Thursday, November 3, 2011

An Autumnal Chawan

It's early November, the leaves have turned to amazing tints and shades of red, yellow, orange and gold and the winds of autumn are beginning to chill the air.   I’ve been thinking about how this time of year seems to compel us to merge hot tea with bowl and about the fire and energy that creates that merging moment.  Every time of year is the perfect time for tea but the cool breezes, colors and haze of autumn, in my part of the world, seem to make the merging of tea and teabowl even more necessary. 
To illustrate this, I’m turning once again to a bowl by the renowned teabowl artist Min Young Ki.  He created a magnificent bowl that warms me just thinking about it. 

This bowl was born of fire and seems to keep the warmth of that flame within its soul.

The kiln that produced it seems almost haphazard.  Made of stone, clay and brick, the dome is cracked, yet there is nothing haphazard about the work that emerges.   Still, like most Korean teabowl artists, thousands are made, few chosen for the honor of serving tea.

Among all the teabowls that were selected, this teabowl is the epitome of autumn.  Let’s look at it again.

The bowl exudes warmth, not scorching HEAT, “warmth” with all the ramifications of that word.  You can almost feel how this bowl fits your hands and radiates that warmth into your bones. 

The natural feldspathic glaze creates a haze across the bowl.  We can almost see leaves drifting in the distance. 

Like autumn the weather changes.  Some days are warmer than others. . .

. . . and slowly the cool breezes of winter begin to appear. 

Like earth the foot is dark and strong holding above it all of autumn in a magnificent bowl.  
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tranquility: Another Taste

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Min Young Ki

“I don’t get it.  This is just a common bowl.  I can find lots of bowls like this on my college student’s shelves and I have them throw most of them out.”  A well-known American potter said this to me while showing me a photo of a nice Korean tea bowl.  That bowl was similar in color and form to this bowl but; to be fair, it was not this bowl he was referring to.  Never the less, bowls like this may not be for everyone.  This bowl is so “simple” so “plain”, un-agitated, innocent, natural and “ordinary”.
Before I began this post I had a very brief moment when I thought I might attempt to “enlighten” that potter and others to the beauty of this bowl by discussing the things about it that make it truly a very special tea bowl.  What a pompous, naïve thought that was!  Unless there is personal insight nothing more can be said or seen. 
In addition, I’m certain that I don’t always “get it”.  If I understood or felt a tiny fraction of what can or should be understood or felt about chawan it might give me a little peace in this search.  I am sure that there are many really good chawan that I don’t yet “see” or “feel”.  So who am I to judge others?
This particular Min bowl is probably easier to “feel” but may be more difficult to “see”. 
When tasting various teas for the first time it often takes me more than one sitting to fully appreciate the various nuances that tea can provide.  It seems to be the same with chawan.  This post is here simply to give you another taste.

Click on images once or twice to enlarge

Soetsu Yanagi wrote of the Kizaemon Ido Teabowl:
Why should beauty emerge from the world of the ordinary? The answer is because that world is natural. In Zen there is a saying that at the far end of the road lies effortless peace. What more can be desired?  So, too, peaceful beauty. The beauty of the Kizaemon Ido bowl is that of strifeless peace . . . . .
and this chawan?
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Min Young Ki

Sometimes it is the simplest things that make the most lasting impressions.  Grace does not go unnoticed, a gentle breeze is more appreciated than a gale and calm doesn’t have to be followed by a storm.  Such it is with this particular chawan by Min Young Ki.  How can hard fired clay emerging from earth and fire seem like gossamer?  How can hard fired clay seem so delicate?  Not “fragile” but “delicate”.  This tea bowl is the epitome of “peace” and that is why I am presenting it to you just after the devastating events in Japan.  We need a little “peace’.  We need a quiet moment when we can simply sit, perhaps with warm green tea in a favorite ch’at-chan or be with our favorite chawan and some Japanese matcha to contemplate the moment while clearing our minds of all else.  It is moments like this that tea and bowl or cup become one.  It is for moments like this that Tea, bowl and cup are made.  This chawan is the epitome of tranquility.  Subtle in color and form this bowl’s presence is “felt” before “seen”.  Such serene and tranquil moments come too seldom.

Chick on images once to enlarge twice to zoom in

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Effect of the Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami on Ceramics in Japan

This post is dedicated to the victims of the Sendai earthquake and Tsunami.  It is without images but does contain links to many images and other web related sites.

My family is keenly aware of earthquakes.  As a young child my father survived the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 (7.9-8.25).  More than 3000 people were lost.  Dad remembers running out of his home then turning around and watching his home collapse.  When he spoke of this on a recording I made of him while he was in his 70’s he reached down to rub his leg and said, ”I can still feel that shaking in my legs.”  My brother, who was a professor working near Kobe, Japan survived the Great Hanshin earthquake or Kobe earthquake in 1995 (7.3).  6433 people lost their lives and it lasted for 20 seconds.  An armoire fell and hit my brother on his head while he slept.  He survived but still suffers from the incident.  I fortunately have never experienced an earthquake or at least one I felt. 
This is a devastating time in Japan’s history.  Everyone can feel greatly saddened at Japan’s loss in lives and property.  Can you imagine an 8.9 earthquake that lasted for two minutes and created a tsunami that caused 7 ft waves along the western coast of the United States and down the coast of South America?  There have been ‘aftershocks’ from this earthquake nearly the size of the Kobe earthquake of 1995.  The power of this earthquake and tsunami is beyond measure or full comprehension.  We have no idea of the death toll from the Sendai earthquake and tsunami.  We do know that Sendai is a city of about 1 million people and it was greatly damaged.  We also know that about 10,000 people are reportedly unaccounted for in the Japanese port town of Minamisanriku in quake-hit Miyagi prefecture.   In addition, two high-speed bullet trains were missing alongside a cruise ship carrying 100 passengers that was swept away when the wave hit. One of the trains was reported to be carrying 400 passengers.  Sadly the number of lost lives will be enormous.
The people of Japan will feel the effect of this earthquake and the tsunami beyond the life expectancy of anyone who actually experienced it.
The loss of property is unimportant.  A single life cannot be measured against any amount of ‘property’.  But for those of us in ceramics, the effect these events have had or will have on ceramics in Japan may still be of interest, even if it is merely a diversion from the great sadness we feel from the loss of lives. 
Miyagi prefecture where the city of Sendai is located is not known for their chawan but is well known for folk pottery.  Kirikomi-yaki and Tsutsumi-yaki are from the Miyagi prefecture.  The Miyagi prefecture has several ceramic related museums.  They include:

