Friday, July 9, 2010


I first encountered a chawan when I was in my mid-teens, I was more interested in swords, so it basically went unnoticed until my wife and I went to the BMFA and saw the LIVING TREASURES OF JAPAN exhibit. It was there that we were confronted with chawan unlike any we had seen before. The works of Arakawa Toyozo, Ishiguro Munemaro, Miwa Kyuwa and Nakazato Muan were prominently displayed. Shortly after that the KIKUCHI COLLECTION, JAPANESE CERAMICS TODAY made it to Washington. It was a shock to the system. Though I had no cultural relationship to the chawan or chanoyu, the teabowl itself had captivated my imagination.

I just couldn’t define the impact those two exhibits had on my psyche. I was mesmerized by the seeming simplicity and infinite variety of the chawan. I began an earnest study of the history, form, styles and nuances of the teabowl. I handled every chawan I could and those that were copies of the teabowl made by western potters. In essence the teabowl form had somehow run over my entire being and I began to realize how little I knew.

As collector and potter, I focused on the different sugata (form), kodai (foot), mikomi (tea pool) of any chawan I could handle or look at. Realizing I was not trained in the art of chanoyu, my direction was based on the many interpretations of the form. I wasn’t trapped in the absolutism of traditional convention and was able to, as most western potters are, to make a pot based on the teabowl archetypes.

As I began making pots, I focused on the teabowl as a form to pursue and interpret as I saw it in my mind. Over the years I have worked from cone 04 to cone 14, in stoneware, porcelain, earthenware and terra cotta from electric, gas, wood, salt, soda and raku and along the way, I am always trying to work out different forms, surfaces and designs with the idiom of the teabowl and doubt I have even scratched the surface. It is a fascinating form the shows beyond all other forms the complexity of simplicity.
( The chawan illustrated is a conventional Hagi chawan made by Tanomura Shogetsu, used with permission from a collection.)