Tag Archives: tsubo

Hunting white clay (not elephants)

There is an old story around here about Nakazato Muan (12th Generation Nakazato Tarouemon, Living National Treasure) finding a really great white clay seam in the Azambaru area of Taku.  Here it is in Japanese for those of you who can read it:


For those of you whose Japanese is a bit rusty, it goes like this:

In the year Showa 21 (1946), the Nakazato kiln was converted from a coal burning kiln to a wood burning kiln, and it was fired until Showa 25 (1950). During this time, Muan mostly used a white clay from the Azanbaru area of Taku.  There is a story, told by his son Shigetoshi, from the day they discovered this clay seam (Nakazato Shigetoshi passed away in 2015, at the age of 85, so he was probably around 16 years old at the time of this story).
So they have all this clay loaded onto a cart, which Shigetoshi is pulling and his father Muan is pushing, to Taku train station.
On the way, they reach a downward slope, and without noticing, Muan keeps pushing  down the slope, and they almost run into a car speeding down the road. Shigetoshi ends up diving to avoid the car, the car ends up in a rice field, and their cart ends up broken.  When Shigetoshi gets angry and starts yelling, Muan says “I was so busy thinking about what I was going to make with this clay, I didn’t notice the slope.”,  apologizing to Shigetoshi.
“That was the first time my father ever apologized to me.”, Shigetoshi commented.

So why, you say, are you telling me all of this? Well, the fabled white clay seam has been looked for now by other potters for decades with no luck, but due to a fortuitous event a few months ago (and several years of looking), I believe I have found it again. Here are some pictures from our excursion out to dig some sample material for testing.

This looks promising, with the moss scraped away.
This looks promising, with the moss scraped away.


Making some progress, this small hole yielded over 100kg of clay.
Making some progress, this small hole yielded over 100kg of clay.


Two partners today, one is my mentor, in the foreground, the other a friend and fellow artist.
Two partners today, one is my mentor, in the foreground, the other a friend and fellow artist.


Under better lighting. Isn't it gorgeous?
Under better lighting. Isn’t it gorgeous?


Oh, and lastly, here’s a picture of one of Nakazato Muan’s coil and paddle built jars. This one is made from white clay from the clay seam pictured above. My firing tests have almost the same color as the unglazed bottom section of this jar (although it is hard to see from this dark picture).


Coil and paddle

I have been working on coil and paddle pots these last few days. This is a sequence of photos from a jar I made today. It’s not very big, probably about 36 cm across.


Karatsu Show

This last weekend we had the show in Karatsu.  It was a 3 day weekend, so we did Sat, Sun, Mon. Well, if you are thinking about having a show on a 3 day weekend, let me give you a little advice: don’t. Everyone goes somewhere else. The first two days were absolutely empty, and it was only the during the last day that I was able to make some good sales. Thanks to guests from Osaka, Kyoto, and Chiba. I guess they were using the 3 day weekend to get out of their respective areas as well.

Well, lesson learned. Overall, it was still a very enjoyable experience, with lots of time to sit and chat with friends over tea. The highlight of the show was without a doubt, the shiboridashi teapot with the river crab knob. It is a pure silver crab holding a ruby in his right claw.


Sometimes it is nice to change the pace a little, and kick the dust off of the woodworking tools. Usually, this involves making lids for pots.

Some of the nice lacquerware lids you see out there can be quite expensive, especially the ones that are custom made to fit a piece. In my price strata, that usually results in my work doubling in price, because the lid costs so much in relation to the price of the pot. This makes it tough to sell them. For a big name potter, that same lid may be only 1/20th the price of the pot, so it doesn’t influence the selling price all that much.

As a way around the lacquer lids, I started doing things in natural wood on my lathe at home. As a sub for ivory tea caddy lids, I use small pieces of exotic hardwood, or sometimes tagua nut, which is an ethical  ivory substitute.

Here are some simple lids I made for the upcoming show. They are fairly ‘quick and simple’, in that I don’t want to spend more than an hour on any one of them, to keep my costs down. I want to have something that looks nice on the pot without contributing to the price. People looking at them can get an impression of how the finished/lidded pot looks, and they may like the lid, or replace it with a lacquer lid later on.

I am not a very good lathe worker, and still end up scraping most of that waste off, rather than a skilled lathe artist who would slice it off, thus avoiding a lot of sanding later. I do it this way because by scraping it is much less likely that there will be a catch, ruining the piece. After finishing the shaping and sanding, the cedar lids get burned and brushed, then oiled. Other hardware lids just get oiled after sanding.

Here they are (remember, clicking on a small image brings up the big image):