturdy appearance and simple decoration, Tomimoto's pottery appears delicate with ornate designs. He preferred porcelain and made use of overglaze enamels, as well as gold and silver lustre.

Tomimoto's philosophy was, "Produce large quantities of inexpensive vessels that have been designed by a true artist and manufactured in a coordinated, well-organized pottery, in order that every kind of person, in every kind of house can use it; inexpensive pottery that anybody can buy and that nobody can afford to be without." This philosophy is carried on by the great American potter, Warren MacKenzie.

Tomimoto founded the ceramics department at the Kyoto Municipal College of Fine Arts, and his legacy continues in the work of the countless potters who studied under him.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Keshiki - The Landscape of a Pot

In order to talk about pottery, the Japanese found it useful to go so far as to create names for various attributes of a pot. According to, the vocabulary that deals with the surface of a pot is known as keshiki. 

To some people, certain keshiki may look like mistakes, but to connoisseurs of Japanese ceramics, such imperfections are actually treasured because they make a pot unique, interesting and even beautiful.

Two of the most common keshiki (ones you may see on works created in the MCG studio) are: yubi atofinger marks that show where the potter held the pot during glazing, and himaan accidentally unglazed part of the pot where the clay body shows. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ogata Kenzan

Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743) was perhaps the most celebrated Japanese potter of all time. He was highly influenced by his older brother, the respected painter Ogata Korin.

According to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "He created a new style of painterly ceramics that replaced in popularity the heavily textured decorative overglaze enamels of the Kyoto pottery master Nonomura Ninsei (c.1574-1660/66). Kenzan was the first highly educated and cultivated merchant-artisan to operate a ceramics workshop and the first to use pottery as a medium for painting."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Japanese Ceramists at MCG

Over the years, a few noteworthy Japanese-American ceramists have done residencies and workshops at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. Almost everyone who enters the building notices the  tall, freestanding ceramic sculpture by Jun Kaneko. He calls this form a dungo, which means dumpling in Japanese.

Another large sculpture in the main lobby is a piece by Hiromu Okuda. Hiromu and his wife and fellow artist, Mieko, are from the world-renowned pottery town of Shigaraki, Japan. In 2008, they spent an entire month working at MCG. In addition to the sculptural forms he is known for, Hiromu is famous for making teaware. In fact, he is the 14th generation in his family to do so. There are examples of his tea bowl and cool water jar on the shelves of the ceramics studio.

Mieko Okuda is quite accomplished as well. She works primarily in porcelain, either creating small organic sculptures, or medium to large sized plates which she paints on.

Not surprisingly, almost every visitor to the MCG ceramics studio takes note of the Akio Takamori piece. Takamori is a professor in Seattle, Washington and his work is exhibited in museums and galleries around the world.

You can see one of Hiromu Okuda's tea bowls in the photo to the right.

Japanese-Inspired Glazes

Several glazes in the MCG studio are inspired by traditional Japanese glazes. The first and foremost is our Gold Shino, which is an Americanized version of the traditional Shino glazes from Japan.

Shino is traditionally a white glaze with red-brown flashing. It's said that it was first developed in response to the Japanese tea master Shino Soushin's request for a white glaze in the 1500's. Since then, many varieties have developed, including the carbon trap varieties that are so popular with American potters.

Temmoku, or Tenmoku, is an iron-rich glaze that originated in China. A Zen Buddhist monk was visiting China from Japan and fell in love with the dark brown tea bowls being used at a temple on Tianmu Mountain. It is said that in the 13th century, when he brought the bowl back to Japan, he didn't know what to call the glaze. So it was referred to by the name of the mountain where it came from.

Deb's Red is another iron-rich glaze in our studio which is inspired by the Japanese classics kaki and tessha, which are very similar. According to The Potter's Dictionary, "If the rust-coloured parts spread over more of the glaze causing rust patches, it would be called tessha and if the rust covered most of the surface it would be a kaki glaze."

Celadon is another Chinese glaze adopted by the Japanese (and mastered by the Koreans, as well). Celadon is typically pale green, obtaining its color from the iron oxide in the glaze (though it has much less than Tenmoku). Celadon is not an easy glaze to use, because it will be quite drab colored unless a special condition is achieved in the kiln, referred to as reduction.

The glaze named Oribe comes from the style of pottery made popular by the teamaster and warrior Furuta Oribe (who was a student of Sen no Rikyu). Oribe pottery is characterized by a dark green translucent glaze that derives its color from copper. Oribe wear often features brushwork, including designs painted in iron oxide, and incorporates clear glaze as well as the aforementioned green.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Some Basic Japanese Pottery Forms

While there are many Japanese pottery forms, we'll take a look at a few of the most popular in this post.

