Friday, October 28, 2011


Over the years, I have certainly watched more than my fair share of movies. From classics to modern action, I have a veracious appitite for the moving image. Among my favorites has always been film noir and the detective films with such notable characters as Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Shelock Holmes. I was particularly biased toward the 14 Sherlock Holmes movies made by Basil Rathbone, one of my favorite actors. Little did I know, all those movies would play into my study of pottery and pots.

“Elementary, my dear Watson”, what I am actually getting at is the detective end of things when a Japanese pot shows up at the door in its hastily inscribed wood box and no other information or identification. At the heart of this detective mystery is a modern Japanese chawan in its original box which is signed and sealed, but in this case, by whom? Many an unidentified piece has come my way over the years and trying to identify some of the potters is next to impossible and in fact, some are never identified. The research end of Japanese pottery has always intrigued me and armed with some essential tools, I set about doing the necessary due diligence.

Since the calligraphy on the box is nearly unreadable and the seal is in modified seal script, the first thing I do is translate out the description, which in this case was rather easy; ONI-SHINO CHAWAN. I know have a time reference as the term Oni-Shino originated in the early 1970’s with Tsukigata Nahiko. Next consulting the SHIN SHODO JITEN (a book on the various ways to write kanji), I find the first kanji nearly right away. After a few false starts, I am able to crack the second kanji and now have the GO (art name), in this case; SOSHU. I consult the GENDAI TOGEI SAKA-IYE JITEN only to find out he is not in there or in any of the other conpendiums I have. Well, when I have exhausted all my reference books, there is only one other option, check the internet.

Though I was extremely skeptical that the internet would yield information on what I suspected was an obscure potter, I was happily surprised when I stumbled on a single entry for the only name I had. The potter’s name is Kajiura Soshu (Shintaro), born in 1916. He is from Ichinomiya City in Aichi prefecture and studied with Hayashi Sekko and Kimura Giichi and is known to have been active through the Heisei era. Besides making pottery, he also did calligraphy and paintings. Beyond this info, it is possible to gleen additional info regarding his work, the chawan in question is obviously wood fired, with a level of skill that should indicate familiarity with that style of firing. As mentioned before, this bowl was definitely made after 1972 and indicates another potter working outside the conventional box of modern Shino.

It is very satisfying cracking the who/what/where/when conundrum in regards to Japanese art, but sometimes it is simply a matter of coincidence, happenstance, serendipity, plain old fashioned luck or cosmic confluence that you ever figure out who the artist is (was). This one goes in the win column, case solved.

Illustrated is the chawan in question, by Kajiura Soshu, circa 1975. The bowl is low and broad and the face is covered in naturally occurring wood ash over tetsu-yu and Shino glazes. The most amazing feature of this chawan is how light it is, considering the intensity of a wood firing. Despite its weight, it has not sluped at all with minimal distortion around the lip.

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