A two hundred piece collection of Jomon earthenware forms the core of this museum. Amassed by poet Sakon Sou, the museum is housed in a specially renovated 'kura' or an old Japanese warehouse.

TOHOKU Modern Pottery and Porcelain Museum
Tohoku Modern Pottery and Porcelain Museum was established in 1987 in order to preserve the folk ceramic culture in the region. The collection includes folk pottery and porcelain of Tohoku region made during Edo, Meiji and Taisho period are mainly shown. Kirikomi-yaki and Tsutsumi-yaki of Miyagi prefecture, Aizu-Hongo-yaki, Obori-Soma-yaki, Soma-Koma-yaki of Fukushima prefecture, Hirashimizu-yaki of Yamagata prefecture and Shiroiwa-yaki of Akita prefecture are on display.  A true folk art museum
(Examples of this work are difficult to find on the the English web, If you have links to these on Japanese web sites, I would appreciate that information )

The Marusu Museum
The Marusu Museum was established in 1950 to house the collection of Suda family in the region. The collection includes earthenware, Sue-style wareT'ang three-colored potteryKyo-yakiImari-yakiKutani-yakiSeto-yakiMino-yaki, Shigaraki-yakiIga-yakiBanko-yaki,  Aizu-yaki and other ceramic ware are on display.
(This is the museum for tea ware including many chawan.)

The Akamon Museum located in Sendai
The Akamon Museum was established in 1982. The collection includes brush paintings, western paintings pottery and porcelain, swords, armors, helmets of samurai, sculptures as well as literature related to the local clan family in the region are mainly on display.

Thank you for some of this information

The earthquake affected many ceramic artists and art groups.  We have no idea how many.  However at last report Kelly Cox, an American ceramic artist traveling in Japan, is still missing.  Her wedding is planned for April.  I hope that she will post a comment on this site saying that she is well.  If you know Kelly and she is well, please have her post a comment on this blog.  I have great hope for Kelly’s survival since NewsCore recently posted the following statement. “The US has accounted for ‘most all’ of Americans known to be in Japan after the country was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami Friday”. ( Since this post I heard third-hand that Kelly survived and had her wedding! Congratulations!)
The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota was conducting a tour to Japan for their members and staff.  All are safe.
Columbus State University in Georgia had a small group of ceramic students studying ceramics in Japan.  All are safe.  
Ian MacDougall a Canadian living in Japan since 1984 commented, “The earthquake smashed one of my wife’s nicest pieces of pottery, but that’s the worst it did to us.”CBC.  Multiply that comment by the thousands of others that also lost their “nicest pieces of pottery”.
Euan Craig, an Australian potter living and working in Mashiko, Japan, felt the effects of this quake and wrote about it in his blog.  They are safe but the kiln is damaged and they have no insurance because it was leased to someone without insurance.  I'm sure they could use some help.
We now know that Mashiko, Japan was greatly damages,  It has been reported that nearly all kilns in Mashiko suffered some damage and many pots were broken.   Koichiro Isaka has posted damage to Hamada's kilns on his Facebook page.  Look on his "wall".  There was considerable damage to Hamada's Reference Museum containing some of his best work.  Many pieces were lost.  I worked with Hamada Shoji in 1963 so I feel that loss very deeply. 
Ken Matsuzaki has established a relief fund for the Mashiko Potter Foundation.  Currently that fund only receives money by bank transfer which costs $45 USD to the bank if transferred internationally from the United States.  I'll contact Ken to see if there is another way to contribute and post that here if he answers.  In the meantime if you don't mind the bank getting that much, contact me, prove you are a ceramic artist and I'll send you that bank swift code etc.  I am sure you can find it other places.  As you probably already know, when you have that type of bank information, someone can take out as easily as put in.  I have suggested to Ken that he use PayPal or a credit card system.  
Jan at Jane Street Clayworks has an interesting post on the disaster with several quotes and their links related to ceramics.
I can’t get my head around a post on tea bowls right now but think we all could make a small difference in the situation in Japan if we each donated the profit from just one ceramic item.  How about the profit from a day's work?
I’m sure you have your favorite places to make donations to relief efforts like this.  My favorite places to donate are:
Those funds won't help the potters but there is great need and each of these organizations does great work in areas that need disaster relief.  Japan has given the ceramic world so much.  Perhaps it is time we give a little back.
The Leach Pottery in St Ives England has established a relief fund for the potters in Mashiko, Japan.  Contact Julia if you would like to make a special donation there.   
Be sure to avoid unknown or little known relief agencies and private individuals no matter who they say they are.  I'm sure the St. Ives pottery  and Ken Matsuzaki are fine.  
Also avoid those who say they are posting images from the disaster and ask you to log on.  There may be unwanted cookies attached.
Now we can only pray for the victims of this disaster and for all of Japan.
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