Perhaps the most beloved Japanese pottery form is the chawan, the tea bowl. The popular style is actually derived from the simple, disposable rice bowls made by Korean potters.

While the chawan is most often reserved for tea ceremony, the yunomi is a teacup intended for everyday use. A yunomi is taller than it is wide, and often times they are sold as a pair, with one slightly larger than the other (the larger one for the husband, the smaller for his wife).

A Japanese teapot is called a kyusu. A yokode kyūsu has a side handle, a ushirode kyūsu has a rear handle, and a uwade kyūsu has the handle on top.

Most sake cups are essentially a miniature chawan, and come in many different shapes. A choko (which means "boar's snout" for it's shape) is typically a very small sake cup, guinomi (which means "gulp cup") is typically larger. Many people collect guinomi as works of art.

A tokkuri is a sake flask. Again, tokkuri come in many shapes and sizes, and are quite collectible.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Throwing Off The Hump

The potter shown here is "throwing off the hump," a technique that is not typically taught to beginners in America. The primary benefit of the technique is that it allows the potter to continue making piece after piece without getting up. The main drawback is that it's difficult to compress the clay at the bottom of the pot because you're not pressing against the wheel head. It's also somewhat difficult to cut and remove pieces at first.

This master potter is demonstrating the making of a Japanese side-handle teapot, known as a yokode kyusu. His technique is amazing, but keep in mind, he is only attaching the pieces for demonstration purposes. To actually make the teapot, he would need to allow the various parts to dry a little before assembly, and he would obviously need to create holes for the tea to flow into the spout.

For more on throwing off the hump, watch this video demonstration by Michael Cardew.

Shoji Hamada

Shoji Hamada is perhaps the most well-known Japanese potter in America. Not only was he a talented craftsman, he was an eager showman who traveled around the world giving demonstrations and lectures.

Bernard Leach

You may be surprised to see a British potter on this blog, but Bernard Leach is one of the most influential figures in ceramics. 

Leach was born in Hong Kong to British citizens. As a young man he studied art in Japan under the tutelage of the great master Kenzan VI, and worked alongside future legends Kawai KanjiroTomimoto Kenkichi and Shoji Hamada. He returned to England with Hamada and established his own studio, and is credited with reviving the ceramics craft movement in the face of industrialization.

He was instrumental in reintroducing the western world to Asian pottery. Leach was a follower of the mingei movement which valued traditional crafts at a time when factories were beginning to mass produce nearly everything in our daily lives. Leach wrote one of the most famous books on pottery, simply titled A Potter's Book, 1940.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Raku - A Brief History

Most Americans think of Raku as a ceramic firing process that involves pulling red hot pottery out of a kiln. While this isn't entirely incorrect, Raku is actually the name of a style of Japanese pottery, first created in the 1500's for use in the tea ceremony.

The famous tea master Sen no Rikyū commissioned a palace tile maker named Chōjirō to create a series of hand-built tea bowls in an imperfect style (as to reflect the ideals of wabi sabi) which was popular among Japan's aristocracy.

The shogun Hideyoshi was so impressed with Chōjirō's work that he awarded him the seal "Raku", which roughly translates to "pleasure". Eventually the family adopted the name Raku.

The Raku family still makes pottery to this day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Yayoi and Kofun Periods

As the Jomon period came to an end, it was replaced by the more refined Yayoi culture. Whereas the Jomon people were mostly hunter-gatherers, the Yayoi had learned farming techniques from mainland Asia and become more domesticated, living in villages typically comprised of thatched huts.

Their pottery became more refined. Still made using hand-building methods, their vessels exhibit clean, functional shapes. Potters began to take pains to make their pots smooth and waterproof, employing techniques that include coating the inside of the pots with slip.

Following the Yayoi period was the Kofun, which is marked by the introduction of high-fired (above 2000° F) pottery and the use of the potter's wheel. The pottery was fired in an anagama kiln, a tubular, wood-fired kiln of Korean design.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jomon Earthenware

Japan's contribution to the world of ceramics began more than 12,000 years ago during the Jomon period. The oldest pieces of pottery were hand-built vessels (left). The term Jomon means "cord marked" which refers to the way early Japanese potters decorated their work with rope.

As the 10,000 year Jomon period went on, people began to use the ceramic process for more than just pots for cooking and food-storage. They created ceramic arrowheads and figurines (dogu). The remaining Jomon dogu, created between 1000 and 300 B.C.,  are remarkable. Not only because they lasted 3000 years, but because it's believed that they were religious instruments, intended to be destroyed once their spiritual purpose was achieved.

Fans of anime and manga take note—the use of disproportionally large eyes in Japanese art began more than 3000 years ago!