Archive for October, 2011
Welcome back to my phantom blog! Yes, it has been a while, to say the least, but I’ll try to give you an abbreviated update on the primary transitional events which have occured these past 9 months so we can start over in October and do a better job keeping you informed of what’s going on in my world of tea ceramics, and then some. I’ve updated the other pages with current show info so please have a look.
Jumping back to January, we had long-awaited month-long exhibition at the Pucker Gallery in Boston from Jan.15th to Feb.14th which was actually my first major showing in my adopted U.S. home base. The show contained appx. 120 pieces, primarily tea ceramics produced almost evenly in number between my Japanese and American kilns. We were fortunate to have an opportunity to actually do some tea ceremonies on the 4th floor of the gallery in a makeshift tea room devoid of anything other than 4 tatami mats on a platform to simulate a “chashitsu”, the necessary utensils and chairs for the 10 guests. The response was heartwarming, particularly since it was one of the worst winters on record in Boston, keeping many guests away. Fortunately those who were able to make it had a “once in a lifetime” moment of peace in the midst of downtown Boston that will hopefully stay with them for a long time and possibly plant a seed that will grow into a greater interest in things Japanese………..
In mid-March I was pleased to participate in a truly unique series of events specifically focusing on the tea bowl, or “chawan”, that took place in the greater Boston area. The exhibition at the center of the event was called “The Elusive Tea Bowl”. Curated by a friend, Jeff Shapiro, and held at the Lacoste gallery in my current home town of Concord, Ma., this show brought together 30 artist/potters from across Japan & the U.S. making various forms of chawan in a wonderful cross-cultural event that attracted a large audience of chawan lovers from all over the country for the opening on Sat. March 12th.
The exhibition opening was followed Sunday, March 13th, by a day long symposium of the same name at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts attended by over 300 people that gave a variety of perspectives on the Way of Tea. It included a special exhibition of tea wares from the MFA’s collection, a tea ceremony demonstration by Urasenke tea master Allan Palmer, talks by a reknowed Japanese Art curator and critic from Tokyo, Dr. Junichi Takeuchi, as well as curator Ann Morse from the MFA, the foremost American collector of Tea utensils, Richard Danziger, and a panel discussion with artist/potter Jeff Shapiro from upstate N.Y., along with highly regarded Japanese master potters Shiro Tsujimura & Goro Suzuki. The turnout was quite amazing not to mention the excitement of the participants who were eager to get new insights from the Japanese potters in particular. Unfortunately Goro & Shiro are probably 2 of the least talkative potters I know so it was a real challenge for Jeff to get any serious dialogue going with them, especially on stage!
After the symposium a private dinner reception was held for the participants at the residence of the new Japanese Consul General in Boston, Mr. Hikihara.
On Monday the 14th, the event finale was a full day of tea bowl making demonstrations (see above pic) which was held at the Harvard Univ. Ceramic Studio and included Goro, Shiro, Jeff and myself throwing bowls in the morning, trimming in the afternoon and finally showing slides at the end of the day. This was limited to a packed house of 100 guests and provided non-stop action as we split into 2 pairs for the demos while the audience shifted back & forth, enjoying the variety of techniques and styles of work being produced.
The weekend was an amazing opportunity for many people to get a much clearer idea about the essence of tea bowls, their meaning in Japan as cultural icons as well as the actual context in which they are used. The entire event became an even deeper bonding experience for many participants due to the timing; March 11th, the day before the exhibition opening, coincided with the tragic earthquake and tsunami which devastated northeastern Japan. There were many heavy hearts as waves of news came pouring out of Japan and people tried to comprehend just how bad the situation really was. At first it was all so surreal and distant yet so many participants had links of some sort to the Tohoku area and there was a powerful desire to try to offer some help. Lucy Lacoste, owner of the host gallery for the show, offered a % of her proceeds from the show sales and artists who wanted could also donate from their proceeds. On Monday we decided to donate all the works made by the 4 demonstrators that would be glazed and fired at the Harvard Studio and put up for auction after their completion, with all the proceeds going to the Tohoku Disaster Relief Fund.
(April)-Due to the disaster our original schedule to return to Japan in late March was put on hold until things settled down a bit. This sudden change of plans consequently provided Mari & I an opportunity to finally take advantage of a trip we had been planning to celebrate our 25th anniversary; a lifelong dream for both of us- a safari trip to S. Africa. If I got into it now this blog would go on for days. For now I’ll just say it was an amazing adventure that gave us a glimpse of what the world used to be, countless centuries ago. A fascinating experience that certainly whet our appetite for the next journey to that far off world, so different from the rest of the “civilized” planet. Here a very quick peek of some of what we saw. (Sorry about the spacing problems, this software is a nightmare to works with! I decided to only post a few pics as there were way too many to choose from)
(May)- Soon after our return from Africa, a journey which took us to Paris & London for brief visits, we headed back to Japan to begin preparing for my fall shows in Chicago & Yokohama, or so I thought!
Almost immediately after we arrived a phone call came from a production company in Tokyo asking if I would help with the making of a TV documentary about the inner world of “Chanoyu”, known in the West as the tea ceremony. Two days later the producer, a woman named Sheri Yamaguchi, came out to the kiln to see us and after about 6 hrs of discussions I was enlisted to be the central character of the latest version of the program “Forbidden Kyoto”. Little did I know at the time how big of a project it would turn out to be!
Three days later a staff of 10 people descended on Kyoto and the filming began in the tea fields of Uji, just as the harvesting season was in full swing. Over the next 5 weeks the cameras followed me many days & nights in my quest to find new inspiration for my work in preparation for my fall exhibitions in Chicago & Yokohama. Sherry & I were able to gain access to some of the the most hallowed sites relating to the history of tea in and around the ancient capital. Besides our journey to see the actual production process of making matcha (powdered green tea) at Koyama-en, a 350 yr.old tea purveyor, we saw Dr. Sen Genshitsu, my mentor and the 15th generation Grand Master of the Urasenke Tea Tradition, perform a ritual tea offering to the priest Eisai who brought tea from China to Kennin-ji, the oldest Zen Monastery in Kyoto 800 years ago. Dr. Sen also invited us to visit his home, Konnichi-an, the 400 yr. old headquarters of Urasenke and we spent time with Zen Master Onozawa Kodo at Juko-in, a 450 yr. old temple in the Daitoku-ji Zen Monastery that houses the gravesite of Sen no Rikyu, Dr. Sen’s ancestor and the man often called the father of the modern day tea ceremony.Through these various encounters my creative energies got back on track and I developed a new glaze for my tea bowls using the cuttings from Koyama-en’s tea plantation in combination with some ash from a locally grown strain of green sticky rice straw. I also made some other new formulas working with the rare rice straw ash and began firing right away, trying to make more new pieces for the upcoming shows as well as the various mentors who were so helpful in the success of my quest. I’m hoping the film will be available on my website at some point in the future so you can all take this journey into the heart of “Forbidden Kyoto; An Encounter with Green Tea”, together with me.
I hope to continue with Part II in the next week or so but in the meantime please see the recently updated Events & Exhibitions page for the latest info on current & recent shows!