Category Archives: pottery

Workshop in Taku, 2012: The Simple Teabowl

Well, I am sitting here now in the quiet aftermath of what turned out to be a fantastic week long pottery workshop, here in Taku, Japan. As I sit here, looking at the prospect of going back to my normal schedule on Monday, I realize what an amazing experience the whole thing was, and am now looking forward to going through the hours of video of pottery and tea demonstrations.

We started the week with a tea ceremony demonstration by Kawakami Mako Sensei. She had prepared an informative talk on the roots of modern tea ceremony, and some of the key concepts such as Wa Kei Sei Jaku and Ichi-go Ichi-e. She prepared Koicha (thick tea) followed by Usucha (thin tea), and then we all went outside near  a waterfall in the park and tried preparing a bowl of tea by ourselves.

Sunday and Monday mornings, Tsuruta Yoshihisa Sensei demonstrated his handbuilt teabowl forming techniques and coil and paddle techniques for larger forms. It is always amazing watching him work.  In the afternoons, we visited a few ceramics galleries and a tea ceremony supply in Karatsu. We also made a very interesting trip to the workshop and kiln of Nakazato Shigetoshi Sensei, second son of the late Nakazato Muan, 12th gen. potter of the Nakazato family and Living National Treasure. He was kind enough to show us his small personal museum of shards and special work, as well as a tour of his kilns and showroom.

Sunday evening was pizza party at my house and studio, and we baked pizza in the wood fired oven, yum. One of the Japanese guests, Housui san, is a calligraphy artist, and he treated us to an impromptu performance, first on regular paper sheets, then with a large brush on a tatami mat (I’ll post pictures of that later). We also did our first collaborative piece when he wrote a poem in iron deco one of my large plates. It will be fired in the next wood kiln firing.

Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, Okamoto Sakurei demonstrated his pottery making skills making larger forms, thrown, hand built and coil/paddled. We visited Sakureigama studio and kiln in the afternoon, and Okamoto Sensei was kind enough to bring out a few of his antique teabowls. He brought out two old Karatsu teabowls and two Ri period Korean bowls which were my favorites. I was even accused of ‘fondling’ them. I probably was. Wed. afternoon we visited the Nagoya Castle ruins in Chinzei. This was the castle from which Hideyoshi staged his campaigns into Korea. It is a huge complex, quite amazing when you imagine what it must have been like at the time. There is a tea room there, Kaigetsu, which we visited for tea, and the hostess showed us the separate tea house set in the far end of the garden. My father in law, who helped drive for the group, said it was the first time he has ever visited a tea room and the first time he ever had matcha, which he enjoyed thoroughly.

Thursday we visited the studio and showroom of Maruta Munehiko and  he demonstrated throwing teabowls on his kickwheel, as well as trimming. After his demonstration we visited his showroom, where everyone ogled the work and a couple of  people bought  two of his beautiful Kuro Oribe guinomi. I couldn’t resist buying an E-Karatsu yunomi. Thursday evening we visited the tool store, before going to dinner at Hisago on Nishi Arita. Maeda san, the chef at Hisago, prepares Kaiseki meals in dishes he has personally collected over the years. The whole meal is a feast for all the senses. He keeps records of what he has prepared for his customers, and never serves the same thing twice.

Friday we took it easy and shared all of the photos and video we had taken over the last 6 days. Everyone packed up and I took them to the train station, to head back to their own countries. It was an amazing group of people and everyone got along, making for a remarkably smooth workshop with a minimum of drama. I hope everyone will come back for the Workshop in Taku 2014: The Undecided Theme.

New Pots, Finally!

Unloaded the kiln yesterday and started cleaning up some of the keepers. This firing was good. A lot of keepers, some refires, and a few hammers.
Here are a few of the pots that are at least partially cleaned up and ready to go.

Loading, new tools

Well, didn’t quite make the Feb. 29 date for firing the kiln. My wood ash supply ran out and it was hard locating more and getting it tested. Also had the top element go out on my electric kiln, so couldn’t use it for bisquing. Finally got  that stuff done, so was able to mix up glazes and get to glazing/loading. Got the rear setting done this evening. My shipment of cones from Axner came in the nick of time, so here are the new self supporting cones in action. I have decided that I LOVE self supporting cones…

The rear setting done, finally. A total of 115 pots, give or take.

