Wednesday, July 20, 2011


It was on this day in 2000 that the pottery world lost a giant way to early when Furutani Michio (1946-2000) passed away. Considered to be one of the foremost important anagama potter, he and Kohyama Yasuhisa are credited with resurrecting the medieval style of firing with the building of the first anagama in Shigaraki Valley in several hundred years. Furutani’s mastery of firing and his fluent vocabulary in both Shigaraki and Iga was beyond compare. His chawan, mizusashi, tsubo and evocative henko slab bottles elevated this work for his peers and those to follow, to use as a golden standard.

My wife and I were fortunate to have known Furutani-san. After our first trip to Japan when we meet him, we would later plan our treks to Shigaraki valley to coincide with him opening his kiln from his fall firings. It was a special time looking through all of the recently fired pots, many still all jumbled up and stuck together with wadding all laid out on tarps and in his storage shed. Getting to see the huge smile brighten up on his face as he would point to this pot and that was magical. With his help, we would always walk away with a pot or two, usually accompanied by a small gift. His smile, knowledge and talent are sorely missed. As I think about Shigaraki and Iga pots, I can not help but be somewhat melancholy to think that no more Furutani Michio pots will be made, but this is tempered by the fact that he helped reinvigorate the tradition and set a high bar for all wood fired potters around the world, including his son and notable potter, Furutani Kazuya.

Illustrated is a photo of a lone tsubo in the corner of his gallery space that I took on my last visit to Furutani Michio’s studio. It was a magnificent piece, though solemn and solitary. In its own way, it is a fertile and promising statement about modern Shigaraki-yaki and a pot I will always remember as the soul of a great potter.

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