“Watch the wheel spin and the earth together in my hands will manifest a vessel that serves and nurtures me as well give me poetic senses of being in the now. Bring wonder and joy to those who can see and feel with gratitude wonder and appreciation”
Pottery can evoke a most zen like experiences and the silence and presence is deeply meditatieve. I often sit in the presence of such miraculous fine vessels and feel a sense of Sen-no Riyku.
“this wonderful Shino tea bowl from around 1600 is known as Furisode”
“Though many people drink tea, if you do not know the Way of Tea, tea will drink you up.”Ceramics hold much poetic presence and beauty and no wonder the Japanese culture holds such a high regard for this unique art form. Not only have we got such long historic relations with pottery.
A great part of the history of pottery is prehistoric, part of past pre-literate cultures. Therefore, much of this history can only be found among the artefacts of archaeology. Because pottery is so durable, pottery and sherds from pottery survive from millennia at archaeological sites.
- The oldest known pottery is from China and dates to 20,000 BC, at the height of the ice age, long before the beginnings of agriculture.
The Japanese ceramic tradition is arguably the finest in the world. With influences from China, Korea and the West, a talented lineage of artists and artisans, an adoring collecting public, and a food tradition that places utmost importance on tableware, it’s only natural.
In the late 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the most famous military leaders in Japan’s history, coveted ceramics so fiercely that he kidnapped Korean potters and brought them to Japan during what are now referred to as “The Pottery Wars?” These Korean potters were sent to the many fiefdoms to train Japanese potters, where their influence can be seen to this day. Korean pottery, especially humble ware made for daily use, was valued because it exemplified the Japanese aesthetic of “wabi sabi”.
Hideyoshi might have been a brave and brilliant military man, but in the world of tea, he was but a student. His tea master, Sen-no Riyku, who originated wabi tea, commissioned wabi sabi tea bowls, mostly in the raku (unglazed, low fired) technique. These bowls, made by the Korean master potterChojiro, are so brilliant – capturing the essence of “the way of tea” so perfectly – that potters through the centuries strive to come even close to their spirit.
Sen-no Riyku believed that the way of tea should be spread to the masses. Because of his influence over Hideyoshi, he had substantial power over the aesthetic lives of the powerful elite, and his ideas helped shaped the vision we know today as Japanese art – and by extension – its very culture.
In this atmosphere of enlightened creativity, innovation flourished. Tea master and potter Furuta Oribe created boldly misshapen forms freely painted with brown motifs and dipped in green glaze, founding the Oribe style that continues to be popular to this day. This period marked a turning point in Japanese ceramics, where local Japanese pottery was increasingly preferred over imported ware.
By the late 17th century, as the Japanese aesthetic renaissance was in full bloom, Ogata Kenzan, the most revered potter in Japan’s history, started his ceramic studio in Narutaki, outside of Kyoto. He soon moved his studio to central Kyoto, where he prospered. The brother of the famous Rimpa artistOgata Korin, he created Japanese versions of classic imported ceramics by adding freely painted decorative motifs and patterns from paintings, fans and lacquerware. Inspired by his brother’s paintings (in fact, Korin often designed his brother’s tea bowls) each piece is complete in itself, yet comes alive when food is placed artfully on it.
With the opening of Japan to the West and the ensuing Meiji era (1868-1915), Japanese ceramics, being handmade and imperfect, fell out of favor in a world that was rapidly modernizing. Some Japanese households a Western style, favoring tables and chairs to traditional dining. This led to a rise in Western ceramics such as china, which at first had to be imported.
In the meantime, potters throughout Japan who were producing everyday dishes had a hard time making a living, and many gave up and turned to farming and other careers. Japan’s rich ceramic tradition was in danger of vanishing.
In the 1920s, influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement in England and by the writings of William Morris, Yanagi Soetsu, a collector of folk pottery and art, strove to reverse this trend. He and potters Kawai Kanjiro and Hamada Shoji formed the Mingei movement (a term that Soetsu invented-) which means “art of the people”. His book The Unknown Craftsman, which celebrates humble, anonymous folk pottery, is considered a classic to this day.
Thanks to the Mingei movement, which was perfectly timed to coincide with a return of interest in Japanese aesthetics in the nationalistic Taisho era, Japanese pottery traditions were once again revived, and the public learned to appreciate folk pottery.
Japan now supports a healthy ceramics industry. Not only are potters of famous lineages selling enough to make a living; there are also independent young potters who have struck out on their own, driven only by their talent and creativity.
(Wikipedia and Savory Japan)