I mentioned that I’d run out of glaze ingredients. Some testing was required to ‘find’ my glazes again.   This glaze is tough because it goes clear if too thin, or is too white and runny if too thick. Also, I’ve been trying to tweak my Madara to more closely resemble that of the old Karatsu pots, circa 1580. Theirs went on thin, but kept its color. A lot of silica, probably. Here are two test tiles with  Madara glazes. They were fired in the tiny test kiln and you can see they went pretty clear, because they were directly in the flame path. The tile on the left is the tweaked version, with more silica/rice straw ash and less mixed wood ash. I think it is pretty close to what I want, and will have more color when not fired in the tiny kiln with that concentrated flame, and gets a slow cool.

two test tiles with variations of Madara Karatsu rice straw ash glaze.

This upcoming firing we will have our first attempt at hikidashi, which means pulling pots at high temp and letting them cool quickly, or quenching them in water or something flammable such as rice hulls, sawdust, etc… This time, all of the hikidashi will be hikidashi guro, or black glazed ware pulled at temp. In the picture of the rear setting above, all of those pots with the red glaze are going to be yanked out. From the side port, a pair of tongs about 1 meter long is just about long enough to get most of the ware. For pulling from the front stoke, tongs are just too short, so I spent some time this afternoon making a new tool. By drilling a hole into the side of the test kiln, I converted it into a simple forge. I took round steel stock and repeatedly heated it and hammered it to flatten the end then used a hammer and chisel to split it lengthwise from the end. A little creative hammering gave me a two pronged fork shape for scooping up bowls and pulling them out the front of the kiln. Can’t wait to give it a try.

New fork tool for pulling pots from the front stoke

A Nice Spring Morning Walk

Last Wednesday, I went fishing at night with friends. We arrived at our spot and while parking the car noticed dozens of large toads out in the rain. It was still cold out, we all had several layers on plus rain gear, but those toads looked comfortable enough. My friend said that this was a sure sign that spring was here, and so far he’s been right. Every day since Wed. has been downright comfortable, though it still cools down in the evenings. Millions of years of instinct trumps the weather man every time…

This morning on our walk, the smell of spring is in the air. That bite in the wind is gone, and the air is suffused with a humidity  not present in the winter months. This morning the cloud cover is thick and some rain will surely follow. The mountains are shrouded in mist, and the vegetation seems to soak it up. Everything is green and lush, unopened buds starting to swell.

Raz and I head up a new mountain road, the concrete is white and unstained, with just a few fallen twigs scattered over the surface. In a few years it will be grey and covered with pockets of moss and lichen, grass will be emerging from cracks and crevices holding the residual soil of the mudslides that will intermittently cover the road, only to be cleaned up by men or washed away by subsequent rains.

Even the forest is clean and uncluttered. Someone has been here clearing out the underbrush and deadwood, leaving behind a carpet of ferns broken only by the trunks of large trees. A few smaller trees have emerged as well, living in the shade of the canopy. Where the mountain was cut to build the road, there is green netting covering the soil with sodded grass slowly covering everything. In some places the grass was too slow to fill in and the rains have caused the clay soil to slide down to the raised curb at the edge of the concrete.

View down the mountain. The road is visible in the shadows of the forest.
View back up the mountain from the patch of road in the forest shadows.

When we reach the apex, about where the road starts to descend again, there is a clear cut area which looks like some sort of construction project in its early stages. Behind a large berm is a concrete gutter which has been installed to keep the water from encroaching into the project area, but clay and soil has fallen in, trapping rainfall in pockets several inches deep. In one of these pockets, I see several clusters of what are probably frog eggs.

Frog(?) eggs. At least 2 different kinds.

The clay exposed in the cut above the gutter is interesting. It looks very red, almost purple in places, and it has a lot of some sort of rock interspersed throughout. In one or two areas there is even some clay that looks fairly white. Perhaps it would be good for making pots. The red clay and the dark stone might be good for putting in a glaze. It may be worth a trip back up in the car with some bags and a shovel. Chances are once this project gets underway, I won’t have access to this clay again.

Iron rich clay matrix with some sort of grey stone inclusions. Shale maybe?
The whiter section of the clay bank

Coming back down the other side of the mountain, there is a cedar grove where a group of guys from my neighborhood have started growing Shiitake mushrooms. Lots of hardwood logs arranged standing up and in the shade of the trees. The logs are in that ‘A’ frame standing pattern to allow for good air flow. That, plus shade and rainfall equals lots of nice fat Shiitake. It takes about 3 years from when we inoculate the logs for them to start producing mushrooms.

Shiitake growing area w/inocculated logs arranged and growing mushrooms.


A little guy growing from one of the logs.