Wednesday, May 25, 2011


In a recent email exchange with a friend, he was extolling the pathos of “actual ownership” of objects which we commune with. “We are only temporary caretakers of our collections through history. With contemporary Japanese ceramics we may be the first or early in the list of curators of the pieces we ‘own’, but eventually they pass along like blowing clouds. It is a bit sad is some regards, but on the other hand is a form of immortality in an offhand way if we prove to be good caretakers. I can't help to think of the long line of "owners" of the great Momoyama pots we are lucky enough to be able to view today because over so many years individuals held a piece of baked ceramic in high enough regard to protect it for prosperity. (HW)” Over the years I have thought about our conservatorship, curatorial duties and responsibilities we have for these objects. We are entrusted to care for and restore these pots (and other objects) and pass them on in the condition we found them or better off than they arrived.

A short thought, years ago I was exceptionally fortunate to handle a very famous Momoyama period Shino mizusashi at the CMA. As I felt through the walls and lip, I could feel where the potter had attached coils to coil and throw the piece. I can feel the rhythm of the clay in its walls and how he added more clay to make the galley for the lid. Through my senses, it was like I was transported back to see the potter create the pot. As I continued to handle the pot, I thought of the history that swirled around it, the owners, users, tea ceremonies that it was part of with famous and possibly infamous users. It is the proverbial, if only it could talk, the tales it could tell.

This mizusashi has outlasted countless owners, curators. The care and responsibility for this pot, and countless other objects, rest in the hands of the owner of the now; tomorrow, it will be introduced to someone new and begin a whole new dialogue and visual narrative. How it is that countless generations have seen fit to preserve and safeguard this pot is a testament to its presence, bearing and honesty despite the ever present reality that no single individual can “own” anything. In time even the pharaoh’s have given up their great collections and no one can totally possess an object, we are all just curators.

(Thanks H!